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How a Mitt-Style Increase in Military Spending Might Cost You Your Job

The link between bloated military budgets and unemployment is clear and scary.
 
 
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As predicted, one of the big clashes in the final presidential debate on Monday night concerned military spending. The dustup not only revealed a key difference between the candidates, it gave us the best line of the night, Obama's quip that we no longer rely on horses and bayonets.

When it comes to federal spending, the choices we make reflect our national priorities. If you listened to Mitt Romney during the debate, it was pretty clear what his priorities would be if elected. He could not hide the fact that when it comes to spending, children, education, eldercare, trains, roads, technology, research – in short, the things that make life livable at home – will take a backseat to fighting foreign wars abroad and pumping up an already bloated military budget. He vowed to raise military spending by an additional $2 trillion, an increase the military hasn’t even asked for. In other words, he wants to spend more regardless of need.

But here’s what he reallydidn’t want you to know: Increased military spending could land a pink-slip on your desk.

A little history: Military spending by the United States has skyrocketed in recent years. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the defense budget expanded from $432 billion in 2001 to $720 billion in 2011, an increase of around 67 percent. Much of this increase has been in reaction to the attack on 9/11. Sadly, instead of making us safer, this trend has weakened the economy and left us far less secure in our daily lives.

Budget experts and economists have long been calling for an end to this hideous misuse of resources. Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics and Linda J. Bilmes, a Harvard University senior lecturer in public policy, have spoken plainly about the problem and co-authored a book called The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, in which they sum up the folly of that military adventure:

“There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn’t include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt.”

Stiglitz has also shown how these unnecessary wars fought on credit are directly related to unemployment. The Iraq war exacerbated the deficit and increased the cost of oil, which meant that people had less money in their pockets to buy American goods. That, in turn, dampened company profits, a trend that inevitably leads to layoffs. For a while, Federal Reserve hid the weakness in the economy by blowing up a housing bubble that fueled a consumption boom – and we all know how that turned out: Millions of indebted Americans who were wiped out once the financial crisis finally exploded and jobs evaporated from coast to coast.

Economist Dean Baker has similarly discussed the link between increased military spending and job loss:

“Defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.”

Now it’s true that certain industries benefit from military bloat, like companies that create ammunition, for example, or uniforms. Those companies are able to hire workers who may not otherwise be able to find a job. To build up this idea, Mitt has beenbusy running adsin states like Virginia and North Carolina announcing that increased military spending is really a jobs program (the next time he says that government doesn't create jobs, remember that).

But unfortunately, this kind of economic stimulus is far less effective than other kinds of spending. Investments in things like renewable energy provide a much better long-term payoff. Investments in healthcare, infrastructure and education are also of greater benefit to the overall economy. Despite Romney's desperate protestations in the final debate that he loves teachers, his emphasis on military spending would surely mean more laid-off educators.

Right-wingers like to howl that decreases in military spending would harm the economy. But even the libertarian Cato Institute shows that this line is baloney. In his paper “Economic Effects of Reductions in Defense Outlays,” Benjamin Zycher acknowledges that a decrease might actually be economically beneficial: “Potential savings in real resources are sufficiently large to justify a detailed analysis of U.S. national security needs and the outlays required to defend them.”

When Romney talks about increasing military spending, just imagine that for every new ship, there’s a new line at the unemployment office. Apparently, that's his idea of a healthy economy.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.