The Pentagon budget: largest ever and growing
Published Nov 7, 2009 8:29 AM
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
WW photo: Joe Piette
What a contrast to the issue of health care.
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
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.
WW photo: Kris Hamel
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
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. economy afloat.
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, Sept. 6)
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 processes.
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 civilian needs.
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
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
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
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. military expenditures.
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 military industries.
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
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 imprisoned.
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 nations attacked.
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 as well.
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