Is Economic Conversion and Jobs Really Possible?

By Plotkin, Sheldon C.; Warf, James C. et al. | Monthly Review, December 1994 | Go to article overview

Is Economic Conversion and Jobs Really Possible?


Plotkin, Sheldon C., Warf, James C., Ramberg, Bennett, Bachar, John, Jr., Yano, Al, Monthly Review


In this study we examine whether the conversion of the U.S. economy to one much less dependent on the military can be done in an acceptable way within the framework of our present economic system. Paul Sweezy argues (in "Socialism: Legacy and Renewal," Monthly Review, January, 1993) that the present market system cannot possibly solve the basic long-term economic problems of the society. However, there is nothing wrong with trying to initiate some modest economic changes to ease the jobs displacement resulting from the end of the Cold War. It is in this light that the following economic conversion and jobs programs are being presented.

Conversion from a military to a civilian economy has been talked about often since the end of the Second World War. The argument used for not making the change was the alleged military threat from the Soviet Union. Given the waste of human talent and national resources in the military programs over the past forty plus years, the conversion of the nation's economy is long overdue. Now that the Cold War has ended, the need for economic conversion will presumably be recognized by the majority of the population, and a real program could begin shortly. One can argue about the degree to which the political right does not want conversion, but that point is not worth considering here. What is of crucial importance is exactly how the economy should be converted, given the large fraction of that economy currently dependent on military spending.

In anticipation of the outcome of this analysis, it needs to be kept in mind that conversion will undoubtedly necessitate a certain amount of unemployment for workers now dependent on the military system for their jobs, because many of the jobs created in the process of conversion will be taken by people presently unemployed. In order to accommodate those put out of work in the conversion process, a jobs program will be required. Of course, providing work for unemployed military workers alone is unthinkable, so a jobs program will have to be implemented for the entire labor force.

It is noted that while the federal debt is a problem (about 15 percent of the federal budget goes for interest on the debt), it is far less of a burden than the unemployment, homelessness, and illness created by present economic conditions. The MR editors pointed out some months ago ("Notes from the Editors," February 1993) that the only means of debt reduction that would not have negative economic repercussions would be a wealth tax. While we agree that this is the best solution, the point of view here is that only when the economy has been transformed to a reasonably healthy condition should we even begin to consider the debt problem.

There also must be no illusions regarding the practical aspect of what is being proposed here. It is clear that there can never be any real solutions to U.S. economic problems within the present political structure dominated by the wealthiest group in the country. However, as the past has demonstrated again and again, there is a dynamic quality to U.S. society that triggers revolts and gives rise to such qualitative changes as the income tax, the New Deal, Social Security, etc. Such dynamic forces might possibly develop to such an extent that the programs proposed here could see the light of day in the not too distant future. But we fully recognize the existing impediments to the economic conversion and jobs programs that we now propose.

Economic Conversion

Of the abundance of material written on economic conversion, much refers to job training and employment transfer assistance programs. The fact of the matter, without going into detail, is that the economy cannot be converted by retraining people for jobs that only exist in the policymakers' minds. Another minuscule effort is finding a few military projects that have some nonmilitary application, but these cannot possibly provide the jobs needed for conversion. …

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