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What civilian spinoffs does US wring from guns budget?

For the moment, set aside the eternal arguments over whether the huge defense buildup is good or bad, whether or not the money is wisely spent, or how strong the national defense is as a result. Let's consider the spinoffs. Supporters of defense spending often contend that spinoffs into the civilian business world help justify the cost.

Not only does the government get weapons to defend the republic, but defense contractors get business, workers get jobs, and shareholders get dividends. The economy at large gets the benefit of this through the multiplier effect of defense dollars. And defense-related technology -- especially electronics and aircraft technology -- makes its way into the private sector, further benefiting the economy.

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Dr. Herbert I. Fusfeld, director of New York University's Center for Science and Technology Policy, points out that aviation and electronics are both direct outgrowths of defense spending. The civil aviation business of Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed has given the United States export products, thereby helping the trade balance.

Transistors, semiconductors, and a wide range of civilian computer and electronics applications have also grown out of Pentagon orders. These have not only become enterprises in their own right, but they have helped boost productivity in a wide range of American businesses.

Dr. Fusfeld also contends that defense spending -- especially R&D -- should be given greater credit for helping strengthen the technical-knowledge base of the country.

Jules LaRoque of Lawrence University contends that weapons do not produce nearly the technological spinoff of space exploration. He contends that contracting for space exploration is much more open to competition.

He and Dr. Fusfeld concur that wartime military efforts do boost the technological sophistication of the nation afterward. Space, health, and agriculture research could do the same, Dr. Fusfeld says. But the US, he notes, has had difficulty sustaining research spending for 20 or 30 years at a time on any programs other than military ones.

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