Position Briefs

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Defense Spending and the Deficit

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m anti-military or anti-defense spending. Despite its long history of misuse, I still believe that our strong military CAN be a force for good in the world. And as I’m a Keynesian (or as I like to say, “Educated”) I still realize that ANY reduction is Government spending will not only destroy jobs, but do more harm that then equivalent tax increases would cause. However, I wanted to look at one area of Government Spending, and judge it as “wasteful” just on the basis of necessity. BTW, “wasteful” is not a word I like to use, as there is really almost no such thing as wasteful spending, but we’ll save that for another time. In this case I’m judging it against its stated purpose, NOT against the economic impact.


I came across the following graph from http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending:

























Granted, it’s a couple of years old, but as it’s expressed in percentages rather than actual dollars, I would think the overall proportions will have remained pretty close. The US accounts for 41.5% of the World’s Military Spending. The other four permanent members of the UN Security Council account for only 18.8%. The next ten countries combine for only 21.1%. So were spending a little more than our fourteen biggest allies and enemies COMBINED. The rest of the world accounts for the other 18.6%.

Now… you hear the proposal kicked around form time to time that we should cut our defense spending by something like 5-10%. Conservatives (and some hawkish Democrats) always howl in protest over this, but I think it’s pretty clear that we’ll still be able to keep out the invading hordes, even with these cuts. What this graph tells me is that we could make 50% cut in spending and still be spending more that England, France, China and Russia combined. COMBINED! That’s just crazy! You’d probably need to add the top 1 or 2 of the next 10 countries to the list just to make it EVEN. If you think about that, it’s staggering, so I’ll say it again: With a 50% cut in defense spending we’d still be spending TWICE AS MUCH as Russia and China COMBINED, and AS MUCH (more, actually) as Russia, China, France and Great Britain… COMBINED!

Now… let the awesome reality of that sink in for a moment before moving on.

Now, using FY2010 as an example, our federal budget is about $3.55 trillion. Without pointing any fingers, the federal DEFICIT was about $1.42 Trillion. $663.7 billion of that was Defense Spending. Now… as I’ve stated before, we could cut our defense spending in HALF and still be outspending our four biggest enemies and allies combined. This would save us about $332 Billion. In other words – we could knock 23% off of the Federal Deficit in one single action and still single handedly account for about a fifth of the world’s military spending all by ourselves. Again, more than our two biggest “enemies” and two biggest allies COMBINED. (I’m sorry I keep restating that, but I’m just so utterly gobsmacked by the enormity of it!)

Now… am I advocating for such a reduction? Not necessarily. There would be significant job losses in terms of Soldiers, Defense Contractors, Arms Manufacturers, as well as many Civilian Business that have nothing to do with War or Defense, but still do business with or on Military Bases. So cutting these funds would have an ECONOMIC impact many times as big as any security concerns. But that’s true of ANY reduction in spending. And that’s really the problem with the reckless deficit spending that the Republicans have pursued over that last 30 years – out of VICE, rather than NECESSITY as the Democrats have done. And for the country, it’s like an addiction because fixing it - no matter HOW you fix it - HURTS. It causes HARM. Whether it’s though tax increases or spending cuts, there WILL be pain.

And remember: Republicans are still advocating for Tax CUTS, so don’t believe ANYTHING they say about the deficit! Their aim is to ‘reduce the size of Government’ by BANKRUPTING it. If they really cared about the deficit and National Debt, they’d be calling for tax increases as well, just smaller ones than the liberals are, while advocating for larger spending cuts than the liberals do. Not to mention that they CAUSED the problem. They CREATED the culture of borrow-and-spend which replaced the more responsible model of tax-and-spend. Regan kicked it off, Bush’41 continued it. Clinton put an end to it, but Bush’43 couldn’t have that, so he kicked it into high gear! Obama has so far mostly inherited these problems. To be fair, he has added to the deficit, but with the economy he inherited that was almost inevitable – a matter of necessity rather than choice.

Moving foreword, we’ll see. In any case, you can’t cut a Trillion+ dollars in spending or raise a Trillion+ dollars in taxes overnight with causing some serious economic pain. That’s beyond dispute. So I don’t put this up as any sort of deficit-cutting silver bullet. But it’s certainly interesting food for thought regarding where our National Priorities are, and where our money goes. We should consider these facts before we talk about how we CAN’T provide health care, and CAN’T provide social safety nets and CAN’T support public education, CAN’T, CAN’T, CAN’T... Because if there was ever an attitude that sums up everything that America is all about, it’s “YES WE CAN.”

Maybe it’s not about spending LESS, but about spending it MORE WISELY.

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BTW… I had this graph, from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258, but the wiki article pretty much had all the numbers I needed. But here’s tabulation, in case you want to cross-reference anything, or just wanted another breakdown.

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