FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Costs of War

by VIJAY PRASHAD

“The impact of war is self-evident, since economically it is exactly the same as if the nation were to drop a part of its capital into the ocean”

— Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1857-58.

Reports come fast and furiously from the Pew Research Center and the National Urban League. The news is bad. The Pew report shows that between 2005 and 2009 every “racial” group lost wealth, but the losses were largest amongst Hispanics and Blacks. Inflation-adjusted median wealth of white households fell by 16%, but Hispanic households lost 66% and Black households lost 53%. As of 2009, the typical white household had wealth (assets minus debts) worth $113,149, which Black households only had $5,677 and Hispanic households $6,325. The myth of the post-racial society should be buried under this data.

The most dazzling fact is not this decline. It is what is to come. The National Urban League Policy Institute’s latest study finds that unemployment for Blacks with four-year college degrees has tripled since 1992, and overall unemployment is near 1982 levels, namely 20%. Such numbers have not been seen since the Depression. Langston Hughes wrote that the 1930s “brought everybody down a peg or two,” but that those on the darker side of the Color Curtain had not much to lose. That is no longer the case. The thirty years since 1965 provided a boost to the Black and Latino middle class, largely thanks to employment at the various levels of government (and salutations to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for its battles to hold public sector wages). With unemployment on the rise, it will be difficult to build back those assets.

The shuttering of the U. S. industrial sector and the attack on public sector jobs hit the Black and Latino workers very hard. Rather than tax the rich and use these public funds to build up a different kind of economy (such as to make public rail networks), the Clinton administration harshly developed a massive prison archipelago and hacked at the modest social welfare system in the country. In the name of balanced budgets and supply side economics, a generation of young people of color lost access to decent education. It is difficult to try and get a job if your resume includes a stint in prison, often for non-violent economic crimes (such as employment in the drug economy, one of the few places to get a job in neighborhoods of the disposable class). The other place for employment, of course, was the military.

The proximate reason for this catastrophic loss of wealth is the housing crisis, and the racial impact of the foreclosure epidemic. The Center for Responsible Lending shows that 8% of Blacks who bought homes between 2005 and 2008 lost them to foreclosure, whereas only 4.5% of whites who bought in the same period lost their homes. A look back to the 1990s confirms these statistics: Blacks and Latinos are hit disproportionately hard by foreclosure.

The tendency is to blame all this on the Economy. But the “economy” does not exist outside our social relations, and the public policies enacted by governments to shape those relations. The United States government handed the keys of the treasury to large corporations (General Electric pays no taxes, and indeed won a rebate last year!). Policy-making benefits large corporations and the paper-thin class that controls them. The Supreme Court adjudged these corporations as individuals, so that they could exert their power through the constitutional protections of free speech.

Acknowledging this obscenity, Ralph Nader wrote in the Chicago Tribune (July 20) that big firms should be judged based on their “corporate patriotism.” They like to take tax breaks and be rescued by marines when it suits them, but they are unwilling to invest their untaxed profits to build up the productive capacity in the United States. Corporations, Nader wrote, “receive all the benefits of American corporate personhood and avoid all the expectations of patriotic behavior and the responsibilities that go along with those privileges and immunities.” Hand-over-fist they make money in the financial casinos and by defrauding workers across the world. Meanwhile, they are party to the view that the U. S. needs to balance its budget and cut “entitlements” so that the debt can be managed – but without their own positive contribution to that $14.46 trillion hole.

A few years ago, some progressives in Congress suggested that the government bring back the military draft. If the children of the well-heeled and the middle class had to go to war, sentiment for military adventures might decline. The feint went nowhere. There might not be a military draft for these wars in Droneland, but there certainly is an economic draft. The total cost of the adventures is now inching along to $2 trillion (the total cost of the security apparatus is going to go over $8 trillion as the year winds down). Congress’ progressives argued that the population does not have a palpable sense of the war’s cost, and that the draft would raise awareness. It does not help that the administration prevented pictures of those killed in action to be broadcast. The numbers of war dead are reduced due to the better body armor, but the numbers of those who are grievously wounded is greater now than it was in other wars (one authority suggests that in Iraq alone, the war wounded is roughly 100,000). The bulk of the population has been protected from this harm that affects the very same communities where foreclosure stalks the land.

There is no military draft, but there is an economic draft. The current economic collapse has reduced those who had built up some assets, on whatever fictitious foundation, to the level of bare life. The drain of wealth to the war economy is a massive regressive taxation on the population: the rich who pay a much smaller proportion of their taxes (and nothing on capital gains, which is also income) and the corporations (who pay little to no taxes) are insulated from the costs of war, and indeed some of them benefit from the windfalls of war. To balance the budget in the context of the economic draft means to devastate whatever social spending remains: education, healthcare, senior care, care for the indigent, resources for the environment, capacity for the state regulators and so on. President Obama seems to have picked Al Gore’s pocket and stolen the key to the lock-box that holds Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are all victims of the war economy.

The spinal cord of the nation rests in Springfield, MA. Here, on July 18, the City Council passed two ordinances that try to inoculate this city, which has the largest number of foreclosures in Massachusetts. The first ordinance denies banks the right to foreclose on a home unless they have participated in a city-facilitated mediation, and earn a “good faith participation” certificate from the city. Every day that the banks fail to go to mediation earns them a fine of up to $300. The second ordinance requires banks to pay $10,000 in a cash bond if they wish to foreclose on a property. Councilman Amaad Rivera and the Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude Coalition proposed these ordinances. “The Springfield city council has given residents real, tangible tools to fight back against the damage banks have done to our city and our country as a whole,” said Sellou Diaite of the coalition. The Council and the Coalition have put down a marker against the war economy, and against the economic draft.

The message from this corner of America is simple: no more bombing houses in Droneland, no more foreclosing houses in America.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

Vijay will be speaking in Anaheim on July 30th at Soul of a Nation & the Audacity of Nope session sponsored by the Progressive Caucus and the Veterans Caucus.

More articles by:

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail