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We have just a week left to help Burlington, Vermont kill the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the biggest taxpayer ripoff in human history. On Monday, October 7, the Burlington City Council will vote on a binding resolution that would block F-35 warplanes from being based at Burlington International Airport, which is owned by the city.

If the Council votes to block the planes from being based in Burlington, that won't kill the $1.5 trillion F-35 taxpayer ripoff by itself. But it will set a crucial precedent. It will prove that the F-35 is politically vulnerable. It will mark a historic defeat of pork-barrel military Keynesianism by citizen engagement. It would help change the national posture of Democrats on unnecessary military spending. It would help abolish the dogma that Democrats have to support unnecessary military spending when it takes place in their districts.

The dogma that Democrats have to support unnecessary military spending when it takes place in their districts is deeply ingrained. But there's no intrinsic reason why it should be true. Democrats wouldn't support federal spending for propaganda against birth control if it took place in their districts. Democrats wouldn't support federal spending to promote homophobia if it took place in their districts. Why should Democrats support federal spending for the taxpayer-ripoff, Social Security-cutting, job-destroying F-35, just because it takes place in their districts?

A crucial fact about the Burlington fight over the F-35 is that it's largely among Democrats. Republicans won't decide whether Grandma's Social Security check will be stolen by Lockheed Martin. Democrats will.

Vermont is deep blue: the Cook PVI of Vermont is D+16. There are 14 City Councilors in Burlington. The partisan breakdown is Democrats, 7; Progressives, 4; Independents, 2; Republicans, 1.

If the seven Democrats and four Progressives voted yes to bar the F-35 from Burlington, while both Independents and the lone Republican voted no, the binding resolution would pass 11-3. Even if only a bare majority of Democrats voted yes, the resolution would still have eight votes out of 14.

So this fight about national priorities is a fight among Democrats. Since Democrats are supposed to favor Social Security, Medicare benefits, Head Start and food stamps over corporate welfare for Lockheed Martin, this should be a slam dunk. But it's not. Vermont's leading elected officials - Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch - support military Keynesianism in Vermont, even though military Keynesianism destroys American jobs.  

People who have never seen the numbers often act surprised that military Keynesianism destroys American jobs. There's a powerful unquestioned dogma that unnecessary military spending creates jobs.

But the dogma just isn't true. Compared to every other form of government spending to stimulate the economy - including tax cuts to promote personal consumption - unnecessary military spending destroys jobs. It's true that if you could borrow the money for increased military spending, and didn't have to pay for it through tax increases or cuts elsewhere, and if you weren't allowed to borrow money to do anything else, including cutting taxes, borrowing money for unnecessary military spending would beat doing nothing in terms of creating jobs.

But that fact that unnecessary military spending could create jobs if you could borrow the money for only that and nothing else is totally irrelevant now, because national borrowing is now capped by the Budget Control Act. Every unnecessary dollar we spend on the military now has to come from cutting domestic spending or raising taxes. Given the domestic spending that is likely to be cut and the taxes that are likely to be raised to pay for more unnecessary military spending, hitting the incomes of people in the lower 99% of the income distribution, that means that unnecessary military spending is going to destroy jobs.

These basic facts about the economic impact of unnecessary military spending were documented in a 2011 paper by University of Massachusetts economists Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, using the standard economic models which are, without controversy, used to estimate everything else. The numbers in Table 1, page 5, imply that every time you move a billion dollars from the domestic economy to the Pentagon budget, you destroy 3,900 American jobs. Moving $1.5 trillion from the domestic economy to the Pentagon budget, if you did it all at once, would destroy more than 5 million jobs.

Government spending on big objects is highly visible. If Congressman Joe can grab federal dollars to build a big military boondoggle in his district, his constituents will see people working on the big military boondoggle and may see it as credible when Congressman Joe claims that he is putting people to work.

But Congressman Joe is actually destroying jobs if the money for the military boondoggle comes from cutting Social Security benefits, raising the payroll tax, cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, or spending less on food stamps, because these things deliver dollars more efficiently into the hands of working families who will spend the money in America. Protecting Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and food stamps won't build a shiny military boondoggle. But it will put more people to work than a shiny military boondoggle.  

Because Social Security is so efficient at putting money in the hands of working families who will spend it - no corporate middleman takes a huge cut - there's no well-heeled corporate lobby to promote it. Lockheed Martin doesn't get a cut if Grandma's Social Security check is increased - 100% of the money goes straight to Grandma. But if the government buys warplanes it doesn't need, Lockheed Martin makes a fortune. With its taxpayer-financed wealth, Lockheed Martin can spend money on Democratic politicians to keep its taxpayer-financed gravy train running.

Could citizen engagement with Democrats turn this around in Burlington? Citizen engagement with rank-and-file Democrats in Congress was decisive in blocking the U.S. bombing of Syria, even though the Democratic leadership in Congress was in lockstep support of the bombing. A key vehicle for citizen engagement with Democrats against the war was

What if MoveOn members around the country encouraged Democrats in Vermont to oppose the F-35? Let's spread the MoveOn petition and find out.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.


I want Burlington to kill the F-35 taxpayer ripoff

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Comment Preferences

  •  I doubt it would be binding (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, PatriciaVa, nextstep

    and the fedeal government could probably get a permanent injunction to any City plan.

    •  It would be binding (0+ / 0-)

      the city owns the airport. Politically, it would be a huge hit for the Pentagon to oppose the city, and it's not at all obvious why they would do that, since evidence suggests that the Pentagon thinks that Burlington is a bad choice and was bullied into it by political pressure. See my comment below.

    •  How many cities opposed the Iraq War? (0+ / 0-)

      Municipality and municipality passed resolutions against the War of Choice.

      Yet, even Senator Clinton and Sentaor Kerry supported it.

      That said, in 30 years, manned fighter jets won't be operating anymore.

      Much cheaper and more deadly are UAVs.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

      by PatriciaVa on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:35:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Robert - could the federal government (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    take a portion of the airport by eminent domain if the Air Force needed to base the F-35s there?

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 02:05:25 PM PDT

    •  re: could the federal government (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib, mrkvica, Sandino

      In theory, yes. In practice, extremely unlikely. Evidence suggests that Burlington would not have been the Pentagon's first choice, had they not been bullied into it by Vermont Members of Congress.


      Of all potential F35 bases, only Burlington basing will have an increased impact on residential land.
      - Air Force EIS report

      “It would be more costly to do [F35] missions at Burlington… but political promises were made.”
      - Anonymous Pentagon official

      Not basing in Vermont is the preferable environmental alternative.
      - Air Force EIS report

  •  i wouldn't get to awful excited about that "study" (0+ / 0-)

    you cited, and its conclusions. i'm no dr. krugman, but a brief review identifies at least one major, glaring weakness:

    "It is rather whether spending $1 billion on the
    military creates a greater or lesser number of jobs
    relative to spending the same $1 billion on alternative
    public purposes, such as education, health care
    or the green economy, or having consumers spend
    that amount of money in any way they choose."

    it assumes, absent any evidence, that if the billion weren't spent on the military (in this case, the F-35), it would automatically be spent on domestic, civilian programs instead. it also assumes those domestic, civilian programs to be of the type indicated: education, health care or the green economy. instead, what if that billion was spent on infrastructure (ie: bridges) instead? those jobs, like the jobs associated with the F-35, would be gone, once the project was complete. or, what if the billion was used to reduce the national debt instead? no jobs created there, or additional contributions to SS.

    as well, the authors seem to operate under the impression that spending on the military operates in some kind of economic "black hole", where the cash goes in, never to see the light of the universe again. where do they think that money mostly gets spent (hint: does the United States ring a bell?). the bulk of the military budget gets spent right here in the good old USofA, creating the traditional economic "ripple effect" throughout the greater economy, like the vast majority of all federal spending.

    don't get me wrong, any fighter that requires two different engines, and 20-30 hours of ground maintenance, for every hour of flight time, has to make you wonder just how effective it will actually be in use. but arguing that that spending adds little to the overall economy is willfully blinding yourself to basic economic facts, for purposes of ideology.

    •  no, that's not right (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The study doesn't assume anything about where the money would be spent. It compares alternative uses.

      It is the case now (as I noted in the piece) that there is now a cap on federal borrowing under the Budget Control Act. The experience of that last few years is that that cap is going to be hit and not exceeded. Therefore, any dollar which is not spent on the military is almost surely going to be spent in the domestic economy, whether by domestic spending or tax cuts. It's not going to be used to pay down the debt over and above what is required by the Budget Control Act.

      It's true that the study did not look at building bridges. But the figure of 3,900 jobs comes from comparing military spending to the least efficient alternative, tax cuts to promote personal consumption. It's safe to assume that this is a floor for comparison.

      As for your claim that the 'the authors seem to operate under the impression that spending on the military operates in some kind of economic "black hole", where the cash goes in, never to see the light of the universe again,' that is simply a misunderstanding on your part, as you will see if you go back and look at Table 1 on page 5 again. The authors list the same categories of job creation for military spending as for non-military spending: direct, indirect, and induced. No-one claims that these numbers are zero for military spending; they aren't. The point is that they are smaller for military spending, so if the money drops down on you from the sky, you can create jobs by spending on the military, but if you have to take the money from the other categories that create more jobs per dollar than military spending, you're going to destroy jobs in the net - cutting domestic spending (or raising taxes on working families) will destroy more jobs than the military spending of the same amount will create.

      As I explained in the diary.

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