Why Never-ending Wars Are Good for the Economy

Wow, the irony. Melvin put me up on this NY Times article last week questioning if Israel has actually gained much in the last 40 years, since the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank began.

The first thing I noticed when he showed it to me was that the perspective was leaning towards painting such a sorrowful picture of Israel as this civilized state in the midst of all of this savage chaos, as to entice the reader to feel sorry. But not only that, it was also trying to sell the reader on the idea that somehow Israel's situation is unique in the world. Everyone knows how beneficial it can be for the person with a plank in their eye to point out the tiny twig in someone else's.

So I said to him something along the lines of how this sorrowful portrayal of Israel masks the fact that the U.S. will probably soon, if it is not already, be in a similar state where war (aka "defense") will be a perpetual reality in order to maintain empire.

This article only reinforces that truth. In the midst of all this war and all this fighting, Israel's economy is straight booming! Not only is war a reality, it is a lucrative and welcomed reality for many (and perhaps a subconsciously welcomed reality for many more of us addicted to consumer economies created by war, militarization and neocolonialism). The Military Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower prophetically spoke of in such a sobering way has come to fruition and not only that -- it's being globalized!

Remember that scene in the 9/11 documentary Loose Change (2006) where the stock broker is talking about him and his buddies having to consciously decide if they felt good or bad when the towers fell? Bad for obvious reasons... but good because the price of gold was skyrocketing baby! And then he proceeds to describe how at the end of the day, they were out celebrating because that day of death bought each of them a new house.

Here are a few additional films to check out to help us stay clear on the reality we dealin with:
(2003) The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
(2005) Why We Fight
(The Nation) ...At a glance, things aren't going well for Israel. But here's a puzzle: Why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates nearing China's?

...Israel's economy isn't booming despite the political chaos that devours the headlines but because of it. This phase of development dates back to the mid-'90s, when Israel was in the vanguard of the information revolution--the most tech-dependent economy in the world. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Israel's economy was devastated, facing its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners.

Within three years, large parts of Israel's tech economy had been radically repurposed. Put in Friedmanesque terms: Israel went from inventing the networking tools of the "flat world" to selling fences to an apartheid planet. Many of the country's most successful entrepreneurs are using Israel's status as a fortressed state, surrounded by furious enemies, as a kind of twenty-four-hour-a-day showroom--a living example of how to enjoy relative safety amid constant war. And the reason Israel is now enjoying supergrowth is that those companies are busily exporting that model to the world.

...Israel now sends $1.2 billion in "defense" products to the United States--up dramatically from $270 million in 1999. In 2006 Israel exported $3.4 billion in defense products--well over a billion more than it received in US military aid. That makes Israel the fourth-largest arms dealer in the world, overtaking Britain.

Much of this growth has been in the so-called "homeland security" sector. Before 9/11 homeland security barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2 billion--an increase of 20 percent. The key products and services are high-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems--precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories.

And that is why the chaos in Gaza and the rest of the region doesn't threaten the bottom line in Tel Aviv, and may actually boost it. Israel has learned to turn endless war into a brand asset, pitching its uprooting, occupation and containment of the Palestinian people as a half-century head start in the "global war on terror."

It's no coincidence that the class projects at Ben Gurion that so impressed Friedman have names like "Innovative Covariance Matrix for Point Target Detection in Hyperspectral Images" and "Algorithms for Obstacle Detection and Avoidance." Thirty homeland security companies were launched in Israel in the past six months alone, thanks in large part to lavish government subsidies that have transformed the Israeli army and the country's universities into incubators for security and weapons start-ups (something to keep in mind in the debates about the academic boycott).

...So in a way Friedman is right: Israel has struck oil. But the oil isn't the imagination of its techie entrepreneurs. The oil is the war on terror, the state of constant fear that creates a bottomless global demand for devices that watch, listen, contain and target "suspects." And fear, it turns out, is the ultimate renewable resource. (article)

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