“Defense” Spending

You have probably seen the chart here. It is making the rounds on Facebook, and it is alarming — not because our country now spends seven hundred billion dollars on the military, but because of the sharp contrast between this country and the rest of the world (including China!). Our priorities are clearly skewed.

Contrast Between The U.S. and The Rest of The World

In an election year when we might do well to do some deep thinking bout our priorities and about the huge debt we are passing along to our grandchildren it might be wise to consider this chart. We all believe the economy is “the problem,” or most of us seem to do so. It’s not. It’s the fact that we are throwing money into the black hole of the military (in the name of “defense”) while the nation goes deeper into debt. Meanwhile we refuse to pay more taxes while we cut and slash needed social programs, our infrastructure falls to pieces, and our health care system falls behind the rest of the developed world.

Though the military has had the lion’s share of the budget for years, the “war on terror” has given them virtual carte blanche. It is worrisome. It’s one thing for the money to go toward building “drones” that are sent into dark places and kill indiscriminately. That is a moral horror story. But perhaps we can rationalize it, together with our world-wide military presence, on the grounds that these things are keeping us safe from terrorists. Perhaps. But, as we all know, the amount of waste in this part of the budget alone is almost certainly enough to bail Greece out of its present economic woes — though you never hear those calling for tax cuts suggesting that the military budget be cut. No sir!

I recall a few years ago we got a little money at the University where I taught and it was decided that we would resurface two tennis courts with “omnicourt” and if they worked out we would resurface four more. These synthetic courts were terribly expensive and as it turned out we never could afford the four new ones and settled for two courts that were elegant but seldom used. The company that resurfaced those two courts left our town after installing the courts and headed for Omaha where they were scheduled to resurface 12 such courts for the officers at the Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska nearby. The tennis courts were located close to the golf course as I understand it.  I am also told the armed forces spend a small fortune in soft balls each year.  All in the name of “defense spending.”

These are anecdotes, of course, and anecdotes don’t prove anything. But they sometimes do tell a story: they reflect a mind-set, and in this case reveal the sorts of waste of taxpayers’ money that are typical — not only in the state’s revenue in the case of our two pathetic tennis courts, but the nation’s tax revenue in the case of the waste on frivolous,  needless luxuries in the name of “defense.” I daresay we could multiply these examples a  thousand-fold and it would give us a headache — especially when our kids aren’t getting an adequate education and the poor and the sick in this country are about to be abandoned, while the military grows fat. We really do need to reshuffle the deck. Someone isn’t playing fair!

12 thoughts on ““Defense” Spending

  1. How scary is this?…. The “defense” budget shown above does NOT include:

    “many military-related items that are outside of the Defense Department budget, such as nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup, and production, which is in the Department of Energy budget, Veterans Affairs, the Treasury Department’s payments in pensions to military retirees and widows and their families, interest on debt incurred in past wars, or State Department financing of foreign arms sales and militarily-related development assistance. Neither does it include defense spending that is not military in nature, such as the Department of Homeland Security, counter-terrorism spending by the FBI, and intelligence-gathering spending by NASA.” (Wikipedia)

    And I would add that, even though the government would object, we ought to add the budget of the CIA, which is, among other things, a paramilitary organization. From the Washington Post, 02 Feb. 2011: “The Obama administration disclosed Monday that its fiscal 2012 budget proposal includes a request for $55 billion for the CIA and other civilian intelligence services.” Imagine, we spend 55 billion on just this one ancillary part of the “defense” establishment, a sum that is never included in the “defense” expenditure figures. More money, right there, than most countries spend on all the military components of their “defense.”

    The state of our country just keeps getting scarier by the day.

  2. Great post. I am reminded of Bill Maher’s meat and potatoes argument. The focus is on cutting the parsley, when the bigger spends by far are defense and Social Security/ Medicare. There will be some automatic cuts on 1/1/13 unless action is taken. The military helped prioritize them, but I am highly confident we won’t make them an issue will be made of them.

    • Bill Maher is conflating strawberries and bananas and dragon fruits. The defense budget is discretionary spending (DS), it comes out of the money Congress can spend through appropriations. Medicare is an entitlement program outside of DS. Social Security is a completely separate thing, a program that, if managed properly, operates on its own separate budget financed through payroll taxes. The problem is that Congress keeps doing something we ought to have a Constitutional Amendment against, i.e. raiding the SS trust fund. Last time I checked, a couple years ago, $1.5 trillion of the national debt (13 trillion or whatever at the time) was owed to the SSTF. Even by the skewed representation in Hugh’s chart above, Congress in its great wisdom is spending half the discretionary budget on so-called defense. I don’t know whether to call this insane or evil or both.

  3. Back in the 70’s, as a HS student, I heard of screws and bolts purchases for $5.00 apiece. I heard of giant warehouses filled with “stuff” that the budget allowed. Nothing has changed and I think it’s worse than ever.
    Two neanderthals are standing in a field. A dinosaur is on the way. One neanderthal has the biggest club he can swing. The other, may have a small club, but is cunning, intelligent and can reason. I wonder who will ULTIMATELY survive…
    My husband retired from the Federal Government after 36 years of service. His last job was middle management at the J.Pettis V.A. Hospital in Loma Linda, CA. Managers were given credit cards and each had their own limits of spending, loosely based on wage grade. All purchased items had to be categorized. Even though his limit was $2500.00, he could spend that every day, without recourse, as long as there was a category for the item. He didn’t of course, and repeatedly tried to turn in the credit card… Noted, though, were categories for missiles, tanks, MRE’s, women’s underwear, stockings, tank tracks, machine guns, ammunition….At the end of the category list, was “Other.” A credit card holder could type anything in, and a number would be assigned to it – as long as it has a number, it’s okay….Then, you may already know this. It was very distressing to us…still is.

    • I didn’t know this and it is eye opening. But not all that surprising. It’s not unusual for state agencies (and I dare say Federal ones as well) to appropriate next year’s budget on the basis of how much you spent this year. The emphasis is on spending, not saving. Anyone (like your husband, for example) who tries to do the right thing by cutting costs will penalize his department in next year’s budget allocations! Something’s wrong here!


      • That is EXACTLY how it was and spending was paramount! Throughout the year, the chief of FMS would say spend, spend, spend, or we won’t get any money next year, and then toward the end of the fiscal year, the spending goal likely reached, it was DON’T spend until next month or some other target date.
        He saved money whenever he could. The VA also has a requirement to patronize a certain number of veteran owned business’, no matter what the cost.
        And I’m just one person revealing one tiny thing. Imagine….

  4. Great post! And thanks for the reminder of the meat and potatoes on Bill Maher, old fart! That was a classic! There is such a lack of understanding about where this country’s tax dollars go, I am glad you are highlighting this. You have to wonder if people understood all of this more, if they would be more willing to discuss some revenue options. Thanks again!

  5. Just got to wondering…. whether all those private firms, such as Blackwater, the government contracts with for security services in Iraq and elsewhere are counted in the defense budget. Does anyone here know?

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