Friday, October 26, 2007

Homeland Security and Michigan's New Economy

Press about the 21st Century Jobs Fund tends to focus on biotech, alternative energy and advanced manufacturing, but homeland security and defense is an equally favored and well-funded industry priority of the fund.

While Michigan struggles to make her way to a "new economy," public money, a limited natural resource, is being spooned to companies devoted to homeland security and defense. At the same time, our schools, children, the sick and the aged are getting short shrift. It's a perennial conflict of priorities, prophetic in implication.

What matters now is that Michigan citizens take notice. In Northern Michigan, a company named Sovereign Deed is proposing privatizing civil defense and the disaster relief functions normally handled by FEMA. While you might agree that FEMA has done poorly in the last seven years, that has been the result of the agency being gutted of non-partisan, career professionals. In a sense, we face a contrived and man-made crisis in crisis response and disaster management. Katrina showed us that.

So, as you read about Sovereign Deed setting up shop up North, where you like to spend time away at the cottage, ask yourself: do we really want homeland security contractors to become our growth industry? The spookiest thing about this is that of all the 21st Century Jobs Fund priorities, homeland security and defense is probably the most likely to create immediate commercialization and jobs and profit. Win-win for the lucky communities that get picked by these contractors.

You might argue, "but if we don't seize this amazing commercial opportunity, who will?" Every other state in the country where workers are freaking out over outsourcing of well-paying jobs. Homeland security, like the defense industry, will become essential to the economic viability of every state. In an environment of perpetual, unresolved, diffuse threat, this is inevitable. But we needn't rush into it.

Do you really want Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox to make way for soldiers of fortune and Hummers?

Let's give higher education a chance. And while we're at it, not forsake the most vulnerable among us. Please.