I know this isn’t the best Monday news to get one up and perking for the rest of the week. Yet Raw Story passes along this disturbing bit of news about the dual U.S. economies and how the military economy has been booming as the civilian economy has been in steep decline. Floyd Norris’ New York Times article offers an important caveat, namely that the military economy has been and continues to be a subset of the overall U.S. economy. “The military now takes about 8 percent of all durable goods, up from 3 percent in 2000,” Norris said.
But the striking statistic–besides the chart below, which ought to be the accompanying picture to the dictionary definition of “ominous”–is that the fall-off in U.S. production of durable goods during the recession (20%) would have been much steeper and deeper had it not been for the upsurge in the manufacture of weapons.
From the New York Times
Jon Taplin at TPM connects a few dots between our current situation and the decline of the Roman Empire. He points to this salient piece from Historian Arnold Toynbee’s theory on Rome’s collapse:
The economy of the Empire was basically a Raubwirtschaft or plunder economy based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new. The Empire relied on booty from conquered territories (this source of revenue ending, of course, with the end of Roman territorial expansion) or on a pattern of tax collection that drove small-scale farmers into destitution (and onto a dole that required even more exactions upon those who could not escape taxation), or into dependency upon a landed élite exempt from taxation. With the cessation of tribute from conquered territories, the full cost of their military machine had to be borne by the citizenry.
Taplin connects the ancient empire’s small-scale farmers with the current U.S. middle class. I would respectfully disagree after taking my teenage daughter to see the film, Food Inc., yesterday. Today’s small-scale farmers are being driven to destitution and ruin by a system wherein they are under constant demand to make capital investments in production capacity expansion with insufficient profit to show for it. And our agrarian economy is still a vital cornerstone to the health and life of our empire and its citizens. And yes, I won’t quibble about the notion we are the modern day version of the Roman Empire. Like it or not, that is what we are, and I base my conclusion on the observations of two very different, yet two very powerful, influential figures that have significantly shaped our culture over the last 50 years: John Lennon and Dick Cheney.
It’s still within our reach to change these circumstances; but whether there exists enough momentum to bring about such change–a momentum that must find traction among all the empire’s social classes–is the question that doesn’t appear to offer much of a hopeful answer. Go see Food Inc. to see the problem and some solutions that we can all buy into.
It’s helpful to remember that this nation’s Founders didn’t define the foundations for a free society along the lines of economic theories or mechanisms; nor did they set about to establish some theocratic moral code of ethics. And they were most committed to defining the free nation to be called the United States of America in terms that placed this fledgling nation at odds with the Empire of the day. A woman encountering the elderly Benjamin Franklin on a Philadelphia street during the Convention asked him, “What sort of government are you giving us, Mr. Franklin?” “A republic, madam,” he replied, “if you can keep it.” Right now the odds of keeping it look long indeed. But we still have a shot at it.