By Jason Sibert
Believing in social democracy means believing in the concept of balance. Social democrats believe the interests of employers should be checked at times by the government, labor unions, or perhaps some other form of employee organization. Believing in social democracy also means believing that social insurance (unemployment systems, pensions, and health insurance) protects working people against the downs of the market. In addition, being a social democrat means advocating for the regulation of corporations in the public interest and public ownership when it’s feasible. Also, being a social democrat means fighting for the public interest when it’s in conflict with the private interest.
The social democratic agenda can be checked by a huge armaments sector that fights for the public dollar; Republican Dwight Eisenhower talked about the military-industrial complex in his final days in office. A political establishment hell-bent on keeping our military in forward deployments around the world works hand in hand with the military-industrial complex.
Writer Andy Weber’s article “Pandemic Shows Need for Biological Readiness” (Arms Control Today, January/February 2021) hits on the important security threats in our future: biological, climatological, and nuclear; threats that can’t be met with huge military arsenals. Arms control treaties (particularly in the fields of nuclear and biological weapons) and low and no-carbon energy are the weapons of the future. However, these weapons don’t have the sheer economic power that defense contractors seeking money-making contracts from the government do. This presents a major problem. Security through fewer arms, the goal of arms control, provides fewer dollars for arms manufacturers and few jobs for communities, even though it provides more security for less money. It’s unlikely that arms control will produce much excitement from manufactures and communities dependent on military spending, this basic fact impacts the drive for arms control in the areas addressed in Weber’s piece.
Monetary concerns are also at play in the climatological threat. Fossil fuel companies don’t want there to be an alternative to the forms of energy they produce, as alternatives threaten their profits. Pandemic preparation presents a similar problem. Although public health creates some jobs, it doesn’t have near the economic impact of our current military industrial complex. The lack of a discussion on security and the drive for profits underlies our problems on this front. Social democratic thinking takes a realistic view of the profit motive and seeks to blunt its influence in areas where it does harm to human flourishing. Abolishing social security taxes might benefit some, but it would harm those dependent on the program. Even lower wages at fast food restaurants might benefit fast food companies and consumers, but it would make the lives of fast-food workers even worse. Massive amounts of arms spending benefit some, but adversely impacts taxpayers, our security, and an economy which need investments in other areas.
The arms control community needs a voice, or voices, to communicate with large segments of the American public on its agenda. Otherwise, it will be drowned out by the voices of the military-industrial complex and politicians that don’t understand how to manage the balance of power in the world. While arms control advocates and organizations exist, they have no way of reaching a mass audience.
Social democrats must advocate for arms control as a positive form of security. The social democrat must also realize the jobs that will be lost in the move away from manufacturing massive numbers of arms, and that there must be a plan to employ all those who have lost a livelihood. Perhaps a new Civilian Conservation Corps to create more forest cover to blunt the impacts of climate change could employ the workers formerly used in the military-industrial complex. In the absence of a real dialog on this issue, social democrats, and their organizations, must create one.
Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.