When the military-industrial complex bubble pops

There’s a reason why they call it complex.

In the aftermath of Lockheed Martin’s announcement of massive layoffs, there has been a ton of hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and finger-pointing. It’s starting to resemble a circular firing squad in some ways.

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Most of Lockheed Martin’s operations in Akron are scheduled to be shut down by 2015. Some work will continue at the Airdock (that big domey thing in the foreground). Source: Google/Ohio.com.

In one corner: Peaceniks and (some) fiscal conservatives who believe we’re spending entirely too much money on the U.S. military, lining the pockets of billionaire fat cats and wasting money on $600 hammers, funding unnecessary wars in far-away places that many Americans (still!) can’t find on a map.

In another corner: Conservatives who refuse to budge on Capitol Hill regarding the sequester, which slashed funding to many sacred cows, including the Pentagon. They blame Democrats for not budging on the budget.

In another corner: Liberals who refuse to budge on Capital Hill regarding the sequester. They blame Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, for not budging on the budget. (See a pattern here?)

In another corner: The military-industrial complex itself, which has a lot at stake when military funding gets chopped. Especially vulnerable is Lockheed Martin, a vast military contractor, much of it in aerospace, which expanded dramatically in the 1990s. A lot of people, including its own employees, say the company simply got too big to be sustainable.

The bubble popped.

In yet another corner: Roughly 4,000 workers, including about 500 in Akron, whose jobs are on the chopping block. These include machinists, welders, assembly workers, software engineers and more. Them’re some good paying jobs, hard to replace in an era of crap service industry jobs. This is not the first time Lockheed Martin has experienced major reductions. Since 2008, it has cut its workforce by 30,000.

Still another factor is the slow scaling back of the Great War Machine of the past decade. We’re all but out of Iraq, and Afghanistan is not far behind. Barring some misadventure in Iran or Syria (or God forbid, both), there’s not a great deal of urgency to gear up for another costly (yet profitable for contractors) war or two. After two bloody and (eventually) unpopular wars, they’re all on their own. Unless Israel picks a fight with Iran, or vice versa, but that’s another matter altogether.

So, what to make of this?  Where do we go from here?

Akron officials are looking for a silver lining in all this (See Akron link above). A lot of prime real estate is suddenly available, and local bigs say there are potential suitors lining up to grab it. But replacing 500 jobs (not to mention 4,000 nationwide) won’t be easy, especially jobs of that caliber.

There are precedents of other communities rebounding from traumatic losses of military entities. Akron has bounced back before.

And I experienced first-hand the closing of the air force base in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in the early ’90s as part of a widespread reduction in military base operations. Yes, the initial impact was devastating. On the flip side, I was able to buy a house on the cheap. But by 1995 the local economy experienced a phenomenal boom fueled in part by the availability of cheap land (this was far from the only factor; Myrtle Beach has long been a boom-and-bust town). But I turned around and sold the house in 1996 at a tidy profit. This was before “flip that house” was a common concept, and selling was really precipitated by my move to the Akron area, which is neither here nor there, to quote a former colleague.

I digress.

So, again, what to make of all this?

As much as I resent some of the excesses of the M-I complex, simply shutting it down or cutting back drastically has far-reaching consequences.

Jobs are lost. Suppliers and subcontractors and their employees take a big hit. Local real estate also takes a hit. The local tax base takes a big hit. Hundreds if not thousands of families are hurt.

Lots of national pundits have had their say about the standoffs in Congress over the last few years.

But as the old chestnut goes, all politics is local. Nowhere is that more true than here and now.

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