Defense Jobs Behind Bars

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Lawmakers are always pushing the Pentagon to buy weapons it doesn’t need to save jobs back home. Lawbreakers too, apparently. Neat piece here on how federal prison inmates are helping to build Patriot air-defense missiles — and other arms — starting at 23 cents an hour. The disconnect between 23 cents and the $700 billion we’re spending on defense this year bothers me for some vague, squishy reason.

Maybe because it reminds me of one of Norm Augustine’s famous laws detailing the strangeness of defense procurement. Augustine is a retired chairman of Lockheed Martin (builder of the Patriot, by the way), who served as under secretary of the Army during the Carter Administration. As military aircraft prices went through the roof in the 1980s (a trend that continues on into the stratosphere), his 16th law observed:

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.

My fear is that letting prisoners build weapons (!) will lead to an unfortunate corollary of Augustine’s 16th law:

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will fund weapons produced entirely by federal-prison inmates, being paid less than the minimum wage, in an effort to stretch defense dollars as far as possible. Most of the arms-makers ended up behind bars for refusing to pay their taxes as annual military spending topped the annual deficit.