Today is Tax Day, a deadline most people associate with paperwork, bureaucracy and other headaches. It is also a reminder that so much of the revenue that the government generates by taxing us goes towards institutions whose activities are completely at odds with the interests of the vast majority of people in society.
While the right wing points to vital social programs as sources of “waste” in the federal budget, the reality is that a huge part of what the government spends money on serves no purpose but to bolster the wealth and power of the ruling elite. Here are three examples of this criminal misuse of enormous sums of money that could meet human needs, but instead are spent underwriting terrible violence and bolstering corporate profits.
The war machine
Perhaps the most glaring example of this waste is the U.S. military. War spending in its various forms is spread across different areas of the federal budget, but taken together it tops 1 trillion dollars per year. The notion that this is for “defense” is laughable. The global network of hundreds of military bases maintained by the Pentagon–which receives more funding than the next ten largest militaries combined–exists to enforce the rule of Washington and Wall Street with deadly force.
The biggest chunk of war funding goes to the Department of “Defense”, with the Pentagon receiving $817 billion in its most-recently passed budget. Bizarrely, the military’s arsenal of nuclear weapons–large enough to wipe out all life on Earth many times over–is funded through the Department of Energy to the tune of nearly $31 billion. This is bundled together with about $10 billion of other war-related spending in an annual piece of legislation called the National Defense Authorization Act.
U.S. wars have caused death and injury to millions of people around the world. And the mainly working class youth the Pentagon generals send to the front lines also suffer lifelong physical and psychological injury in huge numbers. Service members who have been used as cannon fodder in imperialist wars should be given comprehensive, high-quality healthcare, but the $303 billion budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs would not be necessary if these wars did not happen in the first place.
On top of the budgets of the Departments of Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs, a significant amount of the total debt accumulated by the U.S. government over the years is attributable to military spending. Every year, interest accumulates on that debt that must be paid off.
Handouts to corporations
The government is a source of hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue for corporations, lining the pockets of their executives at public expense. On this front, the most massive example is again the military. For the United States, waging war is a public-private partnership, where the Pentagon works hand-in-glove with a huge network of corporations that provide the weaponry and virtually everything else the military needs. In 2021, the government paid military contractors $399 billion, a sum roughly equivalent to the size of the entire economy of Egypt.
The planet-killing fossil fuel corporations are another major beneficiary. They receive approximately $20 billion a year from the government in the form of various subsidies, 80 percent of which go to natural gas and crude oil and 20 percent to support coal production. Instead of taking the decisive action necessary to transform the energy grid, the government presides over a system of incentives that keeps the world on track for climate catastrophe.
In addition to these corporate handouts at the federal level, subsidies totaling up to $95 billion a year are handed out by state and local governments. Taking the form of direct payments and tax credits, these so-called “incentive packages” are presented as ways to attract investment and jobs. They are part of a race to the bottom to provide big business with the most favorable conditions possible–at the expense of workers, the general public, and the environment. A study of major state-level economic development programs by Good Jobs First found that 38% do not even disclose to the public the names of the companies that are beneficiaries!
Police state repression
Hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers, serving everywhere from local departments to highly specialized national agencies, consume public resources at an enormous scale. Such a fearsome and lavishly-funded force is only required in a society like the United States where extreme inequality is managed with brutal violence–the cops are no more about “public safety” than the Pentagon is for “national defense”.
At the federal level, much of the funding for the police state can be found in the Department of Justice’s budget. The FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshalls combined with U.S. Attorneys offices across the country eat up a combined total of $19.2 billion. The vast network of facilities maintained by the DoJ’s Bureau of Prisons is funded to the tune of $8.4 billion.
Created in 2002, the Department of Homeland Security is the other principal home of repressive agencies. Customs and Border Protection in total has a budget of $16.5 billion, with $7.2 billion of that money earmarked specifically for Border Patrol. ICE received $8.8 billion in the most recent budget, including funding to operate its network of notorious detention centers with a capacity of 34,000 detainees. Both agencies are reviled for their racist brutality.
In a society with such deep impoverishment, collapsing basic infrastructure and woefully inadequate public services, it is obscene that this is what the government chooses to spend the public’s money on. It is a reflection of their true priorities –death, destruction and terror for the sake of ever greater profits for corporate America.