Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Boondoggle Economy

I’ve just discovered a new word. It’s “boondoggle”.

Well it’s not a new word actually. The spell check on my word processor recognises it. But it’s new to me.

It comes from America. A boondoggle was a piece of braided leather which boy scouts used to hang their whistles on. It may have had a nautical purpose at one time. It’s basically a useless but decorative item.

Later on it appeared in a headline in the New York Times, on 4 April 1935. “$3,187,000 Relief is Spent to Teach Jobless to Play ... Boon Doggles Made”.

It was referring to one aspect of the New Deal programme during the depression when unemployed people were put to work doing useless jobs.

As a word it became famous overnight and came to represent government funded work with no intrinsic purpose used as a way of gaining political patronage.

I first came across the word in an article from Rolling Stone magazine called The Great Iraq Swindle.

In the article the writer is referring to the privatisation of services in the US armed forces. The American army no longer washes its own smalls. It gets a private company in to do that. The private company is on a cost-plus contract. This means that whatever it spends it earns, plus three percent.

It’s the way the American army has been run since the Balkans, which means that Blair must have been aware of it.

Stop and think about it for a second. Cost-plus. You get three percent on whatever you spend. It’s a recipe for spending as much money as you possibly can. Everything you spend earns you an extra three percent.

This is what they call “free enterprise”.

So American soldiers’ underwear is being washed on a cost-plus basis. So too are all their social needs being met. Cost-plus means that every soldier who uses the privatised R’n’R facilities gets charged to the American government, which encourages the people who estimate the numbers to exaggerate. The people who estimate the numbers are also the people who take home the profit.

Cost-plus is also the method being used to rebuild Iraq: that traumatised, wounded, war-torn, and shattered country. Cost-plus to build privatised hospitals. Cost-plus to build roads, police training academies, schools, to run airports, to build sewerage plants, to generate electricity, the lot.

It’s the reason why nothing in Iraq works very well, why they still have power cuts even to this day. They blame it on terrorists, but it’s mainly just substandard workmanship.

Profits go straight back home to America, to American private investors, leaving the poor Iraqis with nothing but wreckage to contend with. Even their services aren’t their own.

Everything that the Americans knock down in that grand on-going Turkey-shoot we call “The War on Terror” is being rebuilt at the American taxpayers expense by private companies on a cost-plus basis, making this the biggest public spending bonanza in World history.

This is called "Military Keynsianism". Keynsianism is the theory - first suggested by the British Economist John Maynard Keynes - that a capitalist economy needs a constant supply of public money to "prime the pump", as it were, to keep the economy rolling. In the post-war years in Europe public spending was - to a large extent - spent upon the public, on hospitals and schools. This was called "the welfare state". Military Keynsianism is another form of the welfare state: the welfare state for the rich, a way of funnelling public money into private hands via the Military-Industrial Complex.

So next time you hear about operations against al-Qaeda targets on the outskirts of Baghdad, remember who will do the rebuilding.

Remember, too, who made the bombs and who built the planes; who supplies the equipment; who made the uniforms and who rakes in the cash.

War: the biggest boondoggle of all time.

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