During the State of the Union address in January, President Obama made a dramatic call for Congress to support funding for business innovation. In the grips of a historic recession, the nation has suffered since December 2007 with anemic job growth in the private sector. The President correctly pointed out the benefits of the nation’s investment in new and “green” technologies as the pathway to a new, 21st century economy that can create good wage jobs and serve as the foundation for America’s future. His focus is particularly of interest to Black Americans who have suffered disproportionately during the economic downturn and appear to be lagging behind in the still tepid recovery.
It is why serious attention must be given to military expenditures during the current budget negotiations. Lawmakers from either party rarely acknowledge the tremendous strain that the defense budget has on the nation’s resources. It is particularly telling during times such as these when programs vital to the quality of life of millions of Americans are at risk of being significantly downsized or cut. So, while the President is correct that investments need to be made in creating the new economy, we find it difficult to realistically see how meaningful investments can be made given the expenses of two wars and military procurement of expensive weapons systems.
There is a business case to be made for the downsizing of our military obligations, and peace in general. While the defense industry will use scare tactics with members of Congress and suggest that tens of thousands of jobs with weapons contractors and suppliers will be lost in their districts if the arms budget is pared, with no hope of replacement - it is a false choice. Our nation can still have a strong defense while shifting dollars to other much needed domestic programs. We are not calling for draconian cuts in defense spending, simply scaling it back to reflect the new reality of homeland security to reduce waste. The savings could then be shifted to make the investments President Obama called for in January, and help spur the creation of new jobs that could offset any losses in the defense industry.
A new approach to defense budgeting, and the resulting savings, could provide a significant boost to small business development, particularly to women and minority businesses. This would be welcome news to African-American entrepreneurs, who, according to the 2010 Census data, led the way over the last decade in the creation of new small businesses. Despite that good news the reality is that these businesses are often undercapitalized and are generally 1-3 person operations that make little impact on the significant problem of Black joblessness. What these Black entrepreneurs need is capital, and lots of it, if they are going to be the engines of the new economy. Unless we change our priorities, there will be limited federal dollars available to make the type of investments President Obama has called for. That will be bad news for the Black business community, and Black people in general as business as usual will not lift us out of the economic basement.
It is why we encourage you to encourage your member of Congress to call into question military expenditures during the current debate on Capitol Hill over the FY2012 federal budget. Time is running out for many Black businesses and workers, as sufficient resources are not available for business development, innovation, and job training and re-training. Peace can be a powerful catalyst for an economic recovery, as labor and assets consumed by the requirements of war can then be channeled to more constructive purposes. It is, in fact, the most effective way of securing the nation’s future; not through military muscle and global domination, but by strengthening the economy and social fabric of our nation so that the quality of life of all Americans improves. The President’s rhetoric on investments in innovation and education will only matter when there are significant dollars attached to his agenda.