Why Cutting The Military Budget Is Essential To America’s Future

Military Spending, Social Services, And The US Government

The waiter puts your plate of food on the table, and you comment that there’s no vegetable. He hands you a bottle of ketchup and says, “Here’s your vegetable,” and walks away.

Sound ludicrous? That was the opening salvo fired by Ronald Reagan in his war on the underprivileged and disadvantaged in his inaugural year as President in 1981. To save money on those wasteful school lunch programs for the needy, Reagan and his budget director, David Stockman, suggested ketchup be considered a vegetable rather than a condiment. While roundly ridiculed and unsuccessful, this wasn’t Reagan’s last assault on the impoverished, just his first.

When he took office in 1981, military expenditures totaled $170 billion, but by the time he left it had doubled to $340 billion. As he doubled the military budget, Reagan cut funding to state and local governments by more than 60% during his eight years and greatly diminished social welfare programs. Even that is dwarfed by the American governments current spending, with actual 2009 defense expenditures at $780 billion, and projected defense spending for 2010 at $790 billion. Expenditures on current military and military pensions exceeds of 50% of the federal budget.

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In 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a retired five-star general and a two-term President, warned the American people about the expanding influence of what he termed the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address to the nation.

Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in WWII, so he was intimately aware of the rising problem. Interestingly, the military budget in 1960 was a mere $52 billion and accounted for only 23% of total expenditures.

Today, we find the government slashing ever deeper into social safety net programs than during Reagan’s two terms. By 1989, homelessness – virtually unknown in America since the Great Depression – ranged anywhere from 600,000 to 1.2 million people per night on the streets. Budget cuts caused states to close low-income housing units, emergency shelters and halfway houses, turning many mentally-ill people onto the streets. This approach permeates into decision-making today: people have been trained to look at the less fortunate rather than the most fortunate as the problem.

In comparison to a projected military budget of $790 billion for 2010, the total budget for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was $99.2 billion, and that included $22.4 billion from the Recovery Act. To date, total military expenditures on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceed $1.1 trillion, with 2010 alone totaling $174 billion. Merely by ending those wars we could double the budget for HHS with $74 billion left to go towards the cost of the Affordable Care Act. We could restore every social safety net program that’s been cut over the last 30 years, yet even with that military spending would still remain at an all-time high.

An example of a program that’s currently under scrutiny and at risk of draconian cuts is Head Start, one of the most popular and effective programs in the social safety network. Aided by block grants, called the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), totaling $5 billion from the federal government each year, states provide learning daycare services to poor and low income mothers. Not only do they provide children with nutritious meals and early educational development, but they give poor working mothers – many earning minimum wage – an affordable place to leave their children. It’s been one of the more popular and successful safety net programs.

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One of the arguments about cutting the military budget is the effect it would have on the economy. Though military spending does create jobs, it manifests its own problems. For instance, last year General Dynamics sales increased by 15%, but their profits increased by 46%, creating an excess of capital.

In his book “The New Imperialism,” David Harvey explains this ongoing problem with capitalism. Harvey says currently there is an excess of $1.5 trillion in capital for which there is no place to invest, and the problem is growing, as demonstrated by General Dynamics. Without sufficient vehicles for investment, that money is simply pulled off the street and does nothing to create future value. The problem, he suggests, is not a lack of capital, but rather a lack of markets, and there are ways that we could help create them.

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It’s estimated that more than 47 million Americans are without health care and 656,000 people are homeless in the United States. By cutting $100 billion out of the military budget, it could be used to build shelters for the homeless and provide subsidized, government-operated health care to those without insurance. Since all of this money is reinvested into the economy and have a multiplier effect through job creation and service provision, it would also serve as a stimulus to the economy and lower the unemployment rate. It would have the dual effect of depleting excess capital at the same time that money accelerates through the economy and creating jobs.

Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and lowering the annual military budget is a start. Much of that money could be invested in ventures that would have the effect of depleting excess capital while putting money the hands of people who need it. A strong socialist element in the economy, i.e. a social safety net, works to prevent this imbalance between capital and markets. By taxing the wealthy and financing social services, it will go a long way towards replenishing the health of the capitalist system.

Universal healthcare, children services, aid to the poor and aging; all of these would serve to return balance to the economy and government spending. These decisions should no longer be in the hands of capitalists, but should be made by society at large. The social safety net serves to correct the imbalances of capitalism, and makes America a more equitable and just nation.

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Larry Wohlgemuth was raised during the tumultuous 60s in the midst of sometimes violent civil rights and antiwar protests. After a stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, he earned a BBA degree from Washburn University. Wohlgemuth leans so far to the left he prefers to be called “Comrade”, and his book, “Capitalism’s Final Solution” is planned to be released in the spring, 2011. Larry is a contributor to Prose Before Hos and runs his own blog, It Begs the Question.

See Also: Global Military & Defense Budgets, U.S. Government Interventionism Does Not End Well At Home or Abroad, What the United States Can Not Afford, The Failure of a Thirty-Year Experiment in Reaganomics, Defense spending in a nutshell, Ike’s Misinterpreted Farewell Address, Republican Study Committee Budget Plan Doesn’t Include Single Cut To Defense, Despite Tea Party Demands, Defense Spending: What Would Reagan Do?, and Defense Spending and Fed Policy.

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  1. Nathan says:

    Meh, obviously ending the wars is important.

    The idea that capitalism is the problem, depends on your definition of capitalism. In an age where government is the largest investor, spender, and revenue generator, capitalism more accurately described is corporatism. When corporations write every law, can you be sure giving government more power won’t do much to limit the problems of “capitalism” this article suggest.

    The social safety net has been expanding for years, and the idea that Reagan put millions on the street is absurd. I often see it posited, with little facts backing it up, but a handful of polemics about him eating babies for brunch, and playing beat the cripple with a bat while on holiday in the UAE.

    One thing Reagan did do was expand drug laws, just as every president has done for the last 50 years. Putting millions of poor inner city minorities in prison for most of their formative years where they learn to really work the system. Of course, why they are selling drugs in the first place is never asked, usually because the minimum wage has priced them out of any other stable job (most studies of drug dealers, pimps, and gangs show they rarely make more than minimum wage).

    Add to this the fact that many have already been forced into a school that is little more than adult daycare, wasting their time with teachers only looking for a paycheck and a pension, and a curriculum designed by a political science graduate who thinks it’s important for inner city youths to learn Moby Dick, so they can one day work at the DMV somewhat competently.

    Lastly, this “multiplier effect” is the true sign of someone with an agenda more than a truly liberal assertion on the way to help the poor. So if the government just keeps spending more it will multiply into ever greater sums of money? Do people really say this shit with a straight face?

    • Zoner says:

      I appreciate your points, but this one irked me: “wasting their time with teachers only looking for a paycheck and a pension”.

      That’s gobbage. Most teachers, especially in lower-class schools, are not given what they need to truly provide a decent education. That’s not on them. Some teachers are jaded, but it’s not because of the kids. It’s because of the system.

  2. TheReviewer says:

    Uhm. Because we’re broke? yeah that’s pretty much it.

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