ProMarket: How Wall Street Is Devastating Our National Security

January 28, 2021 Anti-Monopoly Policies & EnforcementNational Security

On May 17, 2017, in a little-noticed House Armed Services Committee hearing on defense procurement, members of Congress received a shocking warning about the biggest vulnerability in our national security architecture—and it wasn’t China or Russia.

About fifteen minutes into the hearing, former Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer, with a respectful southern accent and peppering his speech with “sir,” spoke about his company, iRobot. While today iRobot makes a popular automated vacuum cleaner, the Roomba, much of its earlier robotic technology wasn’t designed just to hoover crumbs and navigate corners but to carry out missions in warzones and outer space.

iRobot used to be everything that is best about the American corporate, academic, and public sectors, but then it sold off its defense business, offshored manufacturing, and radically cut its research. Changes that were dictated by an American hedge fund in an effort to squeeze out more money for the shareholders.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and President Joe Biden has the chance to remake the system to stop this leakage of capacity. The financial sector, if properly incentivized and controlled, could provide the national security apparatus, and the country as a whole, a valuable service: allocating resourcesto profitable long-term investment in critical industries. Currently, however, as the Pentagon report indicates, the focus of our nation’s traders is not on long-term investment, but on short-term profit, stock manipulation, and creating monopoly power. It’s all about extraction rather than long-term production: A recent analysis by Thomas Philippon at NYU’s Stern School of Business concludes that Wall Street now siphons off an estimated 2 percent of GDPabove and beyond the value of the services it provides. To put that into a national security perspective, finance firms rake in enough excess profit for themselves to fund the United States’ entire NATO defense spending obligation.