The U.S. is World’s Merchant of Death in Capitalism’s Great Race to the Bottom
The U.S.-led arms trade and the Great Race to the Bottom are interconnected phenomena that cannot be fought separately.
“The U.S.’ ascendency as the world’s merchant of death is primarily driven by the need to protect the benefactors of the Race to the Bottom through endless war.”
Empire is the engine that drives the political economy of the United States. The U.S. empire, like all capitalist states, has as its sole purpose the maintenance of class exploitation. While few on any part of the U.S. political spectrum are willing to say the word, empire is a key concern for a ruling class that is committed to preserving the economic and political supremacy of capitalism in its late and terminal stages. Over the last forty years, U.S. capitalists have transformed the military apparatus into one of its largest and most profitable industries in the world. The U.S. State Department’s recently released World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfer report lays bare the extent to which the U.S. capitalist economy has become a merchant of death in the Great Race to the Bottom.
According to the report, the United States comprises of nearly eighty percent of the world’s three trillion-dollar arms trade. U.S. military contractors and arms manufacturers export four times the number of weapons than the next nine countries in the world combined. Much of the arms trade is confined to what the report calls the “richest and most democratic” quintile of the global population. This is a euphemism for the imperialist orbit led by the U.S., Europe, and its compliant allies. These countries make up ninety-seven percent of all arms exports and over sixty percent of all imports. In other words, rich nations loyal to the United States hold a monopoly on both sides of the sale of weapons designed for mass murder and war.
“The United States comprises nearly eighty percent of the world’s three trillion-dollar arms trade.”
It should come as no surprise that the arms industry is concentrated in the United States. The State Department report demonstrates that the arms industry is driven not only by the profit motive but also by U.S.’ reliance on a massive military apparatus to make the world safe for capitalist exploitation. Military expenditures have become even more important under late stage capitalism. Late stage capitalism is characterized by a Great Race to the Bottom for nearly half of the world’s population. Capitalist economic growth has remained stagnant since the 2007-2008 economic crisis, yet wealth continues to trickle into the hands of just a few thousand ultra-rich billionaires. The U.S.’ ascendency as the world’s merchant of death is primarily driven by the need to protect the benefactors of the Race to the Bottom through endless war. It only makes sense under such a predatory system for the capitalist class to want to profit from its investments in endless war, too.
The Great Race to the Bottom has disrupted what was once a key pillar in the stability of U.S. imperialism; that is, the uneven development of the capitalist West and the Third World. Austerity is rapidly eviscerating the material privileges once afforded to a section of mainly white workers in the United States. A new survey from Salary Finance found that thirty-two percent of all people in the United States are unable to cover their needs between paychecks. While the poorest workers face this situation at least forty percent of the time, high income earners making more than $100,000 also run out of cash by the next pay period at an average rate of thirty percent. This data compliments a 2019 survey which found that nearly eighty percent of workers in the United States live paycheck to paycheck.
“Austerity is rapidly eviscerating the material privileges once afforded to a section of mainly white workers in the United States.”
The reasons for the growing poverty of workers living in supposedly the most “exceptional” society on the planet are not difficult to discern. Median wages have declined by nine percent since 2006 when adjusted for inflation. Medical costs have risen four percent over the last year. Housing costs have risen three percent while food prices have increased by 2 percent. Meanwhile, real wages increased by just 0.2 percent over the same period. Stagnant wages and rising costs have led to the astronomical accumulation of household debt. U.S.-based workers owe $930 billion in credit card debt and over a trillion dollars in student loan debt.
For decades, anti-war activists have paraphrased Tupac Shakur’s lyric “they have money for but can’t feed the poor” to highlight how all working people stand to lose from the massive growth of the U.S. war machine. The logic is simple enough. Bloated war spending takes money away from housing, education, healthcare, and other infrastructure needs that would directly benefit the poor and working people. The slogan should thus be more popular than it is. A huge impediment to this level of anti-war consciousness is that the U.S.’ Great Race to the Bottom rests on the foundations of a patently racist and imperialist social order. There are many in the U.S., even on the left, who have yet to grasp the importance of standing against the U.S. imperial war machine and instead find themselves complicit in the chauvinist and racist predations of the Empire.
“Bloated war spending takes money away from housing, education, healthcare, and other infrastructure needs that would directly benefit the poor and working people.”
The effectiveness of the late stage capitalism resides in the ability to mitigate its many simmering crises by channeling left politics into the Democratic side of the War Party. In the 2020 Democratic Party primary, little attention has been paid to the U.S. war machine despite the impediment that the trillion dollar military budget poses to implementing popular policies such as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. The Democratic Party has enthusiastically assumed the position of vanguard for the Empire’s continued demonization campaign against Russia, China, Venezuela, and other nations targeted for regime change. Workers are led to believe that no matter how bad conditions become on the mainland, their living standards will remain higher than those which exist in nations where U.S. meddling is predominant. The disproportionately Black incarcerated and homeless populations receive the same treatment domestically as the dehumanized subjects of Empire abroad; that is, as disposable populations useless to the imperatives of capital.
The U.S. left must find concrete ways to address the material reality embedded in the racist and imperialist dogma of American Exceptionalism. Mass incarceration, draconian surveillance, and endless war are all designed to sow fear and reinforce a false sense of comfort in the working class. Blame for the deplorable conditions that exist for all working-class people has been channeled into a fear of the “other;” whether it is fear of immigrant populations, Black Americans, or Russians. Such blame allows for questions of uneven economic and political development in Black America and the rest of the world to be rendered secondary to the broader “national security” interests of the United States. The Great Race to the Bottom thrives on an atmosphere of war that can be elevated to toxic levels in a moments notice should the balance of forces require it.
“The disproportionately Black incarcerated and homeless populations receive the same treatment domestically as the dehumanized subjects of Empire abroad.”
That moment is now. The Great Race to the Bottom is not just a disaster for the bottom of the imperialist pecking order. Late stage capitalism presents its own set of catastrophic contradictions for the rulers of the Empire. The principle contradiction is the inability of imperialism to provide tangible benefits to any section of the people except the tiny few in command of the state. Concern among the ruling class is growing about the resurgence of social welfare politics exemplified by the Yellow Vests in France and Bernie Sanders in the United States. Even more of a concern for U.S. imperialism is the rapid growth of China as the world’s foremost economic superpower. China’s Belt and Road Initiative seeks to spread its successful fight against poverty and underdevelopment by using trillions of state-owned dollars earmarked for infrastructure projects with Global South nations. While domestic unrest around the deplorable conditions of late stage capitalism increases the possibilities for class struggle in the United States, China’s rise threatens to accelerate the United States’ already shrinking share of the global capitalist economy.
The U.S.-led arms trade and the Great Race to the Bottom are interconnected phenomena which cannot be fought separately. A dire need exists to counter the racist and imperialist ideology that mystifies the connection between the economic crisis of late stage capitalism and the Empire’s reliance upon endless war to keep its sinking ship afloat. This is no easy task. Black politics remain captive in the ideological prison of the Democratic Party and the anti-war movement has yet to penetrate the growing forces gathering behind Bernie Sanders. As the popularity of socialistic politics of the reformist variety continues to grow, anyone and everyone who considers themselves the “left” should be simultaneously spreading the message that socialism without peace is not socialism at all—only a dream for a more comfortable existence under Empire that leaves the rest of humanity behind.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
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