The Permanent War Economy And Military Keynesianism

In this post I’m going to try to briefly explain why U.S. involvement in the Middle East is not going to end anytime soon.  To understand what’s actually going on, we have to go back to the Great Depression in the 1930s.

If you study mainstream economics, as the Great Depression went on and on, many scholars and academics began to doubt the very foundations and ideas of capitalism.  Millions of people were out of work, the economy wasn’t bouncing back, and the future looked dismal.  Academia began to follow the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, believing the government had to step in and put people to work, keeping the money flowing in the economy.  This led to programs like FDR’s New Deal, putting people to work on public works projects, etc.  The New Deal helped a bit, but ultimately the economy kept sinking and things looked grim.

Then World War II happened, and like a miracle, the economy jumped out of its slump.  The U.S. government started spending huge amounts of money to set up factories all over the country, producing munitions, tanks, bomber jets, etc.  That put people to work, they had money in their pockets, they then spent that money in their communities, and economically, everyone seemed better than they were during the Great Depression.  Was this the fix capitalism needed?

But if it was World War II that ended the Great Depression, what would happen once the war is over?  These same academics advising the government believed the economy would go back into another depression, so something had to be done.  This is ultimately the origin of the military industrial complex.  The idea was that even if we’re at peace, we would continue to spend vast sums of money on the military, producing jets, airplanes, technology, whatever, just to keep capitalism afloat.

Now there’s a problem.  The United States is a democratic society.  How are the politicians going to convince the public to spend all this money on the military in peacetime?  The answer is they needed boogeymen.  There had to be some scary external threat to justify these huge public expenditures.  So following World War II, we had the threat of ‘communism’.  That led to the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cold War.  We had to save the world from our arch nemesis, the Soviet Union!

Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed and this was a huge problem.  If the world is no longer under a constant threat of communism, how are we going to justify all this military spending?  The answer was to invent a new boogeyman – the war on terror!  So that’s where we are today.  These wars are not meant to be won.  They’re not real to begin with.  They are simply an excuse for huge military expenditures.  They will never end.  If the war on terror ends, there will be some new boogeyman to take its place.  Either way, the military industrial complex is here to stay.

This is what the term ‘permanent war economy’ means.  The U.S. economy depends on us spending huge amounts of money on war and destruction just to stay afloat.  So in these Middle Eastern conflicts, we pretty much arm and train the terrorists, then they cause havoc, we go in and blow everything up, and then we pay contractors to go in and rebuild.  That’s pretty much how this game works.  There’s huge profits to be made.

It’s so insane, people don’t believe it could possibly be true.  I encourage you all to watch this documentary which I’ll post below.

And here’s part 2.

I had a professor the other day telling me that I need to get used to the idea of working with the military, as they’re the source of most all jobs and funding for physicists.  However, I can’t in good conscience get involved in this madness.  I help produce technology which is put into weapons systems, which is then used to blow up hundreds of thousands of people in fake wars, just to keep our economy stimulated.  My paycheck is paid primarily by the taxpayer, who funds all the R&D, but then when some commercial application is finally found for my work, it’s quickly patented and controlled by a large corporation, and all the profits are privatized, leading to further wealth concentrations and income inequality.  I don’t want to build weapons, for one.  And secondly, if the taxpayer funds the enterprise, the taxpayer should be the one who profits from it.

It’s all so corrupt and evil, I don’t want a part of any of it.  Then it’s like, well, what else can I do as a physicist?  Teach?  So I become an academic, teaching at a university where the students are way overcharged, all to pay for a bloated administration.  I met a nuclear engineering student the other day who was telling me he’s leaving the school with over $120,000 in student loan debt.  And I just think, why?  This is all insane.  Guy just wants a job as an engineer and has to mortgage his life away under a mountain of debt.  I feel very conflicted being a part of any of that either, but at least I’m not making weapons which end up killing people.  So it seems the lesser of two evils.  Hence I’m currently teaching.

As for doing academic research, I don’t see a point in any of that.  I wrote about all of this in my post Why I’m Hesistant To Become An Academic.  I don’t think an individual can accomplish much, mainly because one needs a lot of money to set up a lab, and also you need a huge network of people all collaborating and working together toward a common vision.  You also need everyone funded so everyone can stay committed and on task.  I don’t see this in academia, and anyway, if you want to understand how I feel about all that, just read my post.  As for working on some individual project of my own curiosity, I don’t need to spend my time begging the NSF for grants.  Our government is broke and needs to be cutting back.  I’m not going to soak them for money, just to further enrich myself.  I can study physics on my own.  Use the money to fund schools in impoverished areas, or repair infrastructure, or something else that’s far more useful than giving it to me.

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