Gas Stations in the Sky: $35 Billion in the Corporate Welfare Pipeline

Readers should take note of this advance warning: My math may be bad. I’m working with big numbers and dubious, sometimes unclear statistics.

In April of 2010, US customers purchased/consumed 273,090,000 barrels of gasoline (source: US Energy Information Administration).

A barrel is 42 gallons, so that’s just shy of 11.5 billion gallons of gas.

Also in April of 2010, the average price of gas at the pump was $2.84 and 8/10ths of one cent per gallon (source: op. cit.).

So, US consumers spent about $32.75 billion dollars on gas in April.

In the meantime, two mega-corporations — Boeing, an American firm, and EADS, a European concern — continue to vie for a US government contract to build gas stations in the sky (air-to-air refueling tankers for the military) at an “estimated” (in English, “lowball”) cost of $35 billion.

$35 billion is a pretty big number, so let’s break it down into something more manageable: $115 from every man, woman and child in the US.

For gas stations.

In the sky.

Well, hey, it’s for “defense,” right?

Of the top 15 global government big “defense” spenders, five (Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Australia and Spain) each spent less than $35 billion on “defense” in 2009. Not less than $35 billion on gas stations in the sky. Less than $35 billion total.

Italy spent $35.8 billion on “defense” in 2009. Not just on gas stations in the sky — that’s their whole army, navy and air force.

India — a nuclear power with a blue-water navy (including aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine components), a long history of border tensions with another nuclear power (Pakistan), a big bristly neighbor (China) and a population nearly four times as large as that of the US — spent $36.3 billion on “defense.” Not just on gas stations in the sky, but altogether.

Meanwhile, the US government will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion on “defense” in fiscal year 2010.

Given that the US hasn’t fought an even nominally defensive war in more than 60 years, does it strike anyone as oh, maybe a little odd that its politicians feel the need to spend 40 times as much on “defense” (half again as much on gas stations in the sky alone!) as South Korea, which has technically been at war for nearly 60 years?

Odd, perhaps, but not especially surprising. The raison d’etre of the state is the redistribution of wealth from the pockets of the productive class to the portfolios of the political class. In the United States since World War II, that political class has been partly composed of, and wholly dominated by, what President Dwight D. Eisenhower dubbed the “Military-Industrial Complex.”

It’s not so much that $35 billion must be spent on gas stations in the sky as that gas stations in the sky constitute an excuse for redistributing $35 billion from you to the shareholders, employees and political allies of Boeing or EADS (my guess is Boeing, but who knows? — the American and European political classes are increasingly transnational and commingled). The only thing that makes the tanker fight stand out is that two loud mouths are fighting for the opportunity to lock onto one corporate welfare teat.

And of course, if it wasn’t “defense” it would be something else. In other countries where “defense” doesn’t play as well, the redistribution is funneled through health and “social welfare” bureaucracies or internal police/security apparatuses or, where the state has become strong enough to get away with it, simply seized without bothering to drum up a plausible excuse.

Governments, like cancers, take many forms. The one thing they all have in common with cancer, and with each other, is that they grow and thrive at the expense of their hosts’ health and, eventually, lives. In the conflict between the productive class and the political class, it’s to the death, and it’s us or them.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory