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Robert Greenwald

Robert Greenwald is a producer, director, political activist, and Brave New Films founder and president.

November 29th, 2011 3:23 PM

After the Deficit Committee, A New Propaganda Push from the War Profiteers

Since the deficit committee officially failed to produce a plan as of last week, expect the war profiteer spin to hit the fan. Here's an early warning of what to expect, courtesy of Reuters last week:

Failure of a special congressional committee to strike a deficit-reduction deal is expected to unleash desperate lobbying by U.S. arms makers to get lawmakers to block $600 billion in automatic cuts. Their weapon of choice: jobs.

Unfortunately for them, War Costs' new video exposes the truth about massive military budgets and employment: military spending is a job killer

But, don't expect the truth to get in the way of a good propaganda campaign. The profiteer's agitprop push is already underway. 

Searching for "defense cuts" on Google early this morning already brings up articles high in the search feed from paid war-industry shills in the top results, notably a lengthy piece from Loren Thompson, perennial paid defender of massive military budgets (himself on the war industry dime). His argument, that Obama could lose the election due to job losses from military cuts, is one you better get used to seeing. This argument is part of a coordinated effort headed by war industry CEOs and their advocates on Capitol Hill to push elected officials to protect the massive, corruption-filled war budget by slashing social safety nets. This would be a disaster for our economy. 

As we show in our latest War Costs video, military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money, and Congress must cut this spending if we are to get out of this unemployment crisis. 

  Massive Military Budgets Cost Jobs 

"If we're really serious about building anything approximate to a full employment economy, or at least getting us out of the damn recession, the best thing to do is to start cutting the military." Robert Pollin is the co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He and his colleague, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, are working on a new update to an employment study that discusses the jobs impact of various kinds of government spending. PERI has a strong message for elected officials: if you are going to cut, cut the Pentagon budget.

Brave New Foundation's War Costs project spoke with Pollin and other experts several times over the past several weeks as press reports indicated a disposition among the many elected officials to spare the Pentagon from the cuts required to the budget by the debt ceiling law. The consensus of these experts--as opposed to those funded heavily by military money and war profiteers--is that the U.S.'s massive military budgets are terrible for job creation, and that the talking points coming from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the war-profiteer front campaign, "Second To None," are specious propaganda. 

PERI's study uses Department of Commerce data to determine how many people are employed by various kinds of spending, including military, health care, green energy and education. They also examine the employment effects of basic consumer spending. Their discoveries, validated repeatedly as they've updated the study every two years since the original study in 2007, might startle those who bought the Washington consensus on military spending. In short, among the kinds of spending examined, military spending actually costs jobs compared to any other form. It's the only spending that scored worse than basic consumer spending, and it created far less than half the jobs created by education spending. Here are the numbers from their latest available study (.pdf):

  Job Creation Per $1 Billion Spent:

  • Military: 11,200
  • Tax Cuts for Personal Consumption: 15,100
  • Clean Energy: 16,800
  • Health Care: 17,200
  • Education: 26,700

In short, at bare minimum, every billion dollars spent on the military costs at least 3,900 jobs compared to other spending types, and if compared to the best job creator from the study, education, $1 billion in military spending costs 15,500 jobs. And, according to some experts, the actual jobs costs of massive military budgets over the past several decades could be in the millions. 

Dr. Lloyd Dumas is a professor of Political Economy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Texas Dallas and the author of The Peacekeeping Economy. His new book features an extended discussion of what makes manufacturing firms competitive: investment in research and development to develop new tools and techniques to increase product quality, production efficiency and to develop new technologies. He says the massive military budgets of recent years, especially the massive R&D budgets at the Pentagon, have severely undermined this process in the civilian manufacturing sector in the U.S. by luring scientists and engineers out of civilian R&D and into military programs.

"Large military budgets are very bad for job creation especially in the long run, and actually responsible in my view for much of the loss of American industrial jobs...that's a job killer. ...As a matter of fact, cutting defense spending is absolutely crucial to revitalizing American industry and creating millions of jobs that we've already lost--getting them back and getting more on top of that."

Military contractors and their advocates, desperate to prevent cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget, point to critical technological developments that spring from military research. For example, the head of the Aerospace Industries Association, Marion Blakey, said in a recent press conference:

"For decades we've seen how investments in military aerospace endeavors lead to breakthroughs that benefit all of us - the Internet and GPS that grew out of DARPA research come to mind."

Not so fast, according to Dumas. While he concedes that some spill-over effect exists, Dumas pointedly rebuts the implication that we should fund military R&D because of asserted benefits to civilian life. That way of obtaining innovative products is highly inefficient because military application drives research, experiment design and which results get attention. This means that discoveries that could have civilian application come at a much, much higher cost to society than if society sought those innovations directly through civilian research. 

Despite the fact that economic data clearly suggest that military spending is a terrible priority for a government supposedly concerned with job creation, and despite the negative effect of this spending on the United States' long-term competitiveness in the world market, an astounding number of representatives in Congress, Pentagon officials and war industry executives want to protect the military budget from cuts. 

Even worse, they are trying to wrap their campaign in the one word that certainly should not be applied to military spending: jobs. Add a healthy dose of fear-mongering about security into the mix, and you have a killer message campaign run largely with taxpayer dollars to protect war industry revenues. 

The Fear Campaign 

War industry CEOs have allies all over Capitol Hill pushing Congress and the administration to protect the bloated military budget from cuts. For example, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) recently sent a high-temperature letter to the deficit committee, including the mind-blowing assertion that less military spending will result in longer wars--irrespective of the fact that we're spending all this money on the longest war in U.S. history in Afghanistan. He's continued his agitation after the committee's failure, which isn't all that surprising considering his massive campaign cash take from the war industry. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has filled the airwaves in recent weeks with sky-is-falling rhetoric, which last week included a flat-out declaration that he sees protecting the business interests of the military contractors as part of his job. McKeon and Panetta have both included in their scare-mongering the theme that cuts to the military budget would "hollow out" the military. Of course, they always fail to mention that the Pentagon's budget would only be drawn down to roughly 2007 topline number for the military budget (which, by the way, McKeon enthusiastically voted for--twice), after which it would resume growing again. 

The real lipstick that McKeon, Panetta and others put on their propaganda pig, however, is the jobs fiction cooked up by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a "nonprofit" governed by executives from the major military contractor organizations which advocates for their businesses on Capitol Hill. AIA paid Dr. Steven Fuller from George Mason University to write a paper about job losses that would occur if sequestration--the across-the-board cuts triggered by deficit committee failure--took place. Fuller's estimate checked in at roughly 1 million jobs. Pollin, however, takes strong issue with AIA's methods in the debate, pointing to their study's total lack of context.

"The real point is to compare the relative employment impacts of military spending versus spending on domestic infrastructure, on the green economy, on health care and on education. ...It is fair to say that every time we take money out of these alternatives, it is costing the economy jobs by putting money into the military."

Long-time war industry observer Bill Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, had a simple description for the Panetta/McKeon/war industry media push around jobs. He called it simply, "a propaganda campaign."

"To me there's no question that this scare campaign about jobs by the Pentagon and the industry is a propaganda campaign. And the reason I say that is, first of all, it's coordinated. So for example, one day an executive from the Aerospace Industries Association says we're going to increase unemployment 1 percent if we make significant cuts in military spending. The next day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta calls congress and says, 'Guess what? We're going to gain 1 percent in unemployment if we make significant cuts in military spending.' So they've obviously sat down and gotten their stories straight. They're working shoulder-to-shoulder to scare people into spending more on the military than we need."

Hartung pointed out the industry's penchant for inflated jobs numbers, urging readers to take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. (See our latest video for more information.) 

Right now, Congress and the administration are the target of a coordinated propaganda campaign involving war industry allies in Congress and the administration, funded in large part by huge corporations whose executives rely on the taxpayer for lavish lifestyles. 

This spin campaign flies in the face of what economists know to be true: that military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money. 

If Congress acts on the "information" they've obtained during this propaganda push, there's a real chance they will protect the worst kind of spending for job creation--the military budget--by slashing other kinds of spending that create far more jobs. This would be a disastrous decision that would prolong and deepen our economic woes. We've got to push back with the truth: military spending costs jobs compared to other ways of spending the money.

In response to this propaganda campaign from the war industry and their allies, Brave New Foundation's War Costs campaign has launched our own effort to break through to Washington, D.C. with the truth. We have set up a tool that includes a new video about the job-killing impact of war spending, targeted at your elected officials. Please use it today and let them know that you want Congress to make real cuts to the war budget to save our economy. The clock may have run out on the deficit committee, but the real fight to cut job-killing Pentagon budgets is just beginning, and we need your help. Please watch our latest video and send it to your elected officials today.

Join the War Costs campaign on Facebook, and follow Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe on Twitter.

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