[Marxism] Seymour Melman
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Sat Dec 18 10:12:31 MST 2004
NY Times, December 18, 2004
Seymour Melman, 86, Dies; Spurred Antiwar Movement
By JENNIFER BAYOT
Seymour Melman, a Columbia University scholar who helped galvanize the
antiwar movement from the 1950's on with analyses of the social costs of
military spending, died on Dec. 16 at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.
The cause appeared to be an aneurysm, said Benjamin Abrams, his research
Dr. Melman, an economist who taught industrial engineering at Columbia, was
a leading advocate of disarmament for nearly half a century. He opposed
nuclear weapons almost from their inception and he opposed the current war
A longtime co-chairman of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, he
emphasized arguments that military spending diverted resources from health
care, public housing and education.
In speeches, editorials, scholarly articles and close to a dozen books, he
criticized the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and maintained that the
United States and the Soviet Union were draining their economies for little
more than the ability to destroy each other hundreds of times over. He
popularized the use of the word "overkill" to describe the buildup. "Isn't
1,250 times overkill enough?" he wrote in a 1964 letter to The New York
Times. "Since the Soviets by similar calculation can overkill the United
States only 145 times, are we to believe that any advantage exists here for
He rebutted a post-World War II argument that war drove the economy,
maintaining that the opposite was true and that other factors helped pull
the country out of the Depression.
In his 1974 book, "The Permanent War Economy," he composed a long list of
military trade-offs. The money spent on one Huey helicopter, he said, could
buy 66 low-priced homes, while a recent $69 million reduction in
child-nutrition programs represented the cost of two DE-1052 destroyer
escorts. He added, "To eliminate hunger in America = $4-5 billion = C-5A
"His work changed the debate in the peace movement to much broader issues,"
said Marcus Raskin, a founder of the Institute for Policy Studies, a
liberal research institute, and an adviser to the National Security Council
in the Kennedy administration.
Professor Melman's arguments appealed to a wide spectrum, attracting unions
like the United Automobile Workers and the Machinists Union as well as
public advocates like Ralph Nader, who yesterday described Prof. Melman's
studies as "prescient for decades."
Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and
antiwar activist, said Dr. Melman helped mobilize what once was weak and
scattered resistance to war and other military operations.
"The country is a lot different than it was 30 to 40 years ago, and he had
a big role in that," Mr. Chomsky said. "There's much more widespread
opposition to the diversion of resources to military production, to the use
of force in international affairs, to nuclear development."
Dr. Melman became an authority on a process called "economic conversion,"
the retooling of arms factories and military bases for civilian purposes.
He outlined such plans in "The Demilitarized Society" (1988) and
"Rebuilding America" (1992). He advised the United Nations on the
possibilities of economic conversion from 1979 to 1980, and from 1988 on,
he was chairman of The National Commission for Economic Conversion and
Seymour Melman was born in the Bronx on Dec. 30, 1917. He received a
bachelor's degree in economics from College of the City of New York in 1939.
After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he received a
doctorate in economics from Columbia, where he was later chairman of the
industrial engineering department.
His books on military spending include "Our Depleted Society" (1965),
"Pentagon Capitalism" (1970) and "Profits Without Production" (1983).
His more recent books, including "After Capitalism: From Managerialism to
Workplace Economy" (2001), describe the potential of employee
self-management, an idea that interested him for decades. As a young man,
he briefly lived on a kibbutz in Israel, and later in his career
participated in studies and meetings on the productivity of such collective
Dr. Melman is survived by a brother, Myron, of Rehovot, Israel. His
marriage to JoAnne Medalie ended in divorce.
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