The costs of militarism

We really have gone pretty insane. And the race is on to see which presidential candidate can be the most insane.

quoting extensively from Ian Welsh

when you spend this much, and bear in mind that the cost of past and current military expenditures comes in at about 41% of all expenditures (28% if you just want to count current military spending) you have to turn around and ask – what are we getting for this?

The answer, as far as I can see, is “not much”.

Politicians often claim that military spending “makes Americans safer”. Let’s examine that.

Safe from what? Is anyone going to invade you? Is there anyone who is even remotely capable of invading you? No. Right, so it’s not about “defense” as traditionally understood.

Safe from terrorists? There’s an argument here, I suppose, but it’s not very strong. Certainly the use of military force over the last few years has increased the frequency of terrorist attacks throughout the world, not decreased them. One might argue that by “fighting them there” we aren’t “fighting them here.” I’m sure the Spanish and Brits might have something to say about that, but in fact, the odds of any attack from Islamic terrorists have always been low. How many terrorist attacks by foreigners (as opposed to Americans) have occurred on US soil over the last 20 years? Not many. It’s a low probability event and the lack of an attack since 9/11 on US soil reflects that. Mind you, the attack on Afghanistan did disrupt al-Qaeda, and that was a good thing. But that attack did not require the vast majority of the US military and an expedition multiple times that size could be done even if the US spent much less money on the military.

In fact the majority of actual terrorist captures have been the result, not of military action, but of the sort of police and intelligence work that mostly doesn’t require much in the way of military resources (special ops teams at most. And they aren’t expensive compared to the big iron.)

While the military has soaked up billions, things that might keep the “homeland” safe, like scanning all cargo containers, pushing the most advanced explosive sniffers out to airports, and so on, have been grossly underfunded.

And the use of the military, as is widely acknowledged, has plunged the US’s approval ratings to their lowest ever levels, spawned a whole new generation of guerrillas and terrorists with every reason to hate the US and has plunged the world’s most important oil producing region into chaos which threatens the oil markets, and thus the US economy.

Anything that needs to be done against terrorists by the military can be done with a lot less military than you have now. And, honestly, given blowback such as is occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, anything the military can do against terrorists that requires large scale intervention, is almost certainly going to be counterproductive.

Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and most of the Republican field, want to increase the size of the US’s ground forces. That makes sense only if you expect to be involved in more wars on the Iraq model – occupations; guerrilla wars – or if you intend to be blowing over even more, and more powerful governments.

And there is an opportunity cost to the military. As Eisenhower pointed out so eloquently, every dollar spent on the military is a dollar that could have been spent helping someone who needed it – feeding the hungry, teaching those who need schooling, caring for the sick, or even just repairing roads or building high speed Internet so the US stops falling behind other 1st world nations.

A modern military is almost always a huge burden on the state and the people of the state. It produces nothing. It is nothing but a money suck. Sometimes it’s necessary – some nations really are in danger of being invaded. Other states have problems with internal order that require them to have an army to put down parts of their own population (Turkey and the Kurds, for example).

But the US doesn’t have any possibility of being invaded; doesn’t need an army for internal order (and is forbidden to use it for that purpose in any case); and is running significant trade; government and balance of payment deficits. Entitlements are currently under pressure, with much talk, still, in elite circles of ‘reforming” both social security and Medicare. And in this context, folks, reform always means providing less and taxing more.

At some point the US is going to have to make some hard decisions about what’s going to give. You can’t have all of – low taxes on the rich, a big military, entitlements spending, big deficit spending. One, or probably two, of those pillars, are going to have to go.

At the current time, elite thinking is that it’s going to be entitlements and maybe, just maybe, the deficit. It sure isn’t going to be low taxes on the rich or the military which makes so many corporations rich and which so many regard as “untouchable” and oh-so American (an attitude, by the way, that would have made most of America’s founders, with their profound distrust of standing armies, sick to their stomaches.)

Perhaps you think the military gives you something that’s worth all that money. To me all it does is tempt politicians to use it, suck money out of the rest of the economy, and endanger the remnants of the New Deal. Some might say that it endangers republican Democracy itself, as the march towards permanent war “the long war” along with arguments about the “Commander-in-Chief” has been used to undermine liberty at home.

The founders argued that large standing armies were inimical to liberty, to democracy, to the health of the economy and to peace itself. I’d say they knew what they were talking about.

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Filed under Barack Obama, economics, Fred Thompson: lost without a script, George W. Bush: is he really THAT bad?, Hillary Clinton:what does she stand for?, John McCain for president of Del Boca Vista, Middle East, Politics, Rudy Giuliani: NYC doesn't even like him

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