Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Very Bad Habit

A recent article about military earmarks reminds me so very clearly that America has lost its soul. Virtually all of the earmarks force the Department of Defense to continue programs that it no longer considers necessary or feasible because senators and representatives want to preserve contracts and jobs in home districts. It’s a way of demonstrating their effectiveness to constituents. Not long before that, NPR carried a story about one company that was still hiring for high wage jobs—a major defense contractor gearing up to build the newest aircraft carrier. The voice-over noted that the work was not affected by economic trends.

The take away from all this is the distressing realization that the United States does not produce goods that most people want or can use. An aircraft carrier or fighter jet is of little personal benefit to me even if I could afford one. And even if the nation faces no threat that requires the next generation fighter jet or another big ship, we will continue to manufacture them because it’s all we have left. My (or my uncle’s or my neighbor’s) job depends on it.

My regular reader knows well that I am skeptical of much military spending. But what we’re talking about here is stuff even the Pentagon does not think is necessary or practical for national defense. It continues, nonetheless, because we want the jobs. Members of Congress who insist that projects continue when then no longer serve a valid purpose are shortchanging their constituents, depriving them of any chance to live in a peace economy where their talent and efforts create products and technologies that sustain rather than destroy life.

Nor are these elected officials providing leadership. Instead they are protecting their own short term interests, cloaked in the verbiage of defending constituents’ jobs. While this may be an effective strategy for political survival, it simply continues the status quo of a militarized economy. Watching the steady erosion of America’s civilian industry over the past decade or more and the more recent collapse of the consumer economy, it’s easy to see why no senator, congressman or machinist would fend off any threat to military contracts and the jobs they create.

What this tells me is that creating a peace economy will be difficult. If even Ted Kennedy insists that the Navy build a destroyer that it doesn’t want, how likely will it be that Americans will ever come to question military expenditures that are not only 10 times our nearest competitor and more than the rest of the world’s expenditures combined?