In my various interviews, speeches, q&a sessions and other public interactions, there’s one question that seems to come up over and over. It’s usually delivered in a half-joking way, almost as if the questioner isn’t really serious. But they ask it anyway: “How do we make money from all of this?”
However hesitantly it may be asked, I realize this is a serious question. We all still live in a world where, like it or not, 99.9% of the people around us still treat these colorful pieces of debt-based central bank-authorized funny money as the only possible form of payment. And that means we all need to find ways to collect them. So my standard reply is equally half-joking, half deadly serious: “If you’re looking to make money, you’ll never go broke investing in the military-industrial complex.”
I wish I was wrong about that. Sadly, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) outlines in their annual report on global military expenditure, I’m depressingly right.
In that report, Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2014, SIPRI puts hard numbers to what we already know to be true: that the powers-that-shouldn’t-be are still spending unprecedented amounts of money on armaments. The report confirms facts that we should have likely expected (that the US, China and Russia are the top three military spenders, for example) and some that are more surprising (Saudi Arabia is now the fourth largest spender on military armaments). On the regional scale, only the Americas actually reduced military spending from the previous year; Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania all increased military budgets as a whole. Overall military spending has decreased almost imperceptibly from its 2011 peak, but despite much-ballyhooed “spending cutbacks” by the US Defense Department, Pentagon spending remains 45% above mid-1990s levels.
Of course, these numbers only go so far. The budget expenditures of China and Russia are mere estimates, as no official data is available. And the spending data from the Pentagon clearly doesn’t take into account the $8.5 trillion that DoD accountants just can’t seem to track. But the trend is clear: the world is braced for war in a way it hasn’t been since the height of the Cold War. This does not bode well for the prospect for peace.
And sadly there is no sign that any of this is going to change any time soon. The battle against ISIS is the perfect pretext for US contractors to make a killing in the Middle East. The Ukraine crisis is the perfect pretext for NATO members to collectively commit to a 2% military budget increase. Instability in North Africa is the perfect pretext for that continent to lead the globe with the largest year-on-year military expenditure increase of any region. And China’s growing naval presence in the South China Sea and East China Sea (not to mention those crazy North Koreans) is the perfect pretext for Japan to sign a revised security agreement with the US, one that will see even greater and deeper military cooperation between the two countries.
All around the world, tensions are flaring and the usual Lockheed/Boeing/General Dynamics/Raytheon vultures are there to swoop in and scoop up their profit.
So, to answer the question: “How do we make money from the current geopolitical situation?” the answer, sadly is: “Invest in the military-industrial complex.” But perhaps more to the point, is this really the question we want to be asking in the first place, or should we be more concerned with de-funding and dis-empowering the current system?
I know which question I’d rather be asking, and if you want to help me in answering that question you can start participating in alternative and complementary currencies, the peer-to-peer economy, community organizations, boycotts and buycotts, and all the thousand other ways we can do our part to help to steer the globe away from WWIII.