USA: Regime Change, or System Change?
The always enlightening historian Jacques R. Pauwels, on the hidden-in-plain-sight workings of the US economic machine. This 2004 column remains just as relevant today as when he wrote it.
By Jacques R. Pauwels
First published on William Bowles.info
That the USA is entangled in a vicious war in Iraq is not the fault of President Bush, but of America’s economic system. Without wars, America’s unbridled brand of capitalism can no longer function properly. Every tenant of the White House is aware of this and must act accordingly, and it does not matter at all if his name is Bush or Clinton, or if his party affiliation is Republican or Democrat.
In the United States, everything revolves around the economy. Theoretically, the economy may be defined as the aggregate of all activities which purport to meet the material needs of human beings. But in the American economic system it is the other way around: the economy is not there for the benefit of people, people are there for the benefit of the economy. What, then, is the purpose of the American economy? To make super-rich Americans (like Bush) even richer and, more specifically, to make it possible for US corporations to achieve ever-greater profits. This is not a simple task, and therefore the State must do something. (Yes, the State, and this in the promised land of laissez-faire!) The American State’s principal role is in fact nothing else than the facilitation of the “accumulation process,” i.e. the maximization of profits. Here are some, but by no means all, of the ways it can do so: by providing American industry with easy access to sources of vitally important raw materials such as oil, and by minimizing the cost of these materials, typically at the expense of the inhabitants (and the environment) of Third World countries which are “blessed” with such resources; by keeping labour costs as low as possible; by “priming the pump” of economic demand by means of gigantic State orders, thus maintaining production, prices, and ultimately profits at high levels; by redistributing the wealth of America to the advantage of the super-rich and to the disadvantage of all other Americans; and finally, by keeping the latter as ignorant and as meek as possible, so that they do not understand, and thus possibly challenge, the system.
In order to achieve these objectives, the State uses a plethora of instruments. Warfare has revealed itself to be eminently useful, and even indispensable, in this respect; it is simply the nec plus ultra in terms of instruments for accumulation purposes. That wars are very good, even wonderful for business, is demonstrated dramatically by the present conflict in Iraq. First, this aggression put the huge Mesopotamian petroleum resources at the disposal of the American oil trusts. Second, the Iraqi market has been pried open to American export products such as Coca-Cola and Marlboro cancer sticks. Third, the Iraqis now have the opportunity to slave away, in return for low wages, for the benefit of the US corporations for whom the country’s State-owned enterprises are being privatized – in flagrant violation, incidentally, of all principles of international law. Fourth, in the USA itself employment opportunities will shrink, thus driving wages down even further, as large firms will be able to have their commodities produced by cheap labour in sweatshops on the banks of the Tigris. (Yet another case of “outsourcing”!) Fifth, the war has brought about an explosion of present and future military state expenditures, and supplying the Pentagon with pricey martial toys is guaranteed to be a bonanza for the giants of the American armaments industry; armament is now more than ever before the most profitable of all sectors of the US economy. Sixth, the war also yields plentiful “spin-off” orders. in connection with the “reconstruction” of Iraq’s infrastructure, conveniently wiped out by American bombs. The lucrative contracts will be shared with countries that were willing accomplices in the American attack on Iraq, but American corporations such as Dick Cheney’s Halliburton are of course receiving the lion’s share. Seventh, while the super-rich owners and managers of America’s biggest enterprises will pocket the abundant profits made possible by the war, ordinary Americans will pay with their taxes for the costs of the war. The costs of the war are thus socialized, while the profits are privatized: a perverse redistribution of the wealth of America in favour of that tiny percentage of the population which already owns most of the nation’s wealth, but which expects to own an even bigger share next year. Eighth, the war has proven to be a brilliant opportunity to introduce repressive measures such as the so-called Patriot Act, measures which aim to restrict the rights of citizens and to intimidate potential dissidents, in other words, to keep the people meek. As for keeping the people ignorant as well, it is generally known that in time of war the American media line up unconditionally behind the president in order to trumpet without any hint of criticism even the grossest lies and the most far-flung fantasies dispensed by the White House and the Pentagon. It is wrong to think that ordinary Americans are extremely naïve, if not hopelessly stupid, as Europeans tend to believe. They are just incredibly poorly informed by their presumably “free” and “independent” media.
As I have demonstrated in my book The Myth of the Good War, it was the Second World War which revealed to corporate America how wonderfully functional armed conflicts can be for the purpose of making money. In fact, by the time that war came to an end in 1945, making money – more particularly, achieving sky-high profits – had become unthinkable without warfare. This is why after 1945 the USA has never ceased to fight wars, a long “cold” one against the USSR as well as plenty of hot wars in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Persian Gulf, etc. Not all, but most, of these wars were overtly or covertly unleashed by Washington. The warmongering of Bush Jr. is therefore no exception to the rule. It is the rule, the rule of the system. Only wars can bring the super-rich of America the fabulous profits that are the raison d’être of the rugged American economic system, a system sometimes pithily summarized as “profits before people”. The USA may soon have another president, but let there be no illusions: America will continue to fight wars, even with Kerry – yet another scion of the super-rich elite – in the Oval Office. Regime change, a changing of the guard in the White House, is not good enough. For the USA to stop going to war, it needs another economic system, a system that puts people before profits.
Jacques R. Pauwels has authored The Myth of the Good War, America in the Second World War (Lorimer, 2015 for the Revised edition).