money for war the skys the limit

The year 2009: giant corporations sit in ruins, their credit destroyed, their work force reduced, their very existence contingent on the generosity of the public purse.

The year 2009: giant corporations sit in ruins, their credit destroyed, their work force reduced, their very existence contingent on the generosity of the public purse. Workers by the millions wake up to discover their jobs no longer exist, while their debts live on—unlike those of the corporations who let them down.

Governments, even those committed to debt-elimination, are racking up monster deficits. Oil companies, which a few short months ago were raking in money so fast they could hardly count it, now report huge losses. Personal bankruptcies and farm and home foreclosures are up, personal debt is at record rates.

Still, for those who have money to invest—and there are always plenty of those, no matter how tough times may get—there are some great opportunities out there. Take, for instance, the arms industry. In these dark times, when cash-strapped governments are forced—absolutely forced—to cut spending on social programs, scientific research, and the production of medical isotopes, there’s always a billion or two tucked away for when the arms dealer comes to call.

On Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that US arms giant Lockheed Martin’s new fighter jet, the F-35, is creating an international arms race. According to Reuters, “F-35 competitors include the Saab AB Gripen, the Dassault Aviation SA Rafale, Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35, and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies.”

So, seven companies around the world will be competing to sell these new state-of-the-art stealth fighters, capable of evading radar detection systems and delivering death-dealing missiles. Now, there’s some good economic news—unless, of course, you end up under one of the missiles. One of the first principles of running a successful military-industrial economy is to place yourself among those doing the bombing, and not among the bombed.

Reuters goes on to report that “The F-35 is co-financed by the United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. All the US partners appear to be largely sticking to plans to buy a combined 750 F-35s, at least for now.” Canada may or may not buy some of these new-generation killing machines in the future, but at present our interest lies in contracts for Canadian corporations, in the name of which we are putting up about $1.5 billion over 20 years.

This investment in Canadian jobs and corporate profits has nothing to do with the current so-called “economic downturn” (sounds so much nicer than corporate greed-induced recession). In fact, the contract was signed in 2002 while the greed-heads were still Masters of the Universe. Canada’s commitment to the F-35 project wasn’t about saving jobs in desperate times, it was about feeding the military-industrial complex at the public’s expense.

Canada’s investment in the F-35 would amount to a bit over one-third of the estimated $5-billion child-care program Harper dumped when he took office. It is 1.5 times the amount Canada and Ontario have jointly committed to light rail transit for Toronto.

It would be far more than enough to build adequate sewage systems in places like Halifax and Victoria, which are currently pumping raw effluent into the oceans. It would build tens of thousands of homes in First Nation communities now at heightened risk of flu and other diseases due to Third-World-style overcrowding.

The list of things you can do with a billion and a half dollars is endless. Peaceful, constructive projects can cost a lot of money, though they hardly compare to the cost of war and destruction, or even of maintaining the war machine during times of peace. On the other hand, they’re seldom as lucrative, either.

The F-35 alone is a trillion-dollar project. With six competitors on the market, worldwide sales of hovering stealth-fighters will be greater than the budgets of the world’s nation states, greater than the GDP of all but a few.

Here is the modern world in a nutshell. When it comes to fighting famine, disease, poverty, homelessness and environmental disaster we count the pennies, dole out the minimum sum possible, and hope for the best. But when we turn our attention to killing each other, the sky’s the limit.

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.