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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?

With the unemployment rate still hovering stubbornly around 10 percent, everyone is talking jobs. The White House is pressing for an extension of a subsidized jobs program that was part of the 2009 stimulus package. Candidates in the upcoming midterm elections are touting their own schemes to boost employment. The Tea Party movement and the far right are capitalizing on anger over lost jobs. And in a bid to recapture this populist anger, tens of thousands of progressives will descend on Washington this Saturday as part of the  One Nation Working Together effort at “putting America back to work and pulling America back together.” 

Creating jobs is not easy work. The federal government, challenged at every turn by Republican opposition in Congress, has been unable to push through a second stimulus package focused specifically on jobs. The private sector, which the Tea Partiers see as the motor of the economy, has been sitting on an unprecedented amount of wealth – a record $837 billion in cash – that companies are saving for better investment opportunities. "That's enough to pay 2.4 million people $70,000-a-year salaries for five years,"  writes Matt Krantz in  USA Today

Meanwhile, the economists debate over whether our unemployment problem is structural (a mismatch of available jobs to available workers) or cyclical (a result of falling demand). We’re out of work, economist Paul Krugman  persuasively argues on behalf of the latter scenario, because the economic crisis created a downward spiral of tight wallets, tight money and tight investment. If the U.S. government pumped more money into the economy, demand would rise and construction workers, salespeople and machinists could go back to work.  

But this debate among economists and politicians misses the crucial question: What kind of jobs should we be creating? 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? 

Back in the 1990s, the United States had a golden opportunity to use the money freed up from dramatically shrinking the Pentagon to transform the U.S. manufacturing base and the infrastructure that supports it. We blew it. The peace dividend disappeared into deficit reduction, the United States did not follow the lead of countries like China and Germany to retool for a global green economy, and the Pentagon budget began to creep upward once again. Then, in the first decade of the 21st century, Washington doubled military spending, and the United States fell even further behind on these cutting-edge technologies. 

We now have a second golden opportunity. The economic crisis has prompted even the head of the Pentagon to consider austerity measures, and there is talk of the Deficit Commission considering military budget cuts. As Saturday’s rally demonstrates, popular support for a new jobs program is strong. We need to grab hold of this "green dividend" – downsizing the Pentagon and upsizing our green manufacturing – before it’s too late.  

And the key to this transformation – both economically and politically – is jobs. 

Half-Hearted Start 

The obvious solution to the current economic crisis in the United States is to reduce military spending and apply those savings to a green technology initiative that reduces our dependency on fossil fuels, shrinks our carbon footprint and creates jobs. Such a “green stimulus” could pull our economy out of recession. And, indeed, the Obama administration made such funds a feature of the original stimulus package and also created a position of green jobs czar.  

But the great majority of these investments have come in the one-time American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—otherwise known as the Recovery Act—of 2009. In 2010 the cooperating Departments of Energy, Commerce, Labor, and Education launched the Regional Innovation Cluster Initiative. Its first pilot project was chosen to support the “two key national strategic objectives” of energy security and reducing the U.S. carbon footprint. The idea of this first project is to build on a region’s existing base in the field of energy-efficient building systems and design. Federal funding will underwrite the expansion of this base by a consortium that includes local manufacturing enterprises, government entities, universities, financial institutions, and nonprofits.  

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