The NY Times reports:
Over the last decade, even as spending on new military projects has reached its highest level since the Reagan years, the Pentagon has increasingly been losing the people most skilled at managing them. That brain drain, military experts like Mr. Kaminski say, is a big factor in a breakdown in engineering management that has made huge cost overruns and long delays the maddening norm.I think this is actually a good thing for society. As Dwight Eisenhower wrote:
Mr. Kaminski’s generation of engineers, which was responsible for many of the most successful military projects of the 1970s and ’80s, is aging, and fewer of the nation’s top young engineers, software developers and mathematicians are replacing them. Instead, they are joining high-tech companies and other civilian firms that provide not just better pay than the military or its contractors, but also greater cachet — what one former defense industry engineer called “geek credit.”
Precise numbers are scarce, but one measure of this shift can be found at the Air Force: Through a combination of budget cuts, the demands of fighting two wars and the difficulty of recruiting and retaining top engineers, officials say, the number of civilian and uniformed engineers on the Air Force’s core acquisition staff has fallen 35 percent to 40 percent over the last 14 years.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.Of course the internet, microprocessors and self-driving cars were all helped along by military spending. So not all military spending is worthless to the surrounding economy. But, quite a bit of it is, as Alternet describes:
The historian Thomas E Woods Jr. observes that, during the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all U.S. research talent was siphoned off into the military sector. It is, of course, impossible to know what innovations never appeared as a result of this diversion of resources and brainpower into the service of the military, but it was during the 1960s that we first began to notice Japan was outpacing us in the design and quality of a range of consumer goods, including household electronics and automobiles.Image how much better shape the US would be in had 1/2 of that $5.8 trillion been spent on infrastructure, alternative energy research and development, and medical breakthroughs. As more smart people head to Google and McKinsey rather than the military, this will ultimately be to the benefit of both the US and humanity.
Nuclear weapons furnish a striking illustration of these anomalies. Between the 1940s and 1996, the U.S. spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the U.S. possessed some 32,500 deliverable atomic and hydrogen bombs, none of which, thankfully, was ever used. They perfectly illustrate the Keynesian principle that the government can provide make-work jobs to keep people employed. Nuclear weapons were not just America's secret weapon, but also its secret economic weapon. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them. There is today no sane use for them, while the trillions spent on them could have been used to solve the problems of social security and health care, quality education and access to higher education for all, not to speak of the retention of highly-skilled jobs within the economy.