Amid last week’s bread (organic, of course) and circuses (Republican, for now), came the 70th anniversary of the day in 1945 when Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
Seemingly forgotten is this fact: The United States is still at war in Asia — and has been more or less continuously since Pearl Harbor, as the American Century morphed into the New American Century. And that calls to mind another fact: War can be good for business — some businesses, anyway.
As several readers pointed out after last week’s column about Ohio’s economic decline, Europe and Asia got rebuilt after World War II with American-made goods. That stoked Ohio’s manufacturing boom of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. But when Europe and Asia recovered, they started producing (and exporting) what they’d once bought from Ohio. That’s part of the reason — just part — why wages stagnate and living standards fall.
Meanwhile, even as investors dumped the industrial Midwest like a first spouse dropped for a trophy, permanent war — 70-plus years and counting — has spurred an endless, two-party economic stimulus program for “defense” contractors, many in the Sun Belt (for better test-flight weather), who peddle warplanes, missiles and guns to the Pentagon.
Fair enough: America’s fighting men and women deserve the best. But the curious result is that Congress’ fair-weather patriots have turned on its head the defiant toast that a genuine American patriot, Robert Goodloe Harper, lobbed at offensive demands the French government made in the 1790s: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” In today’s Washington, that toast could well be, “Millions for defense, and whatever we have left, if anything, for the taxpayers.”
A good example is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, troubled by engineering problems and price, which the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog for Congress, says is the Defense Department’s “most costly and ambitious acquisition program.”
According to a 2014 report by the Project on Government Oversight, the cheapest basic F-35 will cost $159 million. And given the F-35’s problems, the price is likely to end up much higher.
In fairness, Lockheed Martin’s website claims that the F-35 project provides 2,623 “direct and indirect” Ohio jobs. It also claims to provide 39,675 such jobs in Texas — and 26,135 in California (and surely a legion of lobbyists at the U.S. Capitol). But if taxpayers, instead of spending $159 million on one warplane, spent that amount on other things, consider the possibilities.
One, which Ohio homeowners might prefer to paying rising property taxes on houses and yards, could be to build one fewer F-35 warplane and spend that $159 million on, say, Ohio’s schools.
What could $159 million cover? According to Ohio Department of Education tallies of school district spending, $159 million could pay for all but maybe $12 million of Westerville schools’ annual spending. Or, for two years, most of what Greater Cleveland’s Elyria schools annually spend. Or, also for two years, roughly what the Dayton area’s Beavercreek schools annually spend.
Politics is about choices. Maybe voters (and the people they send to Columbus and Washington) need to consider making some different ones. Is it wiser to keep Texas and California assembly lines moving, making things to destroy other things, rather than to school Ohioans for the future and retrain displaced Ohio workers for new jobs and professions?
That’s the taxes-and-spending question people in elected office, and candidates, should debate. Until they do — until campaigns stop being standup-wearing-a-tie — politics will be the same-old, same old, and meanwhile it’ll be bombs away.
Thomas Suddes, a member of the editorial board, writes from Athens.