The overlap between business and war is dramatic and easily visible. We may not see bodies in the street (yet), but the cultural ethos of competition permeates society both domestically and internationally. Conflict is reflected in our language and celebrated in our sports heroics. We absorb the norms of conflict much as we breathe.
War has always been an extension of the privatization of value. Economic ambition is all about creating value, owning it, and protecting it. War is the use of selective harm and destruction to obtain the goods of foreigners or to prevent them from stealing. It’s also differentially profitable – arms manufacturers earning fabulous returns for items that will soon be blown up and have to be replaced.
Because a hot war can easily cost everyone far more than might be gained from it, sound governments are wary of using it. Nonetheless, the fear of others’ designs on our assets and the companion paranoia that can be engineered into populations both make military preparedness a priority in most nations. Even two-bit Third World dictatorships overspend on arms to ameliorate their fears of invasion or to amplify their potential for expanding into the territory next door.
America is said to be in a “trade war” with China, the very name of which suggests a nearly life-or-death nature competition. Laughably, when some thinkers (like Steve Bannon, Trump’s erstwhile advisor) have suggested that a hot war will likely become inevitable, an astute military official noted that to fight a war against China, America would have to borrow the money from them to do it. In America, the military is as bloated as its national debt.
Historically, leaders have borrowed extensively to prosecute foreign wars or to defend themselves at home. The Medici, the Templars, and the Rothschild bankers became fabulously wealthy through such indebtedness, and with victory were often well-placed to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Competition that pitted state economies against liberal economies (such as the USSR vs. USA) was more about creating efficiencies in military construction, manufacturing and procurement than about which society was “better” for its citizens. Although political freedoms in liberal economies are preferable to draconian police states, motivation behind neoliberal economies is largely to make them more effectively competitive, both martially and civilly.
Some civic observances celebrate our historic “defense of freedom,” and most of us value civil liberty. However, the soldier who fights and dies is usually some impoverished representative of our so-called lower classes. Rich “chicken hawks” (like George W. Bush during the Viet Nam War) stay well away from any real fighting. Two fundamental motives of the aristocratic élite promoting World War I were to cull the increasingly powerful lower classes and to distract the citizenry from “foolish” ideas like socialism and women’s suffrage.
Society’s one per cent understand that capitalism is necessarily competitive, although their investment aims at “sure things,” exemplified by “wide moat” stocks and monopolies.
If society spends on defense to protect economic assets, surely then the billionaire class should have far higher tax bills than they do. Why should people of negligible net worth fight and/or pay for the dubious benefits of their own poverty? Naturally, such ideas are generally off the table, deemed “impractical” or “unsound.” As Republican Leona Helmsley was quoted, “Only the little people pay taxes,” and, predictably, they’re the ones always being squeezed.