The Pentagon budget: largest ever
by Sara Flounders
www.workers.org/, November 7,
On Oct. 28, President Barack Obama signed
the 2010 Defense Authorization Act, the largest military budget
in U.S. history.
It is not only the world's largest military
budget but is larger than the military expenditures of the whole
rest of the world combined. And it is growing nonstop. The 2010
military budget-which doesn't even cover many war-related expenditures-is
listed as $680 billion. In 2009 it was $651 billion and in 2000
was $280 billion. It has more than doubled in 10 years.
What a contrast to the issue of health
The U.S. Congress has been debating a
basic health care plan-which every other industrialized country
in the world has in some form-for more than six months. There
has been intense insurance company lobbying, right-wing threats,
and dire warnings that a health care plan must not add one dime
to the deficit.
Yet in the midst of this life-and-death
debate on medical care for millions of working and poor people
who have no health coverage, a gargantuan subsidy to the largest
U.S. corporations for military contracts and weapons systems-a
real deficit-breaker-is passed with barely any discussion and
hardly a news article.
Physicians for a National Health Program
estimates that a universal, comprehensive single-payer health
plan would cost $350 billion a year, which would actually be the
amount saved through the elimination of all the administrative
costs in the current private health care system-a system that
leaves out almost 50 million people.
Compare this to just the cost overruns
each year in the military budget. Even President Obama on signing
the Pentagon budget said, "The Government Accountability
Office, the GAO, has looked into 96 major defense projects from
the last year, and found cost overruns that totaled $296 billion."
(whitehouse.gov, Oct. 28)
Bernard Madoff's $50-billion Ponzi scheme,
supposedly the biggest rip-off in history, pales in comparison.
Why is there no criminal inquiry into this multibillion-dollar
theft? Where are the congressional hearings or media hysteria
about $296 billion in cost overruns? Why are the CEOs of the corporations
not brought into court in handcuffs?
The cost overruns are an integral part
of the military subsidy to the largest U.S. corporations. They
are treated as business as usual. Regardless of the party in office,
the Pentagon budget grows, the cost overruns grow and the proportion
of domestic spending shrinks.
Addicted to war
This year's military budget is only the
latest example of how the U.S. economy is kept afloat by artificial
means. Decades of constantly reviving the capitalist economy through
the stimulus of war spending has created an addiction to militarism
that U.S. corporations can't do without. But it is no longer large
enough to solve the capitalist problem of overproduction.
The justification given for this annual
multibillion-dollar shot in the arm was that it would help to
cushion or totally avoid a capitalist recession and could curb
unemployment. But as Workers World Party founder Sam Marcy warned
in 1980 in "Generals Over the White House," over a protracted
period more and more of this stimulant is needed. Eventually it
turns into its opposite and becomes a massive depressant that
sickens and rots the entire society.
The root of the problem is that as technology
becomes more productive, workers get a smaller and smaller share
of what they produce. The U.S. economy is more and more dependent
on the stimulant of superprofits and multibillion-dollar military
cost overruns to soak up a larger and larger share of what is
produced. This is an essential part of the constant redistribution
of wealth away from the workers and into the pockets of the superrich.
According to the Center for Arms Control
and Non-Proliferation, U.S. military spending is now significantly
more, in 2009 inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the
peak years of the Korean War (1952: $604 billion), the Vietnam
War (1968: $513 billion) or the 1980s Reagan-era military buildup
(1985: $556 billion). Yet it is no longer enough to keep the U.S.
Even forcing oil-rich countries dependent
on the U.S. to become debtor nations with endless weapons purchases
can't solve the problem. More than two-thirds of all weapons sold
globally in 2008 were from U.S. military companies. (Reuters,
While a huge military program was able
in the 1930s to pull the U.S. economy out of a devastating collapse,
over a long period this artificial stimulus undermines capitalist
Economist Seymour Melman, in books such
as "Pentagon Capitalism," "Profits without Production"
and "The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline,"
warned of the deterioration of the U.S. economy and the living
standards of millions.
Melman and other progressive economists
argued for a rational "economic conversion" or the transition
from military to civilian production by military industries. They
explained how one B-1 bomber or Trident submarine could pay the
salaries of thousands of teachers, provide scholarships or day
care or rebuild roads. Charts and graphs showed that the military
budget employs far fewer workers than the same funds spent on
These were all good and reasonable ideas,
except that capitalism is not rational. In its insatiable drive
to maximize profits it will always choose immediate superprofit
handouts over even the best interests of its own long-term survival.
No "peace dividend"
The high expectations, after the end of
the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, that billions
of dollars could now be turned toward a "peace dividend"
crashed against the continued astronomical growth of the Pentagon
budget. This grim reality has so demoralized and overwhelmed progressive
economists that today almost no attention is paid to "economic
conversion" or the role of militarism in the capitalist economy,
even though it is far larger today than at the highest levels
of the Cold War.
The multibillion-dollar annual military
subsidy that bourgeois economists have relied on since the Great
Depression to prime the pump and begin again the cycle of capitalist
expansion is no longer enough.
Once corporations became dependent on
multibillion-dollar handouts, their appetite became insatiable.
In 2009, in an effort to stave off a meltdown of the global capitalist
economy, more than $700 billion was handed over to the largest
banks. And that was just the beginning. The bailout of the banks
is now in the trillions of dollars.
Even $600 to $700 billion a year in military
spending can no longer restart the capitalist economy or generate
prosperity. Yet corporate America can't do without it.
The military budget has grown so large
that it now threatens to overwhelm and devour all social funding.
Its sheer weight is squeezing out funding for every human need.
U.S. cities are collapsing. The infrastructure of bridges, roads,
dams, canals and tunnels is disintegrating. Twenty-five percent
of U.S drinking water is considered "poor." Unemployment
is officially reaching 10 percent and in reality is double that.
Black and Latino/a youth unemployment is more than 50 percent.
Fourteen million children in the U.S. are living in households
below the poverty level.
Half of military costs are hidden
The announced 2010 military budget of
$680 billion is really only about half of the annual cost of U.S.
These expenditures are so large that there
is a concerted effort to hide many military expenses in other
budget items. The War Resisters League annual analysis listed
the real 2009 U.S. military expenses at $1,449 billion, not the
official budget of $651 billion. Wikipedia, citing several different
sources, came up with a total military budget of $1,144 billion.
Regardless of who is counting, it is beyond dispute that the military
budget actually exceeds $1 trillion a year.
The National Priorities Project, the Center
for Defense Information and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
analyze and expose many hidden military expenses tucked into other
parts of the total U.S. budget.
For example, veterans' benefits totaling
$91 billion are not included in the Pentagon budget. Military
pensions totaling $48 billion are stuck into the Treasury Department
budget. The Energy Department hides $18 billion in nuclear weapons
programs in its budget. The $38 billion financing of foreign arms
sales is included in the State Department budget. One of the largest
hidden items is the interest on debt incurred in past wars, which
totals between $237 billion and $390 billion. This is really an
endless subsidy to the banks, which are intimately linked to the
Every part of these bloated budgets is
expected to grow by 5 to 10 percent a year, while federal funding
to states and cities is shrinking by 10 to 15 percent annually,
leading to deficit crises.
According to the Office of Management
and Budget, 55 percent of the total 2010 U.S. budget will go to
the military. More than half! Meanwhile, federal block grants
to states and cities for vital human services-schools, teacher
training, home-care programs, school lunches, basic infrastructure
maintenance for drinking water, sewage treatment, bridges, tunnels
and roads-are shrinking.
Militarism breeds repression
The most dangerous aspect of the growth
of the military is the insidious penetration of its political
influence into all areas of society. It is the institution that
is the most removed from popular control and the most driven to
military adventure and repression. Retired generals rotate into
corporate boardrooms, become talking heads in major media outlets,
and high-paid lobbyists, consultants and politicians.
It is not a coincidence that along with
having the world's largest military machine, the U.S. has the
world's largest prison population. The prison-industrial complex
is the only growth industry. According to the U.S. Justice Department's
Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 7.3 million adults were
on probation or parole or incarcerated in 2007. More than 70 percent
of the incarcerated are Black, Latino/a, Native and other people
of color. Black adults are four times as likely as whites to be
Just as in the military, with its hundreds
of thousands of contractors and mercenaries, the drive to maximize
profits has led to the growing privatization of the prison system.
The number of prisoners has grown relentlessly.
There are 2.5 times more people in the prison system today than
25 years ago. As U.S. capitalism is less and less able to provide
jobs, job training or education, the only solutions offered are
prisons or the military, wreaking havoc on individuals, families
The weight of the military pushes the
repressive state apparatus into every part of society. There is
an enormous growth of police of every kind and countless police
and intelligence agencies.
The budget for 16 U.S. spy agencies reached
$49.8 billion in fiscal year 2009; 80 percent of these secret
agencies are arms of the Pentagon. (Associated Press, Oct. 30)
In 1998 this expense was $26.7 billion. But these top secret agencies
are not included in the military budget. Nor are the repressive
agencies of immigration and border control.
U.S. armed forces are stationed at more
than 820 military installations around the world. This doesn't
count hundreds of leased bases and secret listening posts and
many hundreds of ships and submarines.
But the more the military machine grows,
the less it can control its world empire because it offers no
solutions and no improvements in living standards. Pentagon high-tech
weapons can read a license plate on a car from a surveillance
satellite; their night vision goggles can penetrate the dark;
and their drones can incinerate an isolated village. But they
are unable to provide potable water, schools or stability to the
Despite all the Pentagon's fantastic high-tech
weapons, the U.S. geopolitical position is slipping year after
year. Regardless of its massive firepower and its state-of-the-art
weaponry, U.S. imperialism has been unable to reconquer the world
markets and position of U.S. finance capital. Its economy and
its industries have been dragged down by the sheer weight of maintaining
its military machine. And as the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan
has shown, that machine cannot match the determination of people
to control their own future.
As the mighty U.S. capitalist economy
is able to offer less and less to working people here in the U.S.,
that level of determined resistance is sure to take root here