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Is spending $19 billion on fighter jets a good way to generate jobs in a pandemic-ravaged economy?

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F/A-18Fs being refueled over Afghanistan in 2010. Image: U.S. Air Force/Flickr

CBC News has reported that Boeing executives made a public pitch on June 25 about its "history of delivering high-paying aerospace jobs" as it attempts to secure a $19-billion contract with the Canadian government for their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jet.

The article by Murray Brewster highlights:

"In its presentation, the company estimates the value of its direct economic activity in Canada -- both commercial and defence -- at $2.3 billion, resulting in 11,000 jobs across the country. The independent report estimates that when indirect spending is taken into account, the U.S. multinational contributes $5.3 billion and 20,700 jobs to Canada's economy."

Brewster comments: "Boeing's decision to make its case publicly is significant in part because federal finances are reeling under the weight of an anticipated $252-billion deficit and staggering levels of unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic."

That said, Boeing doesn't appear to argue that the Super Hornet would create new jobs, it seems to imply instead that it would help maintain those 20,700 jobs.

In contrast, Lockheed Martin, one of its competitors for the fighter jet contract, has previously highlighted: "According to the Statistics Canada model, approximately 50,000 jobs will be created in Canada through the selection of the F-35."

Still, how convincing are these jobs arguments? Is spending $19 billion on fighter jets, plus $300 million a year in maintenance costs, a cost-effective way to generate jobs?

The Canadian Labour Congress has previously pointed out that a $17.6 billion investment in public transit could create 223,000 person job years.

In the U.S. context, Phyllis Bennis has written: "$1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs -- but the same amount of money would create 26,700 jobs if invested in education, about two-and-a-half times as many. Or 16,800 jobs in clean energy, or 17,200 in health care."

Similarly, research by the Costs of War Project based at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs found that while $1 million spent on "defence" creates 6.9 direct and indirect jobs, the same amount invested in solar power creates 9.5 jobs, in health care 14.3 jobs, and in elementary and secondary education 19.2 jobs.

These numbers would suggest that public spending on weapons is a poor allocation of finite public dollars when it comes to job creation. With three million jobs lost this past March and April, the argument that peaceful production is a better generator of jobs than war machines needs to be seriously considered.

And yet the Canadian Press reported earlier this month:

"[Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas] said she had not received any order or direction [from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan] to slow or cut defence spending and that officials are continuing to work on the planned purchase of new warships, fighter jets and other equipment."

The federal government has set a deadline of July 31 to receive the final bid from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab for the $19-billion fighter jet contract. The government's decision is expected in 2022, meaning the public has less than two years to mobilize to ensure this money is spent on peaceful production and jobs, not war.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. Follow on Twitter at @CBrentPatterson @PBIcanada.

Image: U.S. Air Force/Flickr

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