The University of Virginia research park, across Rt. 29 North from the National Ground Intelligence Center, is hosting a conference on weapons technologies that has been promoted as dealing with economically beneficial matters.
And why not? Both the military facility and the research park provide jobs, and the people who hold those jobs spend their money on things that support other jobs. What’s not to like?
Well, one problem is what those jobs do. A Win/Gallup poll of 65 nations earlier this year found the United States by far most widely considered the greatest threat to peace in the world. Imagine how it must sound to people in other countries when we talk about the U.S. military as a jobs program.
But let’s stick to economics. Where does the money come from for most of what goes on at the base and the research park north of town? From our taxes and government borrowing. Between 2000 and 2010, 161 military contractors in Charlottesville pulled in $919,914,918 through 2,737 contracts from the federal government. Over $8 million of that went to Mr. Jefferson’s university, and three-quarters of that to the Darden Business School. And the trend is ever upward.
It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.
The superiority of other spending or even tax cuts has been established repeatedly by seminal studies out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, frequently cited and never refuted over the last several years. Not only would spending on trains or solar panels or schools produce more and better paying jobs, but so would never taxing the dollars in the first place. Military spending is worse than nothing, just in economic terms.
Add to this the impact on foreign policy that massive military spending has had since before President Eisenhower warned us on the day he left office: “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual –” he said, “is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” Today even more so, so much so perhaps that we notice it less, so routine has it become.
Connecticut has set up a commission to work on transitioning to peaceful industries, largely for economic reasons. Virginia or Charlottesville could do the same.
The U.S. government spends over $600 billion a year just on the Department of Defense, and over $1 trillion total every year on militarism across all departments and debts for past wars. It’s over half of U.S. discretionary spending and about as much as the rest of the world’s nations combined, including the many NATO members and allies of the United States.
It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. That sounds like a lot of money to you or me. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. Again, that sounds like a lot. But consider the amounts being spent on economically detrimental programs that also damage our civil liberties, our environment, our safety, and our morality. It wouldn’t cost much for the U.S. to become seen as the greatest threat to suffering and poverty instead of to peace.
David Swanson is a Charlottesville resident and organizer of WorldBeyondWar.org.