The Political Economy of Seymour Melman

Seymour Melman was one of the most important political economists and peace activists of the 20th century. He would have been 100 years old on December 30, 2017 (he died in 2004), therefore this is a good time to consider his legacy, and more importantly from his point of view, to think about how his writings can help us achieve a more just world.

Melman always had a two-track intellectual focus, writing about both the military and the economy. The two concepts were intertwined in his books about the deleterious economic effects of military production, for instance, in ‘Pentagon Capitalism’, ‘The Permanent War Economy’, and ‘Profits without Production’. He sought to decrease military spending, not just because American wars after World War II were unjust, but also because that spending constituted missed opportunities to improve the public sphere of life, and even more fundamentally, because military spending destroyed the core competence in manufacturing that Melman saw as the basis of economic life.

This integration of peace activism and economics crystallized after the 1950s. In the 1950s, Melman was involved with what became known as the ‘ban the bomb’ movement. There was a great deal of concern at the time that nuclear war of any sort could lead to the destruction of most if not all mankind, and it took quite a bit of activist effort to eventually lead to, for instance, a ban on testing nuclear weapons overground. Melman and others, such as another…

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