Tag Archives: Defense budget

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.


The Real Obscenity

If your definition of “obscenity” is sexual, you can stop reading now.

Lockheed Martin recently held a conference for Defense contractors, at which they shared the “good news” about global conflicts.

Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner told the conference his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria, citing the Turkish military’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Executives of OshKosh and Raytheon reported equally positive business prospects, noting “significant upticks” for sales of military equipment due to ISIS and unrest across the Middle East.

The last bit of good news for the contractors is the latest budget deal in Congress. After years of cuts following the budget sequester, the deal authorizes $607 billion in defense spending, just $5 billion down from the Pentagon’s request, which DefenseNews called a “treat” for the industry.

America’s infrastructure—our roads, bridges, electrical grid, water utilities, rail—is dangerously deteriorated. Our cities are struggling to hire sufficient police. Our schools lack supplies, our teachers are underpaid, and we can’t find the money for universal kindergarten, let alone day care. We have nothing that can compare to Europe’s public transportation systems, or China’s high-speed rail. Our right-wing lawmakers are furious that we are finally making basic medical care accessible, and they insist we cannot afford to continue social security and other social safety net programs at current levels.

But we can evidently afford to spend more than the rest of the world combined for defense, and the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned us. We seem able to find billions for the armaments that keep defense contractors fat and happy, while we starve the “homeland” and citizens we are supposedly protecting.

That’s my definition of obscene.

We talk a lot about the growth of American inequality, and the focus of those conversations is usually on income–wage stagnation, the incredibly bloated salaries paid to Wall Street “movers and shakers,” a tax system that allows mega-millionaires to avoid paying their fair shares.

All of those issues are important. But in a properly functioning society, where all taxpayers do pay their fair share, government is responsible for using that tax money to provide a physical and social infrastructure serving all its citizens, rich or poor.

We recognize third-world countries by inequalities of infrastructure; they are places where the wealthy hire their own police or bodyguards, live in gated compounds where they pave the streets and landscape parks for their own use, while segregating themselves from the wretched surroundings inhabited by the less fortunate. Those countries often support and valorize highly privileged military establishments.

If, as most knowledgable observers claim, the threats America faces are significantly different than in the past—if those threats come primarily from non-state terrorists—we need fewer tanks and bombs and missiles, and more targeted and surgical strategies.

We can defend the legitimate interests of the United States without unnecessarily enriching the military-industrial complex, and without maintaining the current bloated and obscenely expensive defense establishment.