Economist Marty Feldstein of Harvard makes a good case in today’s Wall Street Journal for increasing – rather than decreasing – defense spending in the current downturn as an economic stimulus package:
A 10% increase in defense outlays for procurement and for research would contribute about $20 billion a year to the overall stimulus budget. A 5% rise in spending on operations and maintenance would add an additional $10 billion. That spending could create about 300,000 additional jobs. And raising the military’s annual recruitment goal by 15% would provide jobs for an additional 30,000 young men and women in the first year.
Indeed it is hard to think of any jobs program half as useful as expanding the ranks of the armed services. We actually need more soldiers; we don’t necessarily need a bunch of people doing WPA-style make-work.
To Feldstein’s point about economics, I would also add a point about politics. President-elect Obama seems intent on reversing the Democrats’ reputation as being soft on defense. Thus he has appointed retired General Jim Jones to run his NSC and kept Bob Gates on to run Defense. The impact of those appointments will be undercut, however, if he then turns around and cuts defense spending at a time when the nation is waging two-plus wars. Especially at a time when the army desperately needs to be expanded in size, the navy needs more ships, the air force needs to purchase new tankers to replace an aging fleet, and all the services need more unmanned aerial vehicles and other ISR (intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance) assets.
Somehow I think Obama is aware of all this, and thus won’t make the Department of Defense cut back. I hope I am not being overly optimistic.