[design] profits without production

Ralph Nader on Seymour Melman
by Ralph Nader

Published on Monday, December 20, 2004 by CommonDreams.org


In the rarified world of economics and industrial
engineering, there was never anyone like Columbia
University professor Seymour Melman. I grew up reading
and listening to the prophetic, factual and hard-nosed
arguments he made for his anti-war and worldwide
disarmament causes in the specialized and,
occasionally, the major media as well.

There were Seymour Melman's op-eds and letters to the
editor in the New York Times starting in his twenties.
There were his cogent Congressional testimonies about
the permanent war economy and its damage to our
civilian economy and necessities of the American
people. His economic conversion plans and his advocacy
for a muscular peace agreement with the Soviet Union
illuminated what kind of economy, innovation and
prosperity could be ours in the U.S.A.

Melman's work was detailed and he challenged what
President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial
complex" like that of no other academic. He would show
how talented scientific and engineering skills were
sucked into this permanent war economy to the detriment
of civilian jobs and economic development as if
people's well-being mattered. "To eliminate hunger in
America = $4-5 billion = C-5A aircraft program," he
would say, referring to Lockheed Martin's chronically
bungled, defective and costly contract.

Melman's consulting services were in great demand. His
numerous books made such sense to people for whom
foresight was a valued attitude. He advised citizen
groups, unions, legislators and the United Nations. For
years he was chairman of the National Commission for
Economic Conversion and Disarmament.

Into his eighties, Mr. Melman probed the arcane regions
of weapons systems. He meticulously took apart the
wrong ways the corporate-dominated Pentagon priced the
corporate cost of subs, ships, planes and other modern
weaponry, by way of explaining the staggering spiral of weapon budgets.

The titles of his books spoke to his concerns - "Our
Depleted Society," "Pentagon Capitalism" and "Profits
Without Production". As a World War II veteran, he knew
the difference between an adequate defense and weaponry
"overkill". He calculated that US nuclear weapons had
the power to destroy the Soviet Union 1,250 times over.
He asked, how much is too much of a drain on our
economy and well-being?

With the demise of the Soviet Union and the agreement
on dismantling many of those nuclear warheads on both
sides, Mr. Melman looked forward to the "peace
dividends" and the economic conversion or retooling he
so long urged. It was not to happen. The military
budget now consumes half of the entire federal
government's operating expenditures.

In his later years, Melman promoted the idea of
self-management as an alternative to giant
corporations. For the last twenty years the media
blacked him out. He could scarcely get an article
published in the newspapers or even in the progressive
magazines. On frenetic radio and television, he did not
qualify because he spoke in paragraphs and was elderly
- an electronic bigotry that is keeping many wise,
older Americans from communicating with their younger generations.

It was precisely because he had been so right again and
again that print media tired of his research even
though it was up to date. How many Americans know, for
example, that 90% of the products sold in the 2002 L.L.
Bean catalogue were imported? He counted them, to make
his point about the de-industrialization of America.

How many people would want to know that a recent New
York City contract for mass transit vehicles received
only foreign bidders? Not one American company was
there to compete and provide the jobs for the $3
billion dollar project.

Before he passed away this month, Seymour Melman had
completed a concise book manuscript titled, "Wars,
Ltd.: The Rise and Fall of America's Permanent War
Economy". He was having trouble finding a good
publisher, when I spoke with him earlier this summer.
But he will leave a legacy of wisdom, insight,
humanity, consistency, and diligence. In a society
whose rulers and corporatists seal the people off from
such magnificent minds and inundate them with trivia,
distraction and the hot air artists daily bellowing
their lucrative ignorance, sagacious Americans like
Seymour Melman will not receive the attention the
citizenry deserves unless we the people, who own the
public airwaves, begin to control and use our own media rights.

Partial thread listing: