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How to Use an Old Trick to Create New Jobs

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Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and former secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, has come up with an idea to keep Americans employed but working on projects other than never-ending wars: a National Defense Full Employment Act.

Yes, it sounds suspiciously like something related to a massive military mission, which is exactly Reich's goal.

Writing in Salon today, Reich calls attention to what he calls the country's "biggest -- and only major -- jobs program: the US military."

He says:
Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to utensils. (I’m not even including all the foreign contractors employing non-US citizens.)

If we didn’t have this giant military jobs program, the U.S. unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5 percent.
But Riech is not calling for more military spending. Quite the opposite. After describing the vast amounts of money spent to keep this strategy going, and outlining political moves that keep the federal government doling out funds on military projects that make zero economic sense, he asks: "Wouldn’t it be better to have a jobs program that created things we really need -- like light-rail trains, better school facilities, public parks, water and sewer systems, and non-carbon energy sources -- than things we don’t, like obsolete weapons systems?"

Sure, lots of people could get on board with that. The problem, however, is that none of the goals Reich names inspire the same patriotism (and accompanying political capital) that comes with military branding. My guess is that "Support Our Better School Facilities," is not going to make it on a t-shirt any time soon.

Reich's solution:
Historically some of America’s biggest jobs programs that were critical to the nation’s future have been justified by national defense, although they’ve borne almost no relation to it. The National Defense Education Act of the late 1950s trained a generation of math and science teachers. The National Defense Highway Act created millions of construction jobs turning the nation’s two-lane highways into four- and six-lane Interstates.

Maybe this is the way to convince Republicans and blue-dog Democrats to spend more federal dollars putting Americans back, and working on things we genuinely need: Call it the National Defense Full Employment Act.
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