Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Defense spending as a job creator: The last refuge of today’s defense lobbyists

The last refuge of defense lobbyists isn’t patriotism, it is arguing that defense spending means jobs. Here’s a quote from yesterday’s Boston Globe: ‘When people are polled right now, what’s their number one issue? Jobs and the economy. Defense and homeland security and terrorism are polling very, very low,’ said Michael H. Herson, a lobbyist ...

The last refuge of defense lobbyists isn't patriotism, it is arguing that defense spending means jobs. Here's a quote from yesterday's Boston Globe:

'When people are polled right now, what's their number one issue? Jobs and the economy. Defense and homeland security and terrorism are polling very, very low,' said Michael H. Herson, a lobbyist whose firm's clients include Raytheon Co., the defense titan based in Waltham. 'So how do you make this issue resonate? You talk about jobs.'

The problem with that approach is that defense spending resembles consumption more than investment -- once the money is spent, it is gone. Probably half the bridges we drive over were built during the Depression, but no one, except maybe some rear echelon Taliban, is using weapons bought then. So if the worry is how to use federal spending to create or preserve jobs, the best way to do that is to spend on infrastructure building -- roads, bridges, schools, hospitals. These all pay additional benefits. And as Joe Nocera pointed out in yesterday's New York Times, the ingredients (labor, capital and equipment) are all readily available at historically low prices.

The last refuge of defense lobbyists isn’t patriotism, it is arguing that defense spending means jobs. Here’s a quote from yesterday’s Boston Globe:

‘When people are polled right now, what’s their number one issue? Jobs and the economy. Defense and homeland security and terrorism are polling very, very low,’ said Michael H. Herson, a lobbyist whose firm’s clients include Raytheon Co., the defense titan based in Waltham. ‘So how do you make this issue resonate? You talk about jobs.’

The problem with that approach is that defense spending resembles consumption more than investment — once the money is spent, it is gone. Probably half the bridges we drive over were built during the Depression, but no one, except maybe some rear echelon Taliban, is using weapons bought then. So if the worry is how to use federal spending to create or preserve jobs, the best way to do that is to spend on infrastructure building — roads, bridges, schools, hospitals. These all pay additional benefits. And as Joe Nocera pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times, the ingredients (labor, capital and equipment) are all readily available at historically low prices.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.