Capitalism, Militarism and Infrastructure – Workers World

The US capitalist economy is facing several problems during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Of great concern is the global supply chain crisis, which has exposed longstanding problems within the capitalist system.

The I-40 bridge, which carries 60,000 vehicles across the Mississippi every day, was closed for three months in 2021 due to a lack of infrastructure.

For the past 40 years, companies have maximized their profits through globalization – by moving production abroad for the lowest wages. Now big business is facing major problems moving overseas goods into and through the US, where workers are less and less willing to work in insecure conditions for insignificant pay.

Sea workers refuse to spend months on cargo ships with limited security and not visit their families. There is a shortage of transport workers willing to drive trucks at low wages, long hours and in unsafe conditions to move goods out of ports. The truck industry has an annual turnover of 90%.

Underlying the situation is decades of reluctance on the part of capitalist politicians to fund improvements to domestic infrastructure necessary to keep pace with the demands of global production.

Meanwhile, wars abroad were busily financed. According to war costs, over half of the federal government’s total assets – buildings, planes, ships, vehicles, computers, and weapons – go to the military. The value of the Pentagon’s total assets increased from $ 1.1 trillion in 2000 to $ 1.8 trillion in 2019.tinyurl.com/yae7zwjm)

Military spending currently accounts for 3.4% of US GDP, while federal, state, and local infrastructure spending combined is 2.3%. By comparison, China’s infrastructure spending in 2018 was ten times higher than that of the US. (tinyurl.com/25jf6fu4)

War and Infrastructure Spending

In the past, the U.S. government has prioritized supply chain infrastructure improvements when they benefited the U.S. military. The civil war increased the use of railways significantly. In January 1862, President Abraham Lincoln authorized the US Military Railroad, established by the US Department of War, to take control of the railroads for military purposes. The USMRR limited its authority to southern railroad lines captured during the war, giving the north a strategic military advantage over the south.

Construction of the first transcontinental railroad began shortly after the war and was completed in May 1869. The expanded railroad system played a significant role in the western expansion of US imperialism, including the theft and occupation of indigenous lands and the genocide of indigenous peoples, as well as the near-destruction of the native bison or buffalo species.

Construction of the first transcontinental motorway began almost 90 years later. In 1956, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill to fund the construction of the Interstate Highway System, officially known as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Between then and 1990, approximately 45,000 miles of new interstate roads were built as part of the interstate highway system, using $ 119 billion in federal funding. (tinyurl.com/yhebjyce)

As a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army in 1919 after World War I, Eisenhower had observed the First Transcontinental Motor Convoy, a military experiment in which troops were moved from coast to coast in the US using a patchwork system of paved and dirt roads, to aging bridges low to pass under trucks and mountain roads too narrow for traffic in both directions.

As an Allied commander in Europe during World War II, Eisenhower observed the vastly superior German autobahn system which included national highways connecting all parts of that country. The Allied armies were able to use the European highway systems to move troops quickly and win the war.

“Red Terror” highways

The first automobiles in the United States were made in 1899, but the widespread use of automobiles was not enough to spur the construction of a vast coast-to-coast highway system. Instead, the proposal was approved by the “Red S.care ”- the perceived threat of nuclear war after the Soviet Union developed an atomic bomb to protect against the US, which had used this weapon in Japan in 1945.

In 1954, Eisenhower appointed West Point trained engineer Lt. Gen. Lucius Clay for promoting the highways. The Clay Committee pushed the multi-billion dollar plan by stoking public fear and arguing that the highways were essential for emergency evacuations from large cities and the rapid movement of troops in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1954, Vice President Richard Nixon mentioned the danger of nuclear war ten times in a speech to governors. At the time, 79% of the US public believed that a nuclear conflict between the US and the USSR was imminent.

Praised as “modern marvels” the interstate highways resulted in the relocation of over 475,000 households to make way for the system to be built. The majority of the displaced lived in low-income urban communities with high concentrations of blacks, Latinx, indigenous peoples and immigrants.

Fifty years of aging and neglect

Military interests served to fuel the development of domestic infrastructure during the rise of US global imperialism, but over time, military spending became a drain on resources essential to domestic programs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current state of the US infrastructure.

The roads and bridges built in the mid-20th century have fallen into disrepair for years and are rarely significantly improved or reconstructed. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given US highways a grade C in a “2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure”. The ASCE report found that 43% of public roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

Over 231,000 bridges in all 50 US states are in need of repair and conservation. On May 11, Interstate 40 Mississippi River Bridge, one of only two Mississippi River crossings near Memphis, was closed due to a crack in a large steel girder. The bridge, which carries 60,000 vehicles a day, was closed for three months, which also affected hundreds of river barges that pass under the bridge.

Since the completion of the interstate highway system in 2016, under President Barack Obama, the largest government spending has been on improving infrastructure – including transportation and water – in the federal government.

Compare the Pentagon’s 2020 annual budget: $ 778 billion, up 4.4% from 2019.

The US population has more than doubled since the 1960s, when most of the country’s major highway infrastructure systems were designed. The country’s transportation network currently carries over 51 million tons of cargo valued at around $ 52 billion a day over a system of largely obsolete roads and bridges that were never built for that volume. At the same time, the lack of adequate public transportation has made the US population more reliant on cars to get around the same streets.

Too little too late

Concerns about insufficient infrastructure funding and the impact on the US economy arose over 15 years ago. In 2005, the U.S. Congress created the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission to assess transportation conditions that were deemed inadequate to meet the growing demand for trade and goods movements. In its 2008 findings, the Commission recommended “a substantial national commitment to transport investments of at least $ 225 billion per year from all sources for the next 50 years”.

Taking inflation into account, it would have to spend more than $ 4.3 trillion today to catch up on that planned investment. This allocation never took place.

In November, Congress approved President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Bill, which saw a meager investment of $ 1.2 trillion over 10 years. Only $ 115 billion is earmarked for roads, bridges, and other transportation projects; $ 130 billion of the bill goes to transportation systems to benefit parcels Delivery industries like Amazon, FedEx, and UPS are increasing the volume of vehicles using the same legacy highway system.

A legitimate question is who is paying for the urgently needed infrastructure improvements.

For decades, local governments have funded highways expansion through taxes and tolls that negatively impact the working class. It is time to reallocate the imperialist military budget to domestic needs and get corporations that have made profits from using the public roads to cover their share of transport costs with back payments for all those years in which they never have contributions have done.

Next: Road vs. Rail

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