III - THE NULL-P. ORBITS
2. THE RAPE OF THE STUBBORN CUSTOMER
If customers would not buy enough of their own free will, the buying would be done for them and they would be sent the bill in the form of taxes. What polite seduction or even deceit had not achieved would be obtained from the consumer against his will: rape ! Buy, but buy what? Taxation was not a new phenomenon in the Fifties, but it was relatively recent and governments still needed an excuse to increase taxes: war, crisis, cataclysms...
The days had not arrived yet when deficit spending would be the rule
and when governments would consider it their right and responsibility, not
only to take from the rich to give to the poor, but also to sponsor corporations
as well as individuals, destitute or wealthy alike, as would be necessary
to maintain equilibrium. In the Fifties, when the need to increase production
became acute, the Government still acted on the belief that it needed to
tax in order to spend, and that it needed a reason to tax. The reason for
taxing and spending would be defence and military spending.
The perfect regulator
Defence met perfectly the two basic criteria to play this role: it was completely Government controlled, and it meant really huge expenditures. Furthermore, obsolescence is a virtue with military paraphernalia - as nothing but the best is deemed worthy to protect the country - and wastage is a blessing, since nobody is so eager to see the hardware put to use anyway. There are no limits to what may be spent on defence, since security depends entirely on subjective factors, and no problems of turnover, because everything that is produced can immediately be sent into the sky or buried into the ground.
Military production could be geared entirely to manpower requirements - as we saw them - and on the other aspects of our strategy for transition, so Defence was the perfect regulator that planners needed to control the economy. Through military spending, the Government could have both ends meet in production and consumption, no matter how irrational or frustrating the behavior of producers and consumers. Here was the source of an infinite demand for work and "productive" investments.
Concerning military spending, we must be very careful at this point to avoid the perennial controversy, between "doves" and "hawks". Everybody want to see this country as well protected as it could, and agree on the need for some defence. From there on, opinions will diverge on two questions which should not be confused, for attitudes about defence are one thing and opinions about the opportunity of military spending are something else altogether.
There are amongst us some "doves" who believe that we should put more trust in ourselves, have more faith in our foes, and maintain an "open hand" policy towards all, devoting a minimum of thoughts to such ugly things as guns, bombs and the like. There are also "hawks" who believe that we should be better prepared for bad faith, treachery and all these awful things that the Horrific Others are always prepared to do to Us. This is the controversy about Defence.
Defence is not the point we want to discuss here, because there are hawks in favour of savings who would prefer to guarantee the security of this country at 1/1000th the cost of the present military budget, if they could be satisfied that proper deterrence and retaliation power can be obtained at a cheaper price... While many doves favour spending in a good cause, and some might even be enthusiastic about a 500-billion, interest-free, "peace loan" to the U.S.S.R., all in a great spirit of love and friendship.
Military spending is not defence. It is well possible that the 200 billion-a-year and some that we spend on "Star War" schemes and extra atomic warheads be insufficient to protect this country adequately, as it is well possible that it be much too much. For all we know, we might enjoy better protection if we would concentrate on cheap biological welfare, if we would have the CIA organize "assassination teams" that would go undercover with the mission to kill, slowly and painfully, all the leaders of a country that would have declared war against us, or if we would simply exchange "hosts" with the Russians - the way the Romans used to do with their allies and foes alike - and receive as guests the children of members of the Politburo and Commissars, while we would send a few thousands young Americans to put some life into "Moscow by night". Maybe.
Defence has very little to do with the subject of military spending that we want to discuss here, because it is possible that we might meet all the objectives of defence taking an approach or designing options that would offer security at a much cheaper price. But, in the context of the present work crisis, any cheaper approach would betray the real purposes of military spending, which is easier to understand now that we have begun to think in terms of keeping manpower at work and wealth productive.
Our society's strategy for transition required that manpower be kept at work and that wealth should yield a profit. It called also for the education and training of a growing number of scientists and technicians, who could expand the realm of machines and would someday extend the limits of the possible. These scientists and technicians had to be kept at work also, thinking, gaining experience.
Thinking about what? They could not all be let loose in the production system, changing at random our ways to do things. Haphazard productivity gains, in this period of transition, would not be a blessing but would cause even more serious headaches. We were already changing our technology at the fastest pace compatible with social stability, and more innovations than could be absorbed might inadvertently destroy a very fragile balance. No use complicating the already difficult task of handling smoothly the flow of manpower from production to services, nor the even more demanding task of always keeping a haven where wealth might remain productive. With military spending, we would keep the extra brainpower "in orbit", production-wise, and the surplus ideas time-locked for later use, in "classified files" of the "restricted areas" of the military stockrooms. They would be exported in a way... to the Future. Think now, apply later, when we'd be out of orbit.
So, let us not confuse defence and military spending, for there may be
many ways to protect America, but one way only that will, at the same time,
provide employment for the common labour force... and save the present and
prepare the future by keeping at work and out of mischief the hi-tech manpower
in the fields of Electronics, Atomics, Energy, Aerospace, Computers, etc...
offering also ideal investment opportunities for wealth, when it seems that
there is none other left. This way is the way of the "200-billion a-year"
Rationale for evanescence
"Spend 200 billion, send the bill". Then, there is rape, and rape. The consumer was fascinated by the idea of sending a man to the Moon - (space exploration plays exactly the same role as military spending) - but he was vehemently opposed to dropping 100 billion worth and more of napalm and other unmentionable stuff on Viet-Nam, with thousands of Americans soldiers also losing their life in the process.
The consumer, in fact, reacted so negatively to this particular blunder that, at the end of the Sixties, he did not only prefer services to goods, but had turned quite allergic to investors, wealth, industrial values as a whole, all tricks for toil - whether they be attempts at seduction, deception or rape - and actually questioned from the word "go" all our society's choices since the Second World War, including the strategy for transition itself. The strategy was far from stupid, though. Considering the circumstances, it might even be said to be astute... but it was not so easy to explain.
How to explain to the common consumer that the "billions" spent on publicity are only conceptual schemes and bank notes, that is a happy mixture of paper and brain waves that would simply not be transmuted into wheat by some Power Divine to feed half of Africa? Worse, how do you explain to a vociferous philosopher-about-human-nature that the 10-billion atomic sub-marines are nothing but piles of metal with a huge price-tag, a price tag that represents the human ingenuity that was used, not only to put it all together, but mainly to think and design all the components of the submarine, each of which components has peaceful uses? How do you explain that not building the atomic submarine is not going to give us even one extra loaf of bread for the wretched of this Earth, even though a social convention might have us put a one-penny price tag on this loaf of bread?
How do you explain that the real purpose of military spending is to gather all the brains and all the pieces of technology left over, after our society has produced all and everything it can absorb short of self-destruction, and that we put the brains to use building a submarine, not because there is a specific demand for subs, but because this is the way to develop creativity, to gain practice at thinking, and to keep our hand at it until the day we may safely move forward again without disrupting the employment and investment patterns?
How do you explain that all the efforts that the traffic will allow are already being done to solve our real problems, that there is plenty of steel around to build all the agricultural tractors we need AND submarines? How do you explain that the problem of hunger, for instance, will be solved only when we can put together, in the right proportion, wealth and manpower not only with seed, land, machinery, fertilizer, transportation and storage facilities, but also with acceptable land-distribution schemes, export policies, vocational training, production planning, some intelligence and a lot of goodwill... and that it is already uncomfortably crowded there at the top, in the very small living space where the deciders have to think, decide and act for the best? Hard to explain...
Before the consumer turned downright aggressive, the ultimate refinement was brought to the military spending approach. To avoid other Vietnam-type misunderstandings of the real purpose of it all, the policy became more and more to scratch projects before the hardware could become operational, developing prototypes that would be obsolete before mass production could begin. This way, almost as much money could be wasted and much less damage could be done. People could remain at work, in Texas or Washington, without the planners ever having to show a "result" for the expenses. With this, industrial production moved to a superior and seemingly final stage of its evolution: from obsolescence, it had reached evanescence and had ceased to exist at all.
When we would move out of transition, and be back on the road to new social objectives that would require the full use of our resources, "hawks" and "doves" would be asked to carry their controversy to other grounds, and to agree that there might be cheaper ways to protect this country. Until then, though, considering the enormous amount of investment capital flying around with no place to land, and all the manpower looking for jobs, there was no obvious alternative to evanescent production. This way, we could put our best brains to work on ideas for the future and get rid as fast as possible of the dangerous by-products of their thinking process. It was not the end of the crisis, but military spending, more than any other single trick for toil, helped to create jobs, to place wealth in a quiet orbit and to make transition manageable.
However unpleasant to admit, rape did work. Whether we like it or not, the truth is that the "Spend 200 billion, send the bill" approach turned the trick. Unemployment was kept under reasonable control, there remained a demand for money, and what had looked like a rear guard battle to keep things in order in the industrial sector during the manpower's flight to services was finally successful. Planners and Santa Claus had had their way after all; they could have a climax and relax.
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