Powerful grassroots organizing deserves credit for holding accountable corporations that move their profits offshore and dodge taxes. However, the corporations that actively consume public funds remain insulated from critique, even though their existence directly perpetuates inequality. The top corporate consumers of taxpayer funds are weapons manufacturers, the industrial leg of the military-industrial-congressional complex.
These are the top 5 government contractors for Fiscal Year 2017, listed in order of total tax dollars obligated:
Lockheed Martin, $49.5 billion
Boeing, $23.3 billion
General Dynamics, $15.6 billion
Raytheon, $14.3 billion
Northrop Grumman, $11.5 billion
In total, the military consumes more than one-half of U.S. taxpayer discretionary spending. This level of funding indicates not only that force projection is a priority, but it also illuminates areas that are not a priority. Public spending of any kind is inherently a form of wealth distribution. Never mind the reactionary objections over ‘creeping socialism,’ Congress is already in the business of wealth distribution because it routinely makes decisions about which projects to fund as it weighs the trade-offs inherent to a finite budget. In this way, the U.S. military budget is made up of sacrificed social programs, and ‘national security’ overrides day-to-day concerns of meaningful human security.
Compromising working class security
The 2018 National Defense Strategy calls for adopting a war footing with respect to China and Russia. If not an arbitrary turnabout, focusing on peer rivals will prompt a military budget with more spending devoted to major weapons systems. This will inevitably lead a greater economic loss relative to the prospective investments in non-weapons manufacturing sectors as well as other social priorities. As the tenuousness of the security justifications remains apparent, the military budget is increasingly justified as a boon for the U.S. economy. It is, but mostly for the political and economic elite.
The structure of the defense budget prioritizes obligating funds for equipment ahead of personnel. Among the biggest problems with the notion that defense spending creates jobs is that the sector is highly reliant on technology and creates few actual jobs. Economist Heidi Garrett-Peltier of Brown University’s Costs of War Project quantifies this relative economic loss by investing in defense in a 2017 report. Military spending produces the fewest jobs per $1 million invested.
The $230 billion in annual spending from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2016 reveals the opportunity cost of this investment.
Comparatively, military spending is a negative production in value, and should be viewed in those terms. Moreover, jobs in other sectors are more likely to remain in the United States. Green infrastructure projects or universal healthcare will not drift overseas in the same way as public investments for war posturing.
Enriching the elite through taxpayer dollars
While investing taxpayer dollars for global force projection undermines the security of the working class, it does enrich the economic elite, and public investments in weapons systems permit this parochial wealth redistribution. About half of the Department of Defense budget is awarded to contracts. Here are the private corporations that were the leading recipients from DOD contracts in 2016:
Lockheed Martin: $36.2 billion
Boeing: $24.3 billion
Raytheon: $12.8 billion
General Dynamics: $12.7 billion
Northrop Grumman: $10.7 billion
Lockheed Martin: Marillyn A. Hewson, $19.4 million
Boeing: Dennis A. Muilenburg, $14.1 million
Raytheon: Thomas A. Kennedy: $13.8 million
General Dynamics: Phebe N. Novakovic: $21.2 million
Northrop Grumman: Wesley G. Bush: $16.8 million
Corrupt wealth redistribution
Effectively, this is a system of legalized kleptocracy. Despite enriching themselves off of their taxes, the central profiteers of the military-industrial-congressional complex maintain public support through patriotic appeal; they hide the deleterious effects on human security under the banner of national security. Consider the remarks by Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson:
“We in my view have the honor and privilege of leading what is a national asset. What we do for this country, men and women in uniform, and the things that we do on advanced discovery that helps change people’s lives, the things that we do to support innovation and growth and jobs, is an important element of the economy. So I take that responsibility very seriously.” (View her full comments here).
Statements like these must be socially exercised from acceptable discourse. Given the perpetuation of inequality produced by military spending, and the very urgent and real security risks produced by such inequality, the priorities of our federal budgets must be restructured.
 Zenko, Micah. 2018. “US lays down the law for war,” The World Today, February and March, <https://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/twt/us-lays-down-law-war>
 Garrett-Peltier, Heidi. 2017. “Job opportunity cost of war,” Costs of War, 24 May, p. 3. <https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Job%20Opportunity%20Cost%20of%20War%20-%20HGP%20-%20FINAL.pdf>
 Garrett-Peltier, Heidi. 2017. “Job opportunity cost of war,” Costs of War, 24 May, p. 5. <https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Job%20Opportunity%20Cost%20of%20War%20-%20HGP%20-%20FINAL.pdf>
 Brown University. 2017. “Study says domestic, not military spending, fuels job growth,” 25 May. <https://news.brown.edu/articles/2017/05/jobscow>
 This total is greater than that of most federal agencies.
 A 2012 McKinsey & Company report placed the percentage revenue from the U.S. taxpayer at 72% for Boeing, 74% for Raytheon, 79% for General Dynamics, 83% for Lockheed Martin, and 90% for Northrop Grumman. Via Vox (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ba63OVl1MHw)