- Economic conversion
Economic conversion, defence conversion, or arms conversion, is a
technical, economicand politicalprocess for moving from militaryto civilianmarkets. Economic conversion takes place on several levels and can be applied to different organizations. In terms of levels (roughly corresponding to geographicscales), conversion can take place at the level of new innovation projects, divisions within multi-divisional firms, companies, and national economies. In terms of objects, conversion can govern workers(i.e. retraining), firms (in terms of workers, capital, facilities and real estate) and land (in terms of real estate). Some of these scales obviously overlap. Organizations that can be converted include defense firms, military bases, and defense laboratories.
Conversion should be distinguished from
economic diversificationalthough the two processes overlap. Conversion involves the maximum reuseof military committed resources, with the emphasis on reuse of existing personnel. The key personnel within defense firms are engineersand factory workers, and managersskilled in managing innovations. Another key emphasis in conversion is in the area of new product development. Diversification can involve financial manipulation, e.g. in purchasing new firms, which leaves in place existing commitments to military production. Sometimes however, economic conversion requires purchase of another firm to supply "complementary capacities." Generally, conversion can be supported by various factors that help defense firms overcome specialization.
Among the key periods associated with economic conversion have been the postwar conversion after
World War II, numerous experiments in diversification (with conversion of defense engineers' skills) in the period after the Vietnam Warin the 1970s, and similar efforts after the Cold War. Various militarist and corporate critics battled labor and peace advocates during these conversion openings, with the former usually winning the day.
In modern times, a key figure in promoting the idea of economic conversion was the late
Seymour Melman(1917-2004), a professorat Columbia Universityin the United States. In recent times, the idea has also been promoted by various scholars and activists, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, in Europe, the United States, Israeland South Africa. Following the end of the Cold War, great attention was placed on the prospects for economic conversion.
Regarding differences in the 1970s and the postwar era,
Seymour Melmannoted that: "The problem of conversion from military to civilian work is fundamentally different now from the problem that existed after World War II. At that time, the issue was reconversion; the firms could and did go back to doing the work they had been involved in before the war. They could literally draw the olds sets of blueprintsand tools from the shelf and go to work on the old products. At the present time, the bulk of military production is concentrated in industries, firms, or plants that have been specialized for this work, and frequently have no prior history of civilian work" (The Defense Economy, 1970: 7).
empiricalstudies conducted by Seymour Melman, John Ullmann, Lloyd J. Dumas, Catherine Hill, Greg Bischak, Ann Markusen, Michael Oden, Jonathan Feldman, and others have shown the technical or economic viability of economic conversion. After the September 11, 2001 attacksand concentrated political power directed towards military-serving interests, the obstacles to conversion have been considerable. Extensive political barriers suggest that conversion promotion requires various forms of institutional transformation and social movement mobilization.
To be successful, conversion must be part of a larger political program involving, military
budgetreductions, reindustrialization, and infrastructurerenewal. For example, if a given defense firm should convert, its production could be easily replaced by output from another firm. Marcus Raskinat the Institute for Policy Studiesin Washington, D.C.has developed such a treatyfor comprehensive disarmament.
* [http://www.seymourmelman.com Site dedicated to Seymour Melman]
* [http://www.economicreconstruction.com Site by researchers who worked with Seymour Melman and addressing various conversion, disarmament and reindustrialization issues]
* [http://www.bicc.de/ German site for economic conversion: BICC]
*Jonathan M. Feldman, "The Conversion of Defense Engineers’ Skills: Explaining Success and Failure Through Customer-Based Learning, Teaming and Managerial Integration." Chapter 18 in "The Defense Industry in the Post-Cold War Era: Corporate Strategy and Public Policy Perspectives", Gerald I. Susman and Sean O'Keefe, eds. Oxford: Elsevier Science, 1998.
*Jonathan Feldman, “Extending Disarmament Through Economic Democracy,” "Peace Review", “Workplace Democracy,” Summer Issue, May, Volume 12, Number 2, 2000.
*Jonathan Michael Feldman, “Industrial Conversion: A Linchpin for Disarmament and Development,” Chapter 10 in "Dimensions of Peace and Security", Gustaaf Geeraerts, Natalie Pauwels, and Éric Remacle, eds. Brussels: Peter Lang, 2006.
*Ann Markusen and Joel Yudken, "Dismantling the Cold War Economy", New York: Basic Books, 1992.
*Seymour Melman, "The Defense Economy: Conversion of Industries and Occupations to Civilian Needs", New York: Prager Publishers, 1970.
*Seymour Melman, "The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline", New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
*Seymour Melman, "After Capitalism: From Managerialism to Workplace Democracy", New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
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