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Aug 09 2011

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The defense industry threatens America’s economy

By Williams Collins

Weapons are
Our biggest threat;
For falling deeper
Into debt.

India has the military-industrial complex all figured out. So does Saudi Arabia. Neither of them has one. Who needs to build weapons when you can simply buy them at a discount elsewhere? Not that anyone really needs so many weapons anyway, but it’s still a lot cheaper to tap the competitive arms market for a few specific items than to build a massive infrastructure to keep churning out whole arsenals for yourself.

So God bless the Indians and the Saudis. They’re smarter than we. We can’t stop cranking out aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, bombers, tanks, aerial refuelers, phosphorous bombs, nuclear devices, rockets, and other must-have military consumer goods that are driving us to the poorhouse. It’s a lot like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We don’t know how to stop.

Up until now this was not a big worry. Weapons manufacturers have historically pulled a lot of strings in Congress, and there are usually plenty of votes that can be traded to protect every state’s pet products. But now signs of nervousness are showing up at the edges of the debate. Those crazy Republicans brought the nation to the edge of default. No one thinks the GOP gives a fig about either default or excessive military spending, but in their posturing Republican lawmakers may have unleashed something they can’t control.

Similar fallout is already apparent in Europe. Britain is considering selling an old aircraft carrier to business interests in China to reduce its military spending. What? Empires just don’t do that. Well, they do when their currency is at stake, and U.S. arms merchants can feel the chill way over here. In fact we may already be too late to sell off our wares. Can any nation afford an aircraft carrier today? Maybe Goldman Sachs will foreclose on one.

France is breaking new water too. It’s building some giant new assault ships for Russia. Russia? Our Cold War enemy? Our friends in Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia think so anyway, and they are not pleased. To them, France is trading with the enemy. But maybe that is what you have to do when your military industry is in the tank and jobs are at stake.

In this country jobs are important too, but what’s really at stake are profits. It isn’t the unions who are paying those regiments of lobbyists swirling around Capitol Hill pressing for new weapons. It’s the bosses. United Technologies CEO Louis R. Chenevert, a hotshot in my home state of Connecticut, made $24 million last year. For a paycheck like that I’d mount a lobbying campaign too.

Connecticut newspapers do carry articles about the ever-rising military budget and the lack of tax revenue growth to pay for it. But their coverage of the military appropriations process often only discusses how our state will benefit if Washington will just agree to fund another submarine and 20 more fighters to be built here.

It’s this military fantasy that is bringing our country to its knees. The United States isn’t scared as much as it is greedy. We love the defense industry’s tasty profits and jobs when they’re local, but America can’t afford this nonsense any more.

In the end this is one reason empires eventually fall. They come to believe they are invincible and that because they are “exceptional,” the realities of finance and justice no longer apply to them.

See you at the food pantry.

William Collins can be reached at www.otherwords.org

 

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