Back of an envelope: Trident and jobs

Back of an envelope: Trident and jobs

As Labour has decided the prospect of spending vast sums on Trident renewal wasn't worth debating, I thought I'd do a quick back-of-the-envelope thing on the numbers being bandied about. Obviously Trident is, in terms of defence, a non-starter, as reasonably well outlined by Diane Abbott in her recent Guardian column. But people do like to go on about how many jobs it provides, so I thought I'd take a look at that.

The cash

Currently two numbers are being used, depending what side you're on. The MoD reckons £20 billion will be spent over 40 years, CND says £100bn.

I'll do both for comparison, however it should be noted that the MoD is legendarily bad at estimating the costs of its projects (and with good reason - it's a smart policy to sell a new carrier to the Commons at rock-bottom prices and then say when it's halfway done "whoops, actually we missed these bits, oh well can't stop now). And if we were to use the annual £2bn-ish running cost for the current incarnation of Trident that'd amount to £80bn.

Workforce

This is another disputed one, At the absolute kindest, and to avoid any accusations that I'm sugaring the anti-nuclear pill, Unite says 13,000 jobs depend in some way on Trident happening. The MoD says 11,000 but has itself been accused ofinflating the numbers.

Spending £20bn

So, if we spend £20bn over 40 years our nice neat number is £500m a year, on 13,000 jobs. At that rate, £38,462 is being spent per role on this pointless deterrent (which frankly seems ludicrously low given the sorts of high-skill roles we're supposedly talking about here, but hey).

If we were to even that out paying people the average wage of £26,500, to I dunno, fill in on chronic nursing shortages, or maintain crumbling schools rather than build something that'll sort of sit there for 40 years so politicians can strut around being all Billy Big Bollocks, 19,230 people would have gainful employment. Which isn't such a huge discrepancy I guess, but if we were to use a slighlty utilitarian take on it, more people would actively be able to survive, doing things which actively make other people happy.

Spending £100bn

If we take CND's figure however, the numbers get a bit eye-popping. Stretched over the proposed 40-year lifecycle of the project it amounts to £192,500 spent per job per year of which, if you're into the whole patriotism thing, large amounts goes to the US for building and maintaining the missiles.

Under these circumstances, if we instead spent that money on say, just giving random people £26,500 a year for an entire working lifetime to make crazy inventions in their shed, that'd employ 94,339 people, or a little bit more than the entire working population of Dudley.

In the end though of course, this is all about politics, not utility. UK politicians want something they can parade in front of other countries (look we're part of the elite five) because economically they don't have the clout they once enjoyed. Unions chiefs are hamstrung because, as professionals, the nuke techs are mostly unionised and pay a great deal into various coffers in and around Holborn. The papers and right want something to remind them of the glory days of empire.

So even though the public don't want it, it serves no useful function, and it's an actively inefficient way of distributing state funds to create employment, it'll be sticking around as long as there's breath in the body of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Or until a public movement of some sort comes along, which sadly seems unlikely as it stands.

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Update: A new figure seems to have been admitted by the MoD and confirmed by news agency Reuters - £167bn over the lifetime of the project. So our numbers are now 13,000 jobs for 40 years, at a cost of £321,154 per person, per year.

For context, the Prime Minister himself is paid £142,500, so you could hire 29,298 David Camerons for that price. Not that you'd want to.

Comments

Steven.
Oct 3 2015 11:42

Nice one for doing this. That is always something I point out to people who make this argument. And if you want the government to just pay loads of money to create jobs (which ironically people who support Trident usually don't, because like the Conservatives they support cutting public sector jobs), they could pay people to do really useful things. So using the kind of skills of these workers they could be developing renewable energy, or building medical equipment. Or they could stop some of the cuts to nurses, care workers, teaching assistants, nursery nurses which are destroying public services…

B_Reasonable
Oct 29 2015 15:06

In financial terms, those latest figures are probably OK. There are two factors that haven't been entered in to the 'back of the envelope' calculation:

(1) Overhead factor. For every £1.00 directly spent on wages something like £1.50 is spent on other costs, i.e. £321,145/2.5 = £128,458 wages per person. For example see: http://web.mit.edu/e-club/hadzima/how-much-does-an-employee-cost.html

(2) £128,458 still sounds like a lot per person but probably isn't when discounted for inflation over 40 years. For instance, in 20 years -- assuming average inflation of 8% -- that salary would be worth £27,560 in today's money (£128,458/1.05^20). Plugging the numbers into Excel's PV function gives an average salary of £38,000 per year in today's money.

Rob Ray
Oct 29 2015 16:55

If you want to go into deeper detail it's more like 1.25 for the employee alone on those figures (the inefficiency of having to then spend vast sums on specialist equipment, space etc is kind of the point of the article), which is still £256,916 (and in terms of expense, we don't do massively high-cost medical insurance etc, so Britain's per-employee rate is likely lower).

But even using US figures, this still compares to an average wage which you could pay for a massive array of socially useful jobs - ie. £26,500 * 1.25 = £33,125. And yes inflation affects the totals as well, but not enough to make this anything other than a massively inefficient exercise, per job.

B_Reasonable
Oct 29 2015 22:11

You can't simply equate having lower wages and lower overheads, to create more socially useful jobs, as providing a greater social good than spending the money on fewer socially useful jobs with higher salaries and higher overheads. For instance, you can spend £100M on a fully-equipped hospital staffed by well-paid senior doctors -- and poorer paid junior doctors and nurses. Or on the other hand, you could spend the same money on far more staff for a free advice-line housed in portakabins on a brownfield site. More socially useful jobs for your money but far less overall social good. Furthermore, creating more social good with less socially useful jobs gives the opportunity for people to do less work overall which is a further social good.

Also, UK overheads are comparable with the US. The UK has higher corporate and personal taxes to cover health costs etc. and this contributes to costs and higher wages.

In the case of Trident, what are you proposing should be done with the well-paid Engineers and Technicians that rely on it for work? Provide equally well-paid (and well-funded materials) in similar jobs that are socially useful? In which case you haven't changed the 'efficiency per job' you are complaining about. Or, are you going to force them to take lower-paid socially useful jobs as Care Assistants etc. A kind of Workfare for the Worker's Aristocracy -- "that'll teach them for getting all uppity, getting an education and bettering themselves". That's what the unions are worried about - there's no safety net for their members. Once those defence jobs go, those people are on the scrapheap.

Trident should be opposed because it's completely insane not because of Capitalist reformist arguments based on how much of the money fetish might enslave even more people in work that perhaps doesn't kill people so barbarically.

Rob Ray
Oct 30 2015 01:51
Quote:
You can't simply

Trident is by default not socially useful at all. It's not producing anything for human use, it provides nothing humans need. Having said so, this is a piece pointing out that Trident is not an efficient creator of employment on its own terms, not a piece arguing the relative merits of individual jobs.

Quote:
That's what the unions are worried about - there's no safety net for their members. Once those defence jobs go, those people are on the scrapheap ... Trident should be opposed because it's completely insane

"Trident is completely insane" doesn't conflict with "Trident isn't an efficient job creator" though, they're both part of the same idiocy. The only difference here is that I'm knocking down a specific assertion made by right wingers using their own logic, and you're saying they're bonkers.

Do you think screaming "it's all MAAAD" is going to sway people more effectively than pointing out the lunacy inherent in their own arguments? Either way you're not going to win over the people whose jobs are on the line. No-one who works at a nuclear plant is going to care whether the argument for closing their plant is "your job's mad" or "your job's not socially useful."

Spikymike
Oct 30 2015 11:07

Pointing out the waste of material resources that capitalism involves in a whole range of areas from a human needs point of view is always useful (though the military hardware sector is one of the more obvious to most people) but is only really relevant in terms of what a libertarian communist society could utilise, as reallocation of financial resources within capitalism by capitalist states rarely provides any significant human rewards but is used in other ways to secure the system. For this reason the starting point of this post by Rob Ray risks, at least inadvertantly, simply feeding into the misleading left/right political debate currently underway following the Corbyn election.

B_Reasonable
Oct 31 2015 16:11
Quote:
"Trident is completely insane" doesn't conflict with "Trident isn't an efficient job creator" though, they're both part of the same idiocy. The only difference here is that I'm knocking down a specific assertion made by right wingers using their own logic, and you're saying they're bonkers.

Do you think screaming "it's all MAAAD" is going to sway people more effectively than pointing out the lunacy inherent in their own arguments? Either way you're not going to win over the people whose jobs are on the line. No-one who works at a nuclear plant is going to care whether the argument for closing their plant is "your job's mad" or "your job's not socially useful."

In my first reply to your post, I simply pointed out that you hadn't adequately applied the Capitalist logic, that right-wingers use, by including overhead factor and inflation in your evaluation of the figures. When these factors are applied there doesn't seem to be a prima facie case for saying that Trident is an inefficient creator of jobs -- particularly in the technical sector of the economy. Rather than countering my argument with another argument couched (this time accurately) in the Capitalist logic, that right-wingers would recognise as valid, you moved into an argument about using the money to create alternative socially useful jobs. At this point, you would have lost your right-wing audience as you were moving into the terrain of left-wing Capitalist reformism.

I don't think Trident as threat to world peace and Trident as element in Capitalist mode of production are the same idiocy (although both idiocies are extremely harmful). Most states don't aspire to have nuclear weapons and also states like Germany have given up nuclear power on the basis of Fukashima etc. Nuclear technology is not central to the Capitalist mode of production and appeals to sanity and self-preservation do have an effect. On the other hand, no capitalist society has addressed the harm arising from the abstract nature of work. It would be impossible as it is central to their operation.

Who are arguments about the efficiency of job creation aimed at? Not the owners/managers of capital they only want to maximise the profit from their capital. Not the workers. They don't want their living standards pared to the bone so the most jobs can be eeked out of the available budget. Furthermore, after a lifetime working on Polaris/Trident it's unlikely that the guilt-trip of it not being social useful is suddenly going to kick-in. The argument only appeals to left-wing Capitalist reformists who want to try to manage Capitalism so it can perpetuate its misery.

If I was Corbyn for a day. I'd propose that the £167bn would be spent of a 40 year project to develop tidal energy generation -- guaranteeing everyone dependent on Trident an equivalent job on the project. The skills are fairly transferable, as tidal generators are basically static submarines tethered to the seabed using tidal flow to turn their propellers. Each submarine generator would electrolyse seawater to produce hydrogen which would be piped to floating gasometers on the surface. When they were full, the gasometers would be towed to shore to provide fuel for power-stations and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Then, bish bash bosh, the unions are sorted, unemployed technicians don't further depress wages of socially useful work, a big chunk has been taken out of carbon emissions, a British export industry has been created, the Scots are bound in to a UK-wide project and there's a Nobel Peace Prize for St. Jeremy for being the first official nuclear power to meet it disarmament obligations. Pay me a decent wage and I can come up with Capitalist reforms all day mate!

Rob Ray
Oct 31 2015 17:32
Quote:
When these factors are applied there doesn't seem to be a prima facie case for saying that Trident is an inefficient creator of jobs

To which I replied noting that even including your additional figures it's still pretty inefficient, spreading the spend across a very small number of people even in comparison to average wage (which prompted the bizarre response that if people were paid less it'd look even sillier - which is true, but had no relevance at all to the point I was debunking that "Trident's good for jobs" which implies that those jobs would be desirable).

Quote:
At this point, you would have lost your right-wing audience

You realise a right-wing audience is all about capitalist reform, right? Their logics include and embrace the idea that the State might inefficiently create jobs in one way, but do so more efficiently in another (or at least cut tax to the rich, but I have no particular interest in promoting this).

Quote:
Who are arguments about the efficiency of job creation aimed at? Not the owners/managers of capital they only want to maximise the profit from their capital. Not the workers.

1. I imagine the idea of £4bn a year being ploughed into industries they could actually profit from would interest the 99.9% of managers who don't work in nuclear science very much.
2. I imagine the idea of £4bn a year being ploughed into industries they could actually get work in would interest the 99.9% of workers who aren't nuclear scientists and Navy staff very much.

So... most people who don't think in terms of revolutionary praxis?

Quote:
If I was Corbyn for a day. I'd propose that the £167bn would be spent of a 40 year project to develop tidal energy generation ... Pay me a decent wage and I can come up with Capitalist reforms all day mate!

Couldn't we all.

B_Reasonable
Nov 2 2015 16:40
Quote:
1. I imagine the idea of £4bn a year being ploughed into industries they could actually profit from would interest the 99.9% of managers who don't work in nuclear science very much.

Buying shares in BAE Systems or Kinetiq allows any owner of capital to profit from Trident expenditure. Nearly all the budget goes to the private sector. And most of this spending is going to perpetuate existing industries replete with management hierarchies.

Quote:
2. I imagine the idea of £4bn a year being ploughed into industries they could actually get work in would interest the 99.9% of workers who aren't nuclear scientists and Navy staff very much.

Engineering apprenticeships, welders, computer programmers right through to catering and cleaning. There's a huge range of jobs associated with ship design and build. In the places the affected industries are based a large proportion of the working population will be prepared obtain the necessary skills. It's part of an area's culture. If you opened a rolling mill in Rotherham it would be welcomed. If you opened the same plant in Islington the existing working population might feel excluded.

Leaving aside the nuclear weapons lunacy and total absence of social utility, for someone like myself, who is technically educated and who'd like my kids to acquire an appreciation of maths and science then Trident is good for jobs. It soaks up some of the talent will similar skills to mine, thus maintaining wage levels, and it also increases demand for decent education in maths and sciences. Clearly, if you are in the growing industries based around communications and creativity then it's £4bn-a-year wasted on metal bashing and geeks.

As to your response to my initial criticism that you hadn't included either overheads or inflation in your evaluation -- reducing you original average wage figure to nearly one-tenth of the figure you had -- I just didn't feel you'd engaged with the figures. Arguing a 2.25 overhead factor in a capital intensive sectors like defence R&D and ship-building just isn't credible. And just acknowledging that inflation is a factor, indicated that you hadn't grasped how it's compounding effect works. For anyone prepared to run the figures, I think it's pretty plain to see that Trident probably isn't a particularly inefficient way to provide jobs for the mix of skills and trades it employs.

jef costello
Jan 26 2016 15:55

Supposedly there are mutterings on the military about Corbyn saying he's against Trident.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/25/corbyn-trident-military-revolt-unfriendly-fire

(The article also cites libcom as a source for a mutiny against pay cuts)

Reminds me of the post-Falklands banner another poster mentioned, on a ship arriving in port saying 'If you call a general strike se'll call an air strike"