Military Jobs: A Case Study
Whether the debates are about higher education or the Greek default on its debt, they seem to revolve around the question of job creation. The message has been part of the political landscape since the Great Depression, and is bound to preoccupy the upcoming presidential election.
What does it really mean to create jobs? It could mean opening a little shop or restaurant, a garage or salon, and hiring people to help run the operation.
In such cases, it is presumed that the new employee was unemployed before—otherwise this would only mean job transfer rather than job creation.
Economists and politicians alike promote this idea of job creation as a means towards economic growth, a way to increase the economic pie so that it can feed more mouths.
The appeal of job creation isn’t limited to economic growth, but also includes the presumption that every new job necessarily means one less welfare recipient. If you have a job, you won’t collect unemployment benefits.
But here, too, there is as much an economic justification as a moral one: the newly employed will become productive members of society, earning their keep rather than remaining lazy dependents on the welfare state.
The moral argument ends up being about fairness, as candidate Mitt Romney was overheard to have claimed: 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes will never understand a) how the system really works, b) how they are a drag on the economy, and c) why they don’t count.
In the name of preserving jobs, Governor Hickenlooper went hat in hand to plead for the retention of the military presence at Fort Carson. But does it matter what kind of jobs are we talking about? Are there better or worse jobs, well-paying or below-poverty jobs?
The recent announcement of Walmart that it’ll increase wages to 40% of its employees was greeted with cheers around the nation. It even agreed not to have its employees “on call,” and provide them with regular schedules.
To some extent, this is progress. It has been well documented that Walmart employees have cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in Medicaid costs and other welfare programs, like food stamps (Forbes, 4/15/14). So, if Walmart pays its employees more in wages, America’s support of its employees decreases.
Not all jobs are alike, and some, like the Walmart ones, can be costly to the public at large. We should carefully examine the facts before we applaud a policy change.
What about marijuana jobs in Colorado, now that recreational consumption is as legal as medical use? No matter how much the leaders of Colorado Springs dislike the idea, I’d venture to say that the jobs created in this industry pay better than at Walmart, and thus contribute positively to the state’s economy.
If you have a moral objection to pot jobs in comparison to Walmart jobs, we are having a different conversation: no longer about job creation but about morality. Is the morality of Walmart—outsourcing overseas and poverty-level wages—superior to that of the pot industry, where chilling with a joint increases food consumption?
If we remove moral judgment about which industry is better than the other, perhaps the debate can focus on the economy itself. And if economic health is the goal—sustainability and/or growth—we might turn to the military for advice.
No, I’m not suggesting that we all apply for military service or that we should expect the armed forces to ensure the economic health of the nation; it has enough on its plate.
Yet, the military is a successful welfare system developed over a century: educating young men and women, training them, and preparing them for civilian jobs and careers.
The ROTC program is a model of sensible investment in the future of students who become officers and then serve in the military. Why not replicate it for all other national needs, from teachers and engineers, to nurses and scientists?
What if corporate America identified young college students, paid for their education, and then signed them to work for them at reduced rates for the first few years of their careers until they repaid for their education?
If the military can do this efficiently—a government agency by any definition—couldn’t the private sector do it even better? From hospitals to technology startups we can envision a crop of dedicated and highly qualified young students eager to contribute to their country’s wellbeing.
Incidentally, this would of course reduce student debt which right now overshadows mortgage debt. Win-win? Too good to be true? If tried, this experiment can be as good as the military one, and perhaps more popular for those not interested in warfare.
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com