Editor’s Note: This editorial by Greg Mello originally appeared in The Santa Fe New Mexican on Saturday, August 16. Reprinted with author’s permission.
A current re-election ad for New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall says that “one of the best ways [Tom] can fight for jobs and economic development today — and for generations into the future — is by making sure our labs and bases are strong. When some in Congress wanted to cut funding for the labs, Tom was there to defend their national security mission and keep funding strong. … Tom is working to ensure a strong future for New Mexico by fighting for the national laboratories and military bases so they can continue to create thousands of well-paying jobs and drive economic development for generations to come.”
Leaving aside the election entirely, this is wrong. New Mexico’s nuclear labs and military bases are economically sterile and politically damaging. They don’t “continue to create” jobs, let alone “thousands” of them. Perhaps Udall refers to a new secret base under Dulce.
The labs and bases haven’t driven economic development in this state and never will. Just look around. “Jobs” equate to real economic development only when they create many other self-sustaining jobs in New Mexico. That hasn’t happened.
Instead we have what rural development activist Carol Miller accurately calls a “World War II economy.” Our state is stuck there. Udall is telling us he is stuck there, too, doing the labs’ business. The economic and social results have been appalling.
As lab spending rose over three decades, the state’s relative income rank fell dramatically. Over seven decades, there has been no major “tech transfer” from the labs here, especially from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Our economic potential is now limited by our human development policy failures, exemplified by Udall’s choice to promote nuclear weapons at the expense of human and environmental needs. Unless we change those priorities, why would any (non-exploitative) business locate here?
The labs and bases consume billions of tax dollars but don’t produce any goods or services. Supposedly they produce “national security.” Into that ever-deepening pit the U.S. pours almost as much treasure as the rest of the world combined. How can such a staggering misallocation of capital not be our doom? Militarism is an economic cancer, not “development.”
Our labs produce “confidence in the nuclear deterrent” — quite an easy job. It’s like confidence in the tooth fairy, but evil. They could do it better for less than half the price, if jacking up the price weren’t the main point. For Udall, it is.
What with fallout, reactor meltdowns and nuclear winter, nuclear “deterrence” amounts to a suicide vest for humanity. That’s OK with the crowd Udall is hanging with because it’s profitable to them personally. Udall’s nuclear weapons priorities will cost a trillion dollars over three decades but will create no permanent new jobs here or anywhere. They will instead ensure climate catastrophe and national decline.
Given such leadership, is it any wonder that this state is the worst place in the U.S. to raise a child? Neither New Mexico nor the federal government has ever made adequate investments in programs that support children or utilize our abundant renewable energy resources.
New Mexico’s labs each employ 1 percent of the state’s labor force but command a far larger share of political attention and service. Serving them is easy and fun compared to addressing the state’s real issues. They supply lots of campaign cash.
The labs are political heroin. As long as our politicos remain addicted to them, they won’t think straight. One economist I know says New Mexico’s biggest development barrier is our failure to realize that The Bomb was a mistake. How far down will we go before we prioritize people, economic renewal and the environment?
Greg Mello is the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nonprofit policy think-tank and lobbying organization. His formal education is in engineering, environmental sciences and regional planning.