THE BLOG
02/07/2007 09:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Guns 'n' Money

The 2007 war budget -- which many Democrats will undoubtedly approve and allow to happen -- will take spending up to a billion dollars every two-and-a-half days.

I could say that $1 billion will buy so many doses of anti-retrovirals, or that it could pay 400 public workers a hundred dollars a day, or that it could refit X number of schools... EVERY TWO-AND-A-HALF DAYS.

It's not that simple, though. If they were really taking the money from taxpayers, we'd have already tarred and feathered them all.

That money buys what it buys because we spend money on warships and Cruise missiles and bottled water for hundreds of thousands of delicate colonial digestive tracts.

That money is also borrowed. Japan and China (mostly) are paying for our governments lethal profligacy. Japan has around $655 billion of US debt, and China has around $340 billion. I'm not a math major, but I'm guessing that this is aroud $995 billion, or just shy of a trillion. The additive progression of zeros behind these figures, six zeros for millions, nine zeros for billions, twelve zeros for trillions... can be a bit deceptive. Line up a thousand pennies in a gymnasium. and when you add three zeros to get your first million, you've stretched the length of that line a thousand times. Then you take that line and stretch it a thousand times itself for the billion, and a thousand times the new super-line to get to a trillion.

But I digress.

If we didn't have those warships and jet fighters and all these other hi-tech ways to tear things up and kill people, that same $50 in your pocket might not buy as much... not by a long shot, in fact... or worse still, it wouldn't be in your pocket at all. People like Japanese and Chinese bankers buy up these treasury bonds (this means they are loaning our government money), in part, because they know that Wall Street's interests are protected by these guns and bombs.

The other thing is -- and this is not well explained by classical economics -- the US is not making enough more SUVs, or firebricks, or I-beams, or Easy-bake ovens, or whatever, to keep up with all these dollars... dollars in China, dollars in Japan, dollars in real estate speculation, ad nauseum.

Classical economics says that if you don't make enough shit to keep up with the amount of money you put into circulation, then you'll end up with runaway inflation. More money + less shit = higher prices. But our government is helping industries make shit anywhere EXCEPT the US (keeping the US as a mailing address, of course, so that when worse comes to worst, they can rely on some guns and bombs if they need them). We are making less shit. And our government is printing money faster than a counterfeiter on psilocybin mushrooms.

Now the trickiest trick of all. The US never intends to pay back these loans.

Never. It can't. It would go bankrupt.

How can this be? you may ask... and you should.

Does this not give the Japanese and the Chinese the terrifying capacity to sell the dollar short and crash the US economy? Well, yes, it does...

...if the Japanese and Chinese want to commit economic suicide themselves. Since the US doesn't make as much as it buys everywhere else, the Japanese and Chinese need to keep propping up the US economy, even when it means paying for US war spending by making loans that will never be paid back, because we -- the US consumers of infinite quantities of shit we don't need -- are the major export market for both these countries. One doesn't kill off one's biggest customer in a capitalist world system, by being the first to how the world that the Imperial Dollar has no clothes.

The US exports it inflation, and these other nations soak it up as a form of imperial tribute.

The US does still make one thing though, more than anyone else. Weapons. Outrageously expensive, taxpayer-supported R&D, corporate-welfare-that-chokes-the-imagination, technology that is designed for the sole purpose of tearing things up and committing unspeakably obscene vandalism against the bodies of human beings. It's our most secure export. What's so cool about it is that once our taxpayer-subsidized war contractors sell one generation of weapons to other people, they can make a case for developing a new generation of weapons in case we have to defeat the weapons we just sold to everybody else.

I could go on talking about how many businesses -- not normally thought of as "defense" contractors (that term m ust be a joke) -- get their survival margin by selling some of their stuff to the miitary, and about how the Department of Defense is actualy a surrogate export market for US industry, since we are running a half-trillion dollar annual trade deficit... but that might be overkill, when I have but a simple point to make.

It's an ugly point, too, so it's not gonna sell tickets to anything. I'll explain using two sub-points.

SUB-POINT 1: The United States military, which costs more each year than all the other militaries in the world combined and is still getting its ass kicked in Southwest Asia, is not used to defend the United States. It is used to make war on poor people mostly, or to threaten poor people... who are no threat to us. (The attacks of 9-11 could not have been prevented by the military; but could have been prevented by a less cynical foreign policy prior to 9-11.) Saddam wasn't poor, but most of the sevedral hundred thousand other Iraqis who have been killed in this war were poor. I myself participated in military missions directed against poor people in Vietnam, Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti.

SUB-POINT 2: This military, and that foreign policy -- which are wrapped around each other like a Gordian knot -- is so thoroughly woven into the fabric of the US economy, from the micro to macro, domestic and international, that stopping this outrageous spending, or even a signficant part of it, will cause a LOT of economic turbulence in the US... by that, I mean pain. Our standard of living -- such as it is -- is based directly on it; and there is no way out of this system that is painless.

MAIN POINT: War and war spending really are are propping up the US economy, at least for a while, and the standoff with the China-Japan creditors could go on for another decade before the chickens finally come home to roost (and they will, that much is for sure). So if you hear people saying that we should stop the war because then we will use all that money to march off hand-in-hand to the happy garden in the sky; you are hearing a big story.

Amilcar Cabral once warned the left: Mask no difficulties; tell no lies; claim no easy victories.

We are in a situation for which there is no easy exit. The reason to oppose the war, and to oppose the projection of this lethal military power, is that it is a moral abomination. And if the price of stopping this abomination is a tectonic shift in the American lifestyle, then so be it. Our sins may not be visited upon us, but they will surely be visited upon our children.

Losing the war in Iraq (which is already a political reality) is going to weaken the US empire; and most of us are its beneficiaries, at least in some superficial material way. Mounting a political struggle here in the US to divest of this way of life and its malignant substrate of continual war will not happen if we are selling sweeter Kool-aid than the propagandists of the Imperium. And it will require tremendous sacrifice.

The Left's duty is not to "sell" a New Future (TM). It's to call us forward, out of the epoch of Markets & Mental Magic, and call for taking responsibility.