President Donald Trump just fired the first salvo in the upcoming fiscal wars by proposing a drastic $54 billion increase in defense spending as part of the next federal budget, paid for by similar cuts in civilian agencies. The biggest losers under Trump’s proposed budget are foreign aid programs and the EPA, which faced his wrath from the early days of his presidential campaign. The biggest winners, aside from the military itself, are law enforcement agencies and programs for veterans.
With the Trump administration also planning to cut taxes for the next fiscal year, it is unclear where the boosts to the military, law enforcement, and veteran spending will come from. A 10-percent cut to all non-security and non-veteran federal agencies is currently anticipated, terrifying the bureaucracy. Essentially, all federal agencies that do not involve gun-toting will have to “tighten [their] belt, something that families across the country have had to learn to do.”
Having “belt-tightening” talk come from an obese billionaire is certainly insulting to all federal employees whose jobs are potentially on the chopping block because they do not wield firearms. It’s also likely that everyone’s belt-tightening (outside of the veterans and federal gun-toters) will increase in the coming years as Trump’s defense-friendly budget hurts the economy. Basically, Trump is shifting government dollars from being more productive to being less productive.
Why is that? Defense spending creates the fewest jobs per government dollar. It is literally your worst fiscal policy option to boost the economy. Instead, we should spend the money on education or health care, as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would have done. Defense spending does not inject its dollars as widely or efficiently into the macro economy as do virtually all other federal spending options. One reason? Defense contractors are notoriously wasteful.
A second problem is that, even if defense spending wasn’t the most inefficient place to put your federal dollars in terms of growth, the military has the least accountability when it comes to spending. The Pentagon wastes roughly $25 billion per year! Investigations routinely reveal waste and excess almost beyond rationality. It’s so bad that the U.S. military actually lost money in Iraq. Not wasted money… but literally lost track of $12 million in paper money. More money went missing in Afghanistan.
No other agency could get away with such fiscal incompetence. I can only imagine the public outcry if the Department of Education lost a proportionally similar amount of money compared to its [meager] budget. Although conservatives frequently mock welfare payments to the poor and disenfranchised, the defense-industrial complex has long been known for providing government welfare for scores of corporations. Defense spending is a welfare state all its own!
It should be an outrage that Trump wants to turn more productive government dollars into less productive dollars, but the damage doesn’t stop there. There is no evidence that our outrageous defense spending, which equals that of the next seven or eight highest-spending nations combined, accomplishes any of its immediate goals. Our vast military budget has yet to cow either Iran or North Korea into submission. ISIS has not laid down its arms in fear. Russia remains aggressive and defiant. China continues to expand its own military capabilities in the Pacific.
Trump wants to spend more money on the military despite the fact that increased defense spending has not intimidated a single post-Cold War rival. We have shown a tremendous willingness to spend money on our military, but little willingness to use it. Outside of Afghanistan and the boondoggle of Iraq, we have kept our oversized war machine largely inactive. Remember the redline in Syria? In the name of defense, we are spending countless billions on capital and labor that is not productively used and no longer intimidates foes into compliance.
After Iraq and Afghanistan, despots like Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong Un are predicting that the U.S. does not have the stomach to engage in any more wars. As a result of past decisions, the United States government can no longer count on expensive military toys to generate fear among tyrants. Sure, we can easily defeat most foes if they engage in direct warfare… but the cost is our own blood and treasure. The argument of former Republican president Ronald Reagan, that we can assure peace through strength, is no longer valid.
China is not backing down in the Pacific because we are spending more money. Iran is not turning its swords into plowshares. North Korea is not dismantling its new nukes. Syria is not opting for diplomacy. They either doubt that we will use our “rebuilt” military, or they do not fear it. Either option means we are wasting our money. Our citizens are going hungry, going homeless, and dying from lack of medical care because our naïve president and his sycophants have a childish view of what makes a nation strong and safe.
Cutting the budget of non-security civilian agencies will leave many poor citizens underserved, keeping them trapped in poverty. Cutting food stamps and subsidies for the poor only encourages more of the crime that president Trump claims he wants to stop. When you’re hungry, and you cannot find a job, how do you get food? Having angry and destitute citizens is also a national security threat, for such citizens may be easier for enemy agents to radicalize against our own government.
If a Muslim immigrant dies because he cannot afford privatized health care, his son may come to hate the same government that refused to consider health care worthy of investment.
We could fully secure our nation and boost our economy by cutting defense spending by 50 percent and shifting funding from full-time military forces to active reserves and National Guard units. We have enough weapons in storage to overwhelm any invader. And, if we shift money from defense to education and healthcare, our bolstered National Guard and active reserve units would be healthier and more productive whenever needed for action.