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Defense Conversion Plans Not as Flawed as the Short-Sighted Arguments Against Them

March 11, 1990

Murray Weidenbaum is bylined under the Times Board of Economists ("Defense 'Conversion Plan' Flawed," Feb. 11). Yet, of his five "flaws" in economic conversion plans, three have to do with his view that there is no need for conversion because the world is, and will remain, a dangerous place for the foreseeable future. This, of course, has nothing to do with economics!

Given that Weidenbaum may be wrong on this score, what of his other two flaws? One is that our experience in this area is "adverse." It is true that it is difficult for defense firms to switch from low-volume, high-reliability (and, therefore, high-cost) products to high-volume, lower-cost products. However, there may well be other government needs that fit the skills of defense firms, such as cleaning up toxic waste dumps, disposing of radioactive materials and developing space-based manufacturing technologies.

The other flaw that Weidenbaum sees is that conversion strategies focus on keeping existing jobs in place. This is only partially true. Most conversion plans provide for job retraining and income subsidies to enable workers to shift fields.

Finally, Weidenbaum proposes no alternatives. Is he content to say that those who chose to work for the defense of our country are just out of luck? That it's too bad they chose the wrong profession? That attitude creates fear throughout the defense industry, making it likely that its members will lobby hard to keep defense spending up so they can keep their jobs and profits. In the long run, that does the nation a real disservice.

JOSEPH C. KRESSE JR.

Santa Monica

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