F-22 Fight Unveils a Broken Policy
August 5, 2009 - 3:32pm ET
As I’ve written prior, the very expensive F-22 fighter jet program will likely end when Congress passes the defense authorization later this year. Its demise though came only after a hard fight between the Obama administration and Congress. Despite all of the F-22’s faults, many members of Congress still saved the jet in order to preserve jobs – a reason they cannot be completely faulted for. That is why the F-22 saga is a prime example of our broken system; we lack a government strategy to make sound investments and create jobs. Instead, Congress is often forced to fight for programs that nobody wants.
Just to kill the F-22 was difficult. With production in 44 states, 200 members in Congress pleaded with the Obama administration in a letter earlier this year, stating the jet was invaluable to the economy. And when the defense funding bill moved through Congress, Republicans and Democrats, voted against killing the F-22, including more liberal senators like Barbara Boxer (CA), Diane Feinstein (CA) and Chris Dodd (CT). Even Sen. Kerry (MA) questioned ending the F-22 until the administration assured him that Massachusetts’ job losses would be mitigated with production of the alternative F-35 jet.
And although the end of the F-22 is a victory for defense reform advocates, Congress has funded other programs that Secretary Gates called to cut. To preserve thousands of jobs, programs such as the F-35 alternative engine and the VH-71 presidential helicopter will continue at a cost of nearly $1 billion next year alone.
But despite advocates’ claims that weapons generate jobs, defense spending is actually among the least productive investments. According to a study by the Political Economic Research Institute at UMass Amherst, per $1 billion, defense only produces 8,600 jobs, compared to infrastructure’s 12,800, education’s 17,700, or mass transit’s 19,800.
And over the long term, economist Dean Baker found, “military spending drains resources from the productive economy. For this reason, it will typically lead to slower economic growth, less investment, higher trade deficits, and fewer jobs.”
Not to forget, defense products yield little utility, serving military purposes, as opposed to broader benefits that come with a bridge built or solar panel installed.
Though of course there are many, many other programs that present a clear choice between logic and lunacy, which Congress must bankroll solely for jobs. This is why it is important for the Obama administration to get serious about an industrial plan to redirect defense investment to underserved areas such as clean energy and infrastructure. Such a plan not only gets more bang for the buck, but also can serve as a foundation for sustained job creation, particularly to revive our manufacturing sector.
Look for my upcoming posts on how a transition from defense to alternative investments is easier than we might think.
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