Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The politics of budgeting a pseudo-war

The "Global War on Terror" might now be financed directly by the US government. It has already cost well over $600 billion to the United States. The financing falls under so-called deficit spending. America's deficit is already gaping, in part due to the Keynesian economic policies of the current military industrial system, as this Harper's article talked about:

The United States remains, for the moment, the most powerful nation in history, but it faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions.

The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.

Several factors, however, indicate that this course will be a brief one, which most likely will end in economic and political collapse.

Military Keynesianism: The imperial project is expensive. The flow of the nation's wealth—from taxpayers and (increasingly) foreign lenders through the government to military contractors and (decreasingly) back to the taxpayers—has created a form of “military Keynesianism,” in which the domestic economy requires sustained military ambition in order to avoid recession or collapse.

The Unitary Presidency: Sustained military ambition is inherently anti-republican, in that it tends to concentrate power in the executive branch. In the United States, President George W. Bush subscribes to an esoteric interpretation of the Constitution called the theory of the unitary executive, which holds, in effect, that the president has the authority to ignore the separation of powers written into the Constitution, creating a feedback loop in which permanent war and the unitary presidency are mutually reinforcing.

Failed Checks on Executive Ambition: The U.S. legislature and judiciary appear to be incapable of restraining the president and therefore restraining imperial ambition. Direct opposition from the people, in the form of democratic action or violent uprising, is unlikely because the television and print media have by and large found it unprofitable to inform the public about the actions of the country's leaders. Nor is it likely that the military will attempt to take over the executive branch by way of a coup.

Bankruptcy and Collapse: Confronted by the limits of its own vast but nonetheless finite financial resources and lacking the political check on spending provided by a functioning democracy, the United States will within a very short time face financial or even political collapse at home and a significantly diminished ability to project force abroad.

The deficit continues to grow wider, from trade and massive government spending. While more taxes isn't necessarily a bad thing (a small cost to many equals a large amount of money for government expenditures, which many fail to comprehend a small tax hike would barely affect them) it is how the money is spend that ultimately matters. A more transparent, streamlined spending framework should be put in place, similar to that of the Nordic welfare system.

Instead of having so many bureaucratic hoops and loopholes, more checks are needed. At the same time money should be able to go directly to where it is needed. This is a daunting task for a government so large and powerful as the American government, but it is feasible in the long run. Like with any reform, however, it needs a starting point in order to get the ball rolling. Basing the economy on a military-industrial complex system is dangerous in more ways than one. It increases a nation's militarism, thus crumbling aspects of its democracy, and restricts the economic base of said nation. Open government and good economics often go hand in hand.

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