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Never mind their aversion to deficit financing generally. Those conservatives who believe in the power of government to stimulate the economy should support even deeper cuts in defense spending. That is because other kinds of spending would stimulate the economy even more, for several reasons. Example: Researchers at the University ofMassachusetts, Amherst, point out that the labor intensity in education is higher than the labor intensity of the military, which relies on machinery much more than schools do. So if job creation is the goal, Congress should shift funds from the Pentagon to education.
What’s more, a lot of defense spending ends up overseas: “U.S.military personnel spend only 43 percent of their income on domestic goods and services ... while the U.S. civilian population, on average, spends 78 percent of their income on domestic products.” A sailor might blow his paycheck in Bangkok or Berlin, but a teacher is more likely to blow it in Baltimore or Brooklyn.
The truth is that the jobs argument is just plain wrong. Industry-funded studies may claim devastating harm from defense cuts, but they have a powerful motive to paint a grim picture: From 2001 to 2010, defense-industry profits quadrupled. You can’t blame the industry for wanting to keep the spigot flowing.
Disinterested observers, however, find something rather different. The Pacific Research Institute’s Benjamin Zycher points out that inflation-adjusted defense appropriations rose every year from 1981 to 1989, then fell in eight out of the next 11 years. If defense spending were as important to the economy as conservatives pretend, then GDP should have moved up and down in tandem with the Pentagon’s budget. Nothing anywhere close to that happened. Except for two years — 1982 and 1991 — the economy grew steadily throughout the period.
To conservatives, government is a bloated bureaucracy in pursuit of an inflated mission that wastes untold billions with no accountability. They detest that sort of thing when it wears the name of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education. So why do they give it a pass whenever it puts on a uniform?
This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.