Inefficiencies: American Sustainability

The Booming Business of Arms

Along with the war-mongering calls for military strikes against Iran are calls that Iran is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is something new that people are trotting out, after we’ve already blamed Iran for producing EFPs and giving them to Iraq. I also read a report that China is sending arms to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Okay, well, Iran is a Shi’ite country that wants stability in Afghanistan, which is threatened by a radical Sunni movement, the Taliban. Why would it arm them? In Iraq, Iran’s primary goal is political stability because it knows the Shi’ites will dominate politics in that country and will be sympathetic to a neighboring Shi’ite country, despite their being Persians. So sending EFPs to Iraq doesn’t seem like it would be something sponsored by Iran proper, although with Iran’s various political organizations (the clergy, the govt., the Khomenei, the military, the IRGC, etc.), one of them might be responsible.

It is entirely possible that arms are coming from these countries, but why? Is it because they are seeking to undermine the US by proxy? It seems more likely that these transfers of arms are mainly caused by market forces.

War is a massive business right now. Demand for bullets and weapons and explosives is soaring. It is a business we’ve encouraged ourselves as private military contractors and the defense industry in general have been financed and encouraged by our own government. We sell military parts and machinery and export our contractors to other countries in numbers that are barely conceivable. In terms of arms sales, there is no bigger supplier than us.

But when other countries do it, countries we don’t like, THEN it’s bad. Then it’s politically motivated. Then it’s evil.

Wondering About America

I was watching an old episode of Top Gear, where the boys travel to the US and drive from Miami to New Orleans (NOLA) in beater cars and experienced down home Southern culture. When they arrived in NOLA, they were dumbfounded. They couldn’t understand how a year after Katrina hit, that the streets were still devastated for many continuous blocks of real estate. They asked why the richest country on Earth couldn’t help its own people. That insight, from British blokes, outside observers, was embarrassing to me.

I just watched SiCKO, Michael Moore’s latest documentary on health care coverage, that was leaked to the net. It’s pretty heart-wrenching. It introduces you to some people who fell victim to the privatized health care system. Then it talks about how health care works in Canada and the UK and France. It even takes 9/11 volunteers to Cuba where they receive near-free treatment, hope, and doctors who care about their well-being. It perhaps skimps on the taxing aspect of universal govt.-provided health care which is the core criticism of it, but it does well to show that universal health care reflects an attitude of caring about “we” instead of the US system which is about “me”. Moore mirrors a similar comment to the Top Gear guys, asking again why the richest country on the planet dumps hospital patients on the streets instead of caring for them.

Moore has a YouTube link for YouTubers to post videos telling their health care horror stories. There are 50 vids now but I imagine that number will increase when the movie comes out.

You combine this with what I’ve read and experienced first-hand about private military contracting and you pick up an overall theme. The government has increasingly shirked its responsibilities and sold itself out to companies. Not only that, but the public attitude has been framed such that that is a GOOD thing, that only the private side has the incentives to provide efficient, competitive business.

But that describes the problem exactly. It’s interesting as I take my basic macroecon and microecon courses now as pre-reqs for grad school because I get to study the basic concepts behind economics without all the popular fluff that you read in the news and books nowadays. To my surprise the courses spend a lot of time discussing public goods and spillover benefits. I sort of figured economics would be taught from a sort of cutthroat business perspective. But active, yet limited government is listed as one of the primary contributors to a capitalist system, at least by these authors.

In all the industries above, more information is coming out about how politicians are pushing for massively beneficial bills for companies, then leaving the public sector and working for millions of dollars for lobbyists.

And if you ask most Americans a politically-worded question about whether privatization is good, they will probably say yes, saying that government is bureaucratic and inefficient.

When I went through the grad school process, I was most interested in studying foreign policy and reducing poverty and exploring international development. But as I received my notices from schools, I realized that perhaps a lot of energy needs to be focused on our own country as well. I will benefit from the international focus but I feel responsible for helping to fix my own country.

Increasingly it seems so much easier to move to another country where their systems make more sense, but it’s irresponsible. While politicians are selling out to corporations, people wanting to become career social servants seem to be disappearing. Social goods like health care and education are being seen as businesses for making money first, and not for promoting investment in our most important national capital: its citizens.

One SiCKO scene quotes a British parliamentarian as waxing poetic about democracy, with Moore’s implication that the US does not operate democratically anymore, as the UK and France have governments that are afraid of their people, and not the other way around like in the US.

Hitting the blogs this weekend is a story about a mother at an airport who had an altercation with the TSA.

To me, this is just more evidence of how awful the TSA is. For some reason the TSA posted video footage of the altercation. I am guessing they think it’s clear that the mother provoked the incident, intentionally spilling her baby’s sippy cup full of water. But what you also see are fat, low-wage, unprofessional and bored TSA employees flocking around a mother trying to move her baby’s stroller and gear by herself. Then they stand over her and watch as she has to wipe up the water off the floor. No one else stops to complain because most probably don’t want to get flagged as troublemakers in our prison-like airports.

So then I read the comments for this story. Surprisingly, most comments defended the TSA. The woman should’ve known better. She shouldn’t have flashed her secret service badge (which I would assume she did in a desperate attempt to get them to back off, not to act like she was above the law). She should follow the rules like everyone else; she’s probably just a spoiled upper-class bitch. Unbelievable shit. The TSA just wants us to be safe. They’re just looking out for our needs.

It bothers me that a lot of people get really worked up about security. I think they get some sort of sick turn-on from it, like they’re 007 James Bond guys who are constantly scanning the Golden Corral buffet line looking for terrorists. Meanwhile security officials who no one wants to deal with are watching a mother travelling by herself with all her stuff wiping up water off the floor while they point out spots she missed.

I am not happy with the state of things in America and I’m not sure how quickly it can be repaired. Economically speaking, inflation will be spiking even more than it has been and the wage gap (and a skill gap called unsustainable even by the great capitalist’s god Greenspan) is increasing, an indicator that often leads to governmental collapse. The country is rotting from the inside. And money is fleeing the country as companies hoard their profits and other countries re-invest in other currencies besides our ailing dollar. China sold more US treasuries than any other time in the last seven years, in April.

I went into cash in my retirement account. Perhaps I will miss some of the rally but mainly I don’t like to hold money during the summer. Sell in May and go away, they say. But also I wonder a lot about the economy’s continuing ability to sustain itself. I still own my Nintendo shares which have been appreciating slower than I would like, given Nintendo’s massive success and sales.

Late payments on sub-prime mortgages were the highest on record last month.

One thing that’s worried me lately is how our technological growth, the primary driver behind productivity in the 20th century, is clustered primarily in progressive areas, while the red states contribute very little. That is to say, all the backwards people out there are piggybacking off the productivity gains of the educated progressive people they ridicule.

The operations of the country are not sustainable and it will become one of my career goals to help figure out a way to fix the system for the better.

Are you pissed yet? Are you even still reading this long post? =P

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1 Comment

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One response to “Inefficiencies: American Sustainability

  1. I always read the posts to the end ;P
    It’s good to see Americans starting to question what their government is doing. After the more open and well-read people question, the masses end up catching on and change happens. It’s a slow process but never a hopeless one.

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