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Tomgram: William Hartung, The Pentagon's Plan to Dominate the Economy

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Back in the mid-1990s, I wrote the following in my book The End of Victory Culture, with memories of the American world of my 1940s and 1950s childhood in mind:

"The worlds of the warrior and of abundance were, to my gaze, no more antithetical than they were to the corporate executives, university research scientists, and military officers who were using a rising military budget and the fear of communism to create a new national security economy. An alliance between big industry, big science, and the military had been forged during World War II. This alliance had blurred the boundaries between the military and the civilian by fusing a double set of desires: for technological breakthroughs leading to ever more instant weapons of destruction and to ever easier living. The arms race and the race for the good life were now to be put on the same 'war' footing...

"In the 1950s... a 'military Keynesianism' drove the U.S. economy toward a consumerism in which desire for the ever larger car and missile, electric range and tank, television console and submarine, was wedded in single corporate entities. The companies... producing the large objects for the American home were also major contractors developing the weapons systems ushering the Pentagon into its own age of abundance."

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And here's the curious thing: almost a quarter of a century after I wrote those words, in a second gilded age in which a billionaire occupies the Oval Office (thanks, in part, to the fact that so many Americans no longer feel like they're part of an age of abundance), the Pentagon has been thriving, big time. If anything, both parties in Washington have doubled down on military Keynesianism in the twenty-first century and, as TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert William Hartung writes today, it looks as if the Trump years, despite possible modest cuts in the Pentagon budget, will continue to be a gilded age for the U.S. military. After all, if the president's team has anything to say about it, ever more of the American economy will be run through the military-industrial complex.

One question, though, about this latest version of an age of abundance: Given our president's fatal touch (from casinos to hotels, airlines to universities, magazines to steaks and even vodka), might it, in the end, prove to be an age of militarized bankruptcy as well? Tom

Pentagon Socialism
Militarizing the Economy in the Name of Defense
By William D. Hartung

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Given his erratic behavior, from daily Twitter eruptions to upping his tally of lies by the hour, it's hard to think of Donald Trump as a man with a plan. But in at least one area -- reshaping the economy to serve the needs of the military-industrial complex -- he's (gasp!) a socialist in the making.

His plan is now visibly taking shape -- one we can see and assess thanks to a Pentagon-led study with a distinctly tongue-twisting title: "Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States." The analysis is the brainchild of Trump's adviser for trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro, who happens to also be the key architect of the president's trade wars.

Navarro, however, can hardly take sole credit for the administration's latest economic plan, since the lead agency for developing it was also the most interested of all in the project, the Pentagon itself, in particular its Office of Defense Industrial Policy. In addition, those producing the report did so in coordination with an alphabet soup of other agencies from the Department of Commerce to the Director of National Intelligence. And even that's not all. It's also the product of an "interagency task force" made up of 16 working groups and 300 "subject matter" experts, supplemented by over a dozen industry "listening sessions" with outfits like the National Defense Industrial Association, an advocacy organization that represents 1,600 companies in the defense sector.

Before jumping into its substance and implications for the American economy and national defense, let me pause a moment to mention two other small matters.

First, were you aware that the Pentagon even had an Office of Defense Industrial Policy? It sounds suspiciously like the kind of government organization that engages in economic planning, a practice anathema not just to Republicans but to many Democrats as well. The only reason it's not a national scandal -- complete with Fox News banner headlines about the end of the American way of life as we know it and the coming of creeping socialism -- is because it's part of the one institution that has always been exempt from the dictates of the "free market": the Department of Defense.

Second, how about those 300 subject matter experts? Since when does Donald Trump consult subject matter experts? Certainly not on climate change, the most urgent issue facing humanity and one where expert opinion is remarkably unified. The Pentagon and its contractors should, however, be thought of as the ultimate special interest group and with that status comes special treatment. And if that means consulting 300 such experts to make sure their "needs" are met, so be it.

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A Slogan for the Ages?

Now for the big stuff.

According to Peter Navarro's summary of the new industrial base report, which appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times, the key to the Trump plan is the president's belief that "economic security equals national security." When it comes to weapons manufacturing, the administration's approach involves building a Fortress America economy that will depend as little as possible on foreign suppliers. Consider it just the latest variation on Trump's "America First" economic strategy, grounded in its unapologetic embrace of nationalism. As a slogan, "economic security equals national security" doesn't have quite the populist ring of "Make America Great Again," but it's part of the same worldview.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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