Whenever someone proposes rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, improving schools, funding research for chronic diseases, helping the unemployed, treating the mentally ill, paying pension obligations to public employees, etc., our politicians are quick to say that we can’t afford those things anymore.
Say what? The richest nation on Earth can’t afford to meet the needs of its own citizens?
In reality, it’s not that the US lacks the money to do these things. The federal budget for FY 2014 is $6.3 trillion and, for most Americans, our tax rates as a percentage of income are near all-time lows! So it’s not a lack of money. It’s a matter of priorities. We always seem to have money for military hardware and military interventions around the globe. It’s estimated that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost $6 trillion. It costs us $2.1 million per year to maintain just one soldier in Afghanistan, and current plans call for leaving up to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan after our “withdrawal.” Yet, some of the biggest budget hawks in Congress are calling for a larger presence in Afghanistan, military intervention in Syria, as well as confrontation in Crimea and the Ukraine. Some even hint at war with Iran.
Is it any wonder that we can’t afford to maintain our own nation?
These same budget hawks voted to dramatically expand funding for the F-35 jet fighter which is years behind schedule and hopelessly over budget. They even added funding to build more Abrams tanks, despite the fact that neither the Army nor the Marine Corps want them. As a result of such decisions, we will spend $820.2 billion on defense in FY 2014, not including Homeland Security. This money is not needed to defend our nation. It’s needed to maintain the American corporate empire; to maintain US control of resources in remote corners of the world; to maintain US access to Middle Eastern oil deposits; to maintain corporate access to global markets and to open new ones; to maintain massive profits and executive compensation.
Yet studies show that most Americans would rather bring our troops home. They would rather rebuild our own nation than one we bombed into submission. So why don’t our Congressional representatives listen? Why do so many continue to vote against the will of the people?
The answer, in a word, is money.
Large corporate interests take money from ordinary, hard-working people through various forms of scams and corporate subsidies. (You’ll find a great example detailed in a Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi linked here.) This leads to increased profits. The corporations then give a portion of that money to the election campaigns of politicians in order to buy access and influence. In return, those politicians pass laws to benefit the corporations. And the cycle starts all over again.
On the rare occasions when the politicians take their hands out of the pockets of their corporate sponsors, they pass laws to deregulate industries; to render the EPA and other regulatory agencies impotent; to increase welfare for large corporations while cutting their taxes; to privatize prisons, schools and public pension funds; to cut funding for parks, mental health facilities, public universities and public schools; to redirect taxpayer money to Wall Street hedge funds. All the while, they blame the nation’s resulting economic problems on labor unions, the unemployed and the working poor. To distract the public from their crimes, these fraudster politicians tell us that their actions are necessary to cut debt and create jobs.
What they don’t say is that the only jobs they’re concerned with are their own.