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We Have to Trim the Bloated Pentagon Budget and Use the Cash for a 'Green Dividend' to Create Good Jobs

How can we come out of this recession with a manufacturing sector and a workforce that are globally competitive, that produce things that people need in the new green economy?

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This is a good place to begin. But the collection of such initiatives on the administration’s drawing board—carbon capture and storage, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, modernizing federal environmental remediation laws, increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy in federal buildings, retrofitting existing housing stock, and a taskforce on oceans—do not add up to a green industrial policy. The administration has struggled to create an integrated strategy, involving a coordinated interagency process, devoted to the often-cited goal of building a green economy. But this hasn’t happened yet. 

The administration is, however, trying to revive some programs that had been languishing since the post-cold war period and adapt them to this new mission. For instance, the administration has used Recovery Act money to restore funding to the network of Manufacturing Extension Centers and to redirect the network toward the green-economy-building mission. These Manufacturing Centers have been modeled on the Agricultural Extension offices that have been offering a helping hand to American farmers since the 1920s. In addition to providing a model for assistance to small manufacturers, the Agricultural Extension Service  offers a broader lesson on the importance of government-assisted pilot programs in catalyzing a green transition. For American farming at the beginning of the 20th century, pilot programs that used new seeds and techniques greatly boosted harvests and convinced reluctant farmers to follow suit. 

For the green dividend to take root, the federal government must support similar pilot programs in the green manufacturing sector. Some of those pilot programs have even begun inside the military-industrial complex itself. Some Department of Energy labs, for instance, have shifted to research and development in solar, biofuels, wind power, and engine efficiency. At the former Philadelphia Navy Yard, a new solar energy facility will employ 400 Philadelphians in manufacturing thin-film photovoltaic panels.  The manufacturer, however, is a Greek company licensing Swiss technology. 

For the United States to become competitive in these technologies, a major shift in federal budget priorities is necessary, from funding weapons of mass destruction to creating products of green construction. Ultimately, such a shift will create more net jobs. As several studies  have demonstrated, a billion dollars invested in the non-military sector produces more jobs than a billion dollars invested in the military. If we are serious about job creation, we have to counter the jobs argument that the military contractors trumpet in their ads and letters to the president. 

Tackling the Complex 

The “obvious solution” of a green dividend is not so obvious to defense contractors worried about losing contracts—and unions and workers worried about losing existing jobs—all in exchange for the promise of a different kind of manufacturing. Politicians who might ordinarily back the obvious solution are reluctant to be seen as anti-job. The promise of a green job has a hard time competing with the reality of an existing military job. And instead of a green growth narrative, the country has essentially bought a very different story—of the Pentagon helping a foundering U.S. economy by providing essential jobs. 

The Obama administration wants to cut Pentagon waste but is facing the big obstacle of entrenched defense dependency in virtually every state. The administration needs to map out the locations where military production is employing people making things for which we have no strategic need. It needs to determine which nascent elements of the green economy in those locations can be strengthened to become viable economic alternatives. And it needs to direct some of the federal resources available for green economic development to these locations.  

A good place to start reining in defense spending unrelated to our security needs is by focusing on contracts the Pentagon itself certifies we don’t need. One of these is the C-17 cargo plane. Its contractors have strategically distributed the component subcontracts to form a political protection racket that would impress the mafia. Members of Congress with near-impeccable progressive credentials continue to appropriate money for this program, hoping to avoid political suicide. 

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