Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 6:37 am | Fair 49º


David Sirota: America’s Guns and Butter Economy

In a desperate attempt to export more 'stuff,' we're just fattening up the world and arming it for permanent bloodshed

With the struggling economy and the continuing debates over how to fix the problem, one word still evokes bipartisan consensus: exports. “I want us to sell stuff,” said President Barack Obama, summing up the bipartisan sentiment.

That nebulous word “stuff” is significant. It asks us to see all exports as the same and to refrain from making nuanced value judgments about what exactly we’re shipping overseas. In this cold-blooded view, a job-creating export is a job-creating export, and that’s as far as any conversation should go.

At first glance, such reductionism seems logical, rational, even boringly uncontroversial. But two recent news items highlight how, in a globalized economy, there are troubling consequences that come from the particular kind of export economy we’re building.

The first bit of news came from the Washington Post, which reported last week that “the Obama administration is crafting a proposal that could make it easier to export firearms and other weapons.” Although the Homeland Security and Justice departments say the new rules could make it easier for terrorist and drug cartels to further arm themselves, the White House is nonetheless citing the “stuff” theory of exports to ignore the objections.

This is part of a larger pattern since Obama took office. During his first year in the White House, he began to gut the Pentagon’s approval process for arms exports, weakening controls on what could and could not be sold. Later, diplomatic cables uncovered by Wikileaks showed, as Fortune magazine put it, “American officials act(ing) as de facto pitchmen for U.S.-made weapons.”

The result is that America has become the true “Lord of War,” as the arms dealer motto goes. We are the leading arms supplier to the developing world and we are responsible for the majority of all weapons sales across the globe. Yes, we are so committed to selling instruments of death to the rest of the planet that military industries have almost tripled their share of the U.S. economy in just a decade.

The second bit of news came from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, whose new study shows that America is exporting our obesity crisis to Mexico. Coupling health statistics with U.S. export data since the North American Free Trade Agreement tore down Mexico’s agriculture trade barriers, researchers found that the Mexican market was flooded by American agribusinesses’ taxpayer-subsidized commodities (corn, soybeans) and their processed derivatives. According to the report, that quickly wiped out Mexico’s local food economy, leaving its food system exactly “like the industrialized food system of the United States — characterized by the overabundance of obesogenic foods.” Not surprisingly, Mexican obesity rates have consequently skyrocketed.

Taken together, these export booms represent what could be called America’s new Guns and Butter economy. We are so desperate to export any “stuff” we can, we are now fattening up the world and arming it for permanent bloodshed.

Seeking to short circuit any objections to this trend, Obama has said simply that “we’re at a moment where necessity has tempered the old debates” over exports and economic policy. In terms of history, he’s not wrong — during the previous century, America witnessed fevered fights over what constitutes a moral farm policy, and in the 1930s the Senate’s Nye Committee held almost 100 hearings into “greedy munitions interests that were unduly influencing public policy.” Sadly, Obama is correct — those debates have been silenced.

But should they be? Should we simply say that any exports — no matter their moral, ethical, environmental or health implications — are inherently good? Does “necessity” really mean that “stuff” for stuff’s sake must be the basis of our export economy?

Washington and profit-at-all-cost industries certainly say yes — but that doesn’t mean it’s the right answer.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the new book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now and blogs at Click here for more information. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter: @davidsirota.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >