‘Engine’ Charlie Wilson, former CEO of General Motors and member of President Eisenhower’s cabinet, said, “The business of America is business.” Fast forward to the present and he might say, ‘The business of America is war.’The manner in which the federal government aggregates and reports its finances and personnel data may or may not be designed to obfuscate, but it hides the truth about what is actually going on. One such truth relates to the federal government’s heavily skewed emphasis on war.
Federal reporting fails to inform us concerning the degree to which our national government is focused on war and national security. It’s not just the Department of Defense (DOD) at $525 billion, it includes part to all of the activities of at least eight other major federal agencies.
Moreover it hides ‘black budgets’ for intelligence and weapons systems that are rumored to exceed $50 billion each – money hidden in the expenditures of other agencies. During several years since 9/11, DOD had an extra $100 billion or so off-budget to conduct hot wars as taxes on the business sector were reduced. National security and war consumes $1.2 to $1.6 trillion annually; more if we include servicing war-incurred debt – 43 to 50 percent of the budget. Well over 90 percent of the national debt is the result of deficits caused by the preparation for and conduct of hot and cold wars over the last 75 years.
This spending compares to about 19 or 20 percent for grants to state and local governments and 16 to 17 percent for Social Security/Medicare (with trust funds to ease the burden). Now conservatives want to cut Social Security and Medicare to protect our massive war machine, the corporatized military-industrial complex.
Dividing federal data between war and domestic services can be quite revealing. Well over three-fourths of all federal employees are involved in activities surrounding war and national security (77.6%) as are five of every six of those employed by federal procurement contractors (an estimated 83% est.). The Feds employ more personnel on contract (54 percent) than the total for civil servants and active-duty military combined. The estimate for contract employees is probably low. (see Table)
Few citizens are aware of the fact that they are supporting the operation and maintenance of 5,211 military bases: 4,451 in the fifty states, 94 in the territories, and 666 (the number of Beast) overseas. Germany has 232, Japan 109, and South Korea 85 (DOD, Base Structure Report, 2012). And this doesn’t count the hundreds of sites maintained by the Coast Guard, those of our more ‘secret’ agencies like NSA and CIA, as well as communications systems created for the military. Few are aware that virtually all of the costs of NATO are borne by U.S. taxpayers. It is about time Europeans paid for their own defense.
No Congressman or Senator wants a reduction in federal spending in their district or state. The political feedback loop created by 4,451 plus military bases, well over $400 billion in national security procurement contracts (with campaign contributions from contractors), and some $300 billion in salaries and wages from national security civilian and military personnel in the fifty states. It’s a massive portion of our economy. It places a lock on appropriations for war. Moreover, this kind of influence has led to special tax breaks for corporations involved.
Then there is the so-called ‘revolving door’ where high-ranking military and civil servants are hired by corporate contractors after they leave public service. There may or may not be any impropriety involved, but it is certainly odiferous. One study indicated ex-Congressmen (42 percent) and ex-Senators (50 percent) also go to cushy jobs in the private sector after they leave office. It raises serious questions concerning quid pro quo. The Cantonese call it hung yeow (fragrant grease).
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President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex, but did he envision the tight political feedback loop that insures an ever increasing emphasis on war? To what degree does trumpeting ‘Support our troops’ really mean, ‘Support our corporate war machine’? It’s all so patriotic given their pecuniary interest.
A major problem is the multiplier effect, the amount federal spending improves the overall economy. With war, so much is spent overseas, blown up, outdated, corrupted, or simply wasted that war expenditures have a much reduced effect on the overall U.S. economy. Studies going back to the 1950s indicate spending for war is only about half as beneficial to the overall economy as expenditures for domestic services and infrastructure. For decades we have frittered-away major segments of our national resources.
The result is an economy based on war. And, a fusion of the nation and the private corporation as the corporation is metamorphosing into something called MLCs (master limited partnerships) that pay absolutely no taxes on corporate profits. Many great nations have gone by the wayside overspending for war.
This, in a nation where 55 percent of the population live in coastal counties facing the potential deleterious effects of global warming, rising sea levels, and a deteriorating domestic infrastructure. I hope everyone has their wading boots.