An Early Christmas for Military Contractors

December 05, 1999

Mark Weisbrot
The Record (NJ), December 5, 1999

Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, November 24, 1999
Las Vegas Review Journal
, January 6, 2000

A radio ad targeted for the Iowa Democratic primaries raised a few eyebrows recently:

“Christmas came a little early here at Lockheed-Martin, and we want to say thanks to every Iowa taxpayer for making it possible, ” says a kindly, gruff voice.

“This is Vance Coffman, CEO of Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s biggest defense contractors. . . Last year alone the Pentagon sent 13 billion dollars our way.

We’re celebrating now because Congress just voted to send us MORE money to keep working on the F-22. We know that’s a waste of money, especially when Congress has to shortchange our schools and healthcare for our kids to pay for it, but the bottom line is: our bottom line comes first.

So as the holidays approach, remember: it’s better to give than to receive. And when you see all those federal dollars coming out of your next paycheck, remember: you’re giving. and we at Lockheed-Martin are receiving.”

Lockheed-Martin didn’t appreciate the humor, and after they called the radio station that aired the ad, it was pulled. Money talks.

The ad was sponsored by Iowans for Sensible Priorities, an affiliate of the Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. Co-founder Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, has assembled an impressive and respectable group of more than 500 business people and former military and government officials. They have set as their modest goal to move about 15 percent– or $40 billion– of US military spending to domestic needs such as education and health care.

With creativity and humor, the Business Leaders ( have been reminding the populace that there is a direct connection between being number one in military largesse, and number thirteen among industrialized countries in infant mortality. And being the only developed country that doesn’t provide health insurance for its citizens.

It’s a simple lesson that appears in every introductory economics textbook– the proverbial tradeoff between guns and butter– but has somehow disappeared from public debate. Congress is now set to add another $17 billion to the Pentagon budget for the next fiscal year. This increase alone is twice what we would need to fully fund the Head Start program for all eligible children.

Over the last half-century military spending has played two important roles in the US economy. The first was an expansionary fiscal policy– government spending which boosted overall growth and employment. The second was a back-door industrial policy– that is, a means of supporting the research, development, and markets for key industries such as aerospace, computers, and electronics.

These were wasteful and inefficient ways to accomplish goals that other governments simply set out explicitly. But Cold War ideology and the jobs created by military spending were enough to keep common sense concerns from getting too much play.

Now we are at the top of America’s longest-running peacetime economic expansion, fueled not by military spending but rather, for better or worse, by consumption derived from a stock market bubble. Although the biggest military contractors, like Lockheed-Martin, still feed voraciously at the Pentagon’s big trough, this spending appears more and more as pure pork. You can add up the military expenditures of Russia and China, throw in the so-called “rogue states”– Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Cuba–  and it still doesn’t get to half of what we spend.

Of course, it’s not only pork that keeps our military spending at levels far exceeding America’s defense needs. In his visit to Greece last week, protesters referred to President Clinton as the “planetarchis,” or ruler of the planet. There is a long-held understanding among the governments of the richest countries: Washington supplies the global police force, and in return gets to control the 182-member IMF, the World Bank, the UN Security Council, along with a virtual veto power over European and Japanese foreign policy.

This delights our foreign policy establishment, but it’s not clear what we the people get for our $1000 per person (including babies) Pentagon tax each year. Few Americans take great pride in our most recent military adventure in Kosovo, where our high-tech advantage allowed NATO to turn an ethnic cleansing of Albanians into an ethnic cleansing of Serbs. This was accomplished through a relentless bombing of the Serb civilian population– a bombing, which it now turns out, killed about as many innocent civilians as were murdered by Serb para-militaries as they drove the Albanians out of Kosovo.

Ten years after the end of the Cold War, it is only natural that Americans would question whether it is in our interest to sacrifice health care and educational achievement for our children in order to maintain the privileges of a far-flung empire. For most citizens, it’s an easy choice. Now all we need is the kind of political clout that Lockheed-Martin has.

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