Myth 4: National arms industries are technologically innovative job creators


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When security justifications for military spending and arms trade falter, the economic value of the arms industry is often presented as the clincher. The defense industry, claim supporters, sustains millions of jobs, is worth billions to the economy, and is a key driver of technological innovation.

In fact, even in the biggest arms producers, the military sector is only a small proportion of the economy, and the arms industry only a tiny proportion of employment—and the economic role of arms exports is even smaller.  But looking to the broader picture, most of the economic evidence, collected from dozens of statistical studies within and across countries, suggests that military spending if anything tends to have a negative effect on countries’ economic growth rates in the long-term, or at best no measurable effect at all.

Of course, large amounts of government spending on anything—even digging holes and filling them in again—will create jobs. But studies in the US show that spending on the military (including both personnel, operations and armaments spending) creates considerably fewer jobs per billion dollar than just about any other major area of spending, in particular than healthcare, education, or infrastructure. And each of these alternatives sectors does far more to benefit the nation’s future well-being and economic development than military spending.

When it comes to technology, while it might once have been the case that military technology produced big ‘spin-offs’ for civilian industry, now the reverse is true: the civil sector is at the technological cutting-edge. The arms industry depends on innovation from the civilian sector – ‘spin-ins’ for advancement, especially in terms of IT and communications technology. Moreover, some of the big ‘spin-offs’ of the past, such as the claim that the internet was the result of military R&D, are not quite what they seem. It is true that in the early years, the US military saw the potential of computer-to-computer communications and gave the technology a push, but it did not invent the idea, and the subsequent development of the internet into something that could connect sources of information and images the world over—the world-wide web—came entirely from the civilian side.

Jobs: not much bang for the buck

When security justifications for military spending and arms trade falter, the economic value of the arms industry is often presented as the clincher. The defense industry, claim supporters, sustains millions of jobs, is worth billions to the economy, and is a key driver of technological innovation.

In fact, even in the biggest arms producers, the military sector is only a small proportion of the economy, and the arms industry only a tiny proportion of employment—and the economic role of arms exports is even smaller.  But looking to the broader picture, most of the economic evidence, collected from dozens of statistical studies within and across countries, suggests that military spending if anything tends to have a negative effect on countries’ economic growth rates in the long-term, or at best no measurable effect at all.

Of course, large amounts of government spending on anything—even digging holes and filling them in again—will create jobs. But studies in the US show that spending on the military (including both personnel, operations and armaments spending) creates considerably fewer jobs per billion dollar than just about any other major area of spending, in particular than healthcare, education, or infrastructure. And each of these alternatives sectors does far more to benefit the nation’s future well-being and economic development than military spending.

When it comes to technology, while it might once have been the case that military technology produced big ‘spin-offs’ for civilian industry, now the reverse is true: the civil sector is at the technological cutting-edge. The arms industry depends on innovation from the civilian sector – ‘spin-ins’ for advancement, especially in terms of IT and communications technology. Moreover, some of the big ‘spin-offs’ of the past, such as the claim that the internet was the result of military R&D, are not quite what they seem. It is true that in the early years, the US military saw the potential of computer-to-computer communications and gave the technology a push, but it did not invent the idea, and the subsequent development of the internet into something that could connect sources of information and images the world over—the world-wide web—came entirely from the civilian side.