What Else Could We Do With A Trillion Dollars?

I’m not sure where I came across the article I’m going to discuss todayMonthly Review is not one of my typical sources. (The magazine styles itself as an “independent socialist” publication.) I may have clicked through from a different resource.

That said, if the numbers it reports are even close to accurate, it’s very depressing. I am pasting in the rather lengthy first paragraph, which identifies some of the sources of those numbers–sources which certainly seem legitimate–to allow you to make your own assessment.

For decades, it has been recognized by independent researchers that actual U.S. military spending is approximately twice the officially acknowledged level.1 In 2022, actual U.S. military spending reached $1.537 trillion—more than twice the officially acknowledged level of $765.8 billion. Data on U.S. military spending reported by the U.S. government, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI, generally considered the definitive source on international military expenditures), and NATO all primarily rely on the figures of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These data, however, are subject to two major shortcomings. First, the numbers provided by the OMB with respect to “defense spending” are substantially lower than those provided in the U.S. National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA), the most complete and definitive source on U.S. national income and expenditures as a whole, constituting an input-output approach to the whole economy, and the basis of all analysis of the U.S. economy. Second, as is well-known, key areas of U.S. military spending are included in other parts of federal expenditures and do not fall under the OMB’s “defense spending” category. Although SIPRI and NATO adopt wider definitions of “defense spending” than the U.S. government and claim to increase their estimates using the OMB figures as a base, in practice, they do so only marginally and in ways that are not entirely transparent, with the result that their figures are only slightly above those of the officially acknowledged U.S. figures.

The article goes on to detail what is included (medical costs for military personnel, for example), citatons to academic studies and official agency computations, and includes several charts. Bottom line, it asserts that actual U.S. military spending in 2022 came to $1.537 trillion dollars, rather than the (already huge) $765.8 billion in defense spending acknowledged by OMB.

I was already convinced that the United States spends far too much on defense–we spend more than the next ten countries combined–and I’m absolutely gobsmacked by the likelihood  that the real number is $1.537 trillion.

I’ve seen estimates–based upon the lower reported number–that 25% of the defense budget could be cut without affecting the country’s military readiness. What if we accept those estimates and apply the same, very conservative approach, cutting twenty-five percent out of that massive amount? We would have an additional $384 billion dollars to spend every single year on programs that serve the common good.

Think what we could do with that much additional income every year. We could pay the nation’s teachers what they’re worth. We could fill millions of potholes, and fix our substandard bridges. We could plant trees, establish parks, provide affordable childcare… That much money would certainly make a Universal Basic Income more affordable. The list goes on.

One of the reasons America’s defense budget is so bloated is because those dollars enrich the districts where armaments are manufactured and military personnel stationed–a reality that makes both Republican and Democratic representatives of those districts very protective of the Pentagon’s budget. Former Senator John McCain–a supporter of the armed forces–criticized what he called “the military-industrial-congressional complex.” The upshot is that it will be extremely difficult to scale back these expenditures.

It will be even more difficult to change the pro-military worldview.

The Japanese have a saying: when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When a country spends more than a trillion dollars a year on tools of war, it shouldn’t surprise the citizens of that country that it is perennially at war somewhere around the globe.


  1. In nature, we know that everything is connected. If you pull one string, another gets shorter, and you have no idea which will or, necessarily, why, and sometimes even worse happens because the one getting shorter never stops getting shorter. Somebody else might know, but you aren’t them.

    The same is true of complex budgets.

    That makes the question, are you satisfied financially with your life here? Other people manage all of the details.

    I was an amateur pilot once because I wanted to learn how, and I accomplished that goal. When I travel on a commercial flight, though, I leave all the details to nameless, faceless others in the cockpit and on the ground.

    I’ve never had a flight that did not get me to where I wanted to go though like everyone else has experienced, there has been some variability in the process.

    What I find satisfying is democracy, having my share of the choice about who represents me in and to government. I’m satisfied so far with my relationship with the government.

  2. In the early 1970’s I worked for the federal government in what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) . There was evidence of misuse of tax dollars everywhere I looked. I wrote my Senator about this, detailing many issues and citing specific instances of misuse of tax dollars. A few months later I was told by my bosses to never do that again! I left after 7 years due to the abhorrent misuse of tax payers dollars.
    In my humble opinion every government agency could be cut by 15-25%.

  3. Well, during the Bush disaster, Rumsfeld, et. al., slashed the VA budget in order to pay for the ill-begotten invasion of Iraq; it was Saudis who attacked on 9/11. The VA was allowed to deteriorate through the Bush years and not until the latter part of Obama’s administration did the VA disaster come to light.

    Other data show that over half of our homeless are veterans who don’t/can’t get any assistance for the mental issues from the VA. So, the MICC has cast aside these used parts for “budgetary” reasons. Add to that the “training” of our military has produced two things which trouble our society: violent police (relatively small number) and potentially violent “patriot” militias. So much for de-programming. Think Timothy McVay.

    War is expensive and good for business. NO politician whose constituents depend on the MIC will do anything to slow that down. Eisenhower warned us about the MIC making policy in 1960. And here we are. We’ve been the planet’s police force since 1946 and it isn’t going to change with all the bad actors trying to repeat humanity’s mistakes. With over 30 shooting wars currently on the books, who is going to trim the budget for “defense”?

    Speaking of trillions… How about those $40 trillion sitting in foreign banks earning interest, but paying no U.S. taxes? Guess where so much of the MIC profits go to hide.

  4. In addition to the reasons Sheila listed for why changes have not, and probably never will be made in that spending, there is the fact that many of the people who make those decisions think about the social service programs and the people who depend on them, as Ebenezer Scrooge (before the “visitation”) thought about them.

  5. And don’t forget the off-the-book transactions performed by the CIA to start new wars and keep existing wars ongoing. Why is the US military in Northern Syria? Should we ask Haliburton why?

    The MIC controls Washington, and the buildup for war with China must be costing billions as well.

    As others have noted, once the soldiers return home and need help, there doesn’t seem to be enough money to go around.

    What’s ironic is the MAGA crowd in Washington is making the loudest noise regarding the military budget. They’ll pick up votes if they continue, including Trump.

    What’s sad is everyone knows the scheme in Washington, but nothing is done about it. It’s the same with campaign spending, but no efforts to clean it up. It would appear that our Washington politicians are serving themselves. As Julian Assange pointed out, “They are manufacturing endless wars.”

    As for the Monthly Review, I strongly encourage more leftist magazines when combating a decaying empire. They also published Albert Einstein’s famous dictum, ‘Why Socialism.’ It’s a great read and nailed the USA as an oligarchy in 1949 — it’s even more relevant today:


  6. “We would have an additional $384 billion dollars to spend every single year on programs that serve the common good.” But, how can the top 1% make money from that goal?
    It amazes mr]e that this country treats its veterans in such horrid fashion! GWB called returning vets “beggars,” after they were sent off to fight in his bogus war! What kind of “Born again Christian” does either of those things? Bugger!

  7. Susan Sauer, here is a problem. Nobody can agree on which 15%-25%.

    I spent most of my career with a vast Corporation. We thought then, and it’s generally believed by nameless, faceless others now too, that the same is true about that corporation.

    I suspect it’s true about our family, too, but none of us can agree about the specifics either.

  8. This society will not honestly look at this aspect of our country because we cannot face the fact that we have abandoned any pretense of living up to the founding father’s aspirations. Lawyers and jurists have mangled the rule of law into a mighty web of deceit. Congressmen and Senators are bought and sold as if they were a commodity on the stock exchange. Religion is nothing but big business. Of course our military has evolved into a war making machine that cranks out death as it delivers profit to the 1%.
    As you can tell…I am in a bad mood this morning.

  9. It’s been known for many years that the actual US Dept of War budget is MUCH higher than the official $$$ given by Congress and yet no elected representative I know of ever calls for slashing budget for the obscene military-industrial complex and using those tax $$$ to actually help Americans with health care, education, needed social services, etc…this country is addicted to war porn and the military lobbyists OWN the politicians of BOTH parties!
    “In 2022, actual U.S. military spending reached $1.537 trillion—more than twice the officially acknowledged level of $765.8 billion.”



  10. Just in the past week the White House and members of Congress have revealed that the money we’ve spent on Ukraine has actually helped the incomes of local economies in our country where the weapons are produced that we send to Ukraine. As Sheila mentioned – it certainly helps the districts that manufacture armaments, but it certainly provides no financial benefit for the rest of us.

    In Indiana I am aware of massive military contracts for corporations in Indy, Fort Wayne and near South Bend. Rolls Royce in Indy and there ae surely others there, multiple corporations in or near Fort Wayne and South Bend were created to manufacture a variety of military products.

    The population of the DC beltway has increased astronomically in the past 10-15 years due to the huge increase in the number of lobbyists sent there by the military industrial complex. Those corporations seem to have bottomless pockets for their Congressional lobbying expenses.

    We all know that our country’s bloated military spending is a big part of our deficit, but if the dollars revealed in today’s blog post are accurate our military spending may actually be the only reason our deficit has been rapidly increasing over the past 20 plus years. Well, that and the fact that corporations and wealthy individuals haven’t had to pay their fair share of income taxes since the 80s.

  11. how much money is hoarded and out of circulation by the rich? if that money was in the local economy how much better would our civil/teachers etc would be? price controls on gouging the consumer, the banks would work for a better local prop for small buisness. you do see the question avoided? shareholders..

  12. Pete, Maybe start at 15% and see what happens. Unless some effort is made at reducing expenditures, the hole will keep getting deeper.

  13. Susan – I can practically guarantee that if you “just cut 15%”, the waste will stay and the cuts will come from things that are actually helpful (like Vernon’s mention of slashing the VA to pay for the Iraq war).

    Waste is everywhere, public, private, and non-profit sectors. The problem is that there is no page 587 in the budget labeled “waste”, for people to cut. My “essentials” (like social safety nets) are not other people’s “essentials” (like tax cuts for the rich and lucrative “outsourcing” contracts). The rich usually win those fights.

    I remember Ross Perot railing against the government. How did he get rich? Government contracts. So it goes.

    Tell 10,000 workers, spread across 200 Congressional Districts, that their jobs should be cut because they are wasteful, producing unneeded weapons (even obsolete ones). It won’t fly.

    It would be satisfying to crush the MIC that Eisenhower warned us about, but if they do lose their clout, it will more likely come from persistent and diligent “pruning back” of the projects and bases, not large budgetary cuts.

  14. “Modern monetary theory or modern money theory (MMT) is a heterodox macroeconomic theory that describes currency as a public monopoly and unemployment as evidence that a currency monopolist is overly restricting the supply of the financial assets needed to pay taxes and satisfy savings desires. According to MMT, governments do not need to worry about accumulating debt since they can create new money by using fiscal policy in order to pay interest. MMT argues that the primary risk once the economy reaches full employment is inflation, which acts as the only constraint on spending. MMT also argues that inflation can be addressed by increasing taxes on everyone to reduce the spending capacity of the private sector.”

    “MMT is controversial, and is actively debated with dialogues about its theoretical integrity, the implications of the policy recommendations of its proponents, and the extent to which it is actually divergent from orthodox macroeconomics. MMT is opposed to the mainstream understanding of macroeconomic theory and has been criticized heavily by many mainstream economists.“

  15. Having grown up as a military brat, our family was stationed all around the world, right up until my dad retired from the CIA. We lived in Asmara Ethiopia (now Eritrea) for a while. The US military maintained a base called Kagnew Station. It housed maybe 2000 military personnel, but I think its main reason for existence was as a cold war radio listening post run by the CIA. The main base was a mile square, “Area B” was a half mile square. There was a receiver farm and a transmitter farm both a few miles from base with high tech radio stations at each location. That military base WAS the economy of the city of Asmara. The base shut down in the mid 70’s as the political climate shifted with the death of King Haile Salassie.

    I have always been amazed at the hubris of America, with military bases all over the world. With maybe the exception of Great Britain and the outpost at the Rock of Gibraltar, I have never encountered another foreign military base in a foreign country.

    This report goes a long way toward explaining how we can afford this hubris. .

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