Politicians and corporate execs want to convince us that war creates jobs and economic stimulus for all.
In reality, defense spending has become yet another way for wealth to transfer from the working class to the elites.
And this one is getting people killed.
When politicians say war is good for the economy, they often evoke one specific war: World War II.
The industrial buildup for World War II created nearly 20 million jobs, and increased wages in manufacturing across industries
When the war ended, those effects stuck around. Income and wealth were more distributed, union membership and power increased, and women and Black Americans who entered the workforce during the war remained in the workforce.
Before World War II there was no dedicated defense industry, so everyday industry like carmakers pivoted to war supplies. FDR made it mandatory for those contractors to follow labor protection laws and respect unions, and he enforced it.
But that same time period also created the permanent defense industry: there were always war profiteers, but never before had there been an entire industry that existed for war.
As the decades wore on, the government kept bolstering these defense manufacturers while relaxing labor protections. In the 70s, President Nixon wrapped a quarter-of-a-billion dollar loan to Lockheed Martin into a jobs bill, and in the 90s the Pentagon agreed to pay for defense companies’ restructuring costs when they decided to merge. In 2022, the industry defeated an amendment that would have banned companies with NLRB or FLSA labor violations.
Research at the Watson Institute of Brown University found that over the past two decades the Department of Defense takes an average of $260 billion a year out of the national budget.
Spending that same amount on clean energy or healthcare instead would’ve created 50% more jobs. Education spending would’ve doubled the amount of new jobs.
The post-World War II economy that people look back upon wasn’t created by blindly pouring money into defense, but smart social and domestic spending.
We should and could be investing in things that make our lives better and create good paying unionized jobs, nationwide. But we can’t do that when we’re clinging on to a myth sold to us by some of the wealthiest people in America who are hellbent on profiting off of war.