SYNDICATED COLUMN: Military Spending is the Biggest Scam in American Politics

Image result for etching spanish american war           Military spending is the biggest waste of federal taxdollars ever. Both political parties are equally complicit.

The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.

When you think about it — but no one in the halls of Congress ever does — it’s hard to think of a country that has less to fear than the United States. Two vast oceans eliminate our vulnerability to attack, except by countries with sophisticated long-range ballistic missiles (5 out of 206 nations). We share long borders with two nations that we count as close allies and trading partners.

Historically, the U.S. has only faced an invasion once, by the British during the War of 1812. (There have been other minor incursions, by Mexico during the 19th century and the Japanese occupation of two remote islands in the Aleutian chain during World War II. The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.)

Objectively, we have little to worry about beside terrorism — and that’s a job for domestic police and intelligence agencies, not the military. Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon. The Bush Administration put the Afghanistan and Iraq wars “off the books” of the Pentagon budget. And that’s not counting interest on debt or benefits paid out for old wars. We’re still paying $5 billion a year for World War II. We’re still paying off beneficiaries for the Civil and Spanish-American Wars!

The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population. We account for 37% of military spending worldwide, equal to the next seven countries (China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan) combined. (And the U.S. sells a lot of hardware to most of those countries.)

Russia spends roughly a tenth as much on defense as the U.S. And they have a lot more (and twice as much territory) to defend against: NATO/American missiles to their west in Europe, a southern border full of radical Islamists in unstable countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Afghanistan a stone’s throw away, historical regional superpower rival China next door. Despite its relatively small defense budget, Russia somehow manages to soldier on.

No matter how you look at it, America’s military budget is due for a haircut. If it were up to me, I’d scale quickly down to the Russian level, pro rata for square mileage — lob 95% of this bloated $600 billion a year monstrosity right off the top. But even a less radical budget cutter could do some good. A 10% cut — $60 billion a year — would buy universal pre-school or allow half of America’s four-year college and university students to have free tuition.

Insanely, we’re going the opposite direction.

President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion — roughly 10% — per year.

Republican hypocrisy is brazen and obvious. Most are channeling Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” to justify huge tax cuts to rich individuals and big business. “I’m not the first to observe that a Republican Congress only cares about the deficit when a Democrat is in the White House,” the economist Alan Krueger says. But even the most strident deficit hawks, though uncomfortable with the tax cuts, have no problem whatsoever with Trump’s proposed hike in military spending.

“Any time we spend more money — even if it’s for something that we need — we need to cut spending in a corresponding aspect to the budget,” says Rand Paul. Slashing other, more needed programs — which is pretty much anything other than the military — is what passes for sanity in the Republican Party.

No one is proposing zero increase, much less a cut.

If anything, the Democrats are even worse. Democrats have promised a fierce Resistance to Trump and his works. But their oft-stated resolve is noticeably absent when it comes to He-Who-Must-Be-Impeached’s lust to jack up a crazy-ass defense budget that doesn’t have much of a justification to exist at all.

“This budget shifts the burden off of the wealthy and special interests and puts it squarely on the backs of the middle class and those struggling to get there … Democrats in Congress will emphatically oppose these cuts and urge our Republican colleagues to reject them as well,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Notice what’s missing? Like other Democratic leaders, Schumer’s beef is with Trump’s proposed cuts to the arts, EPA and other domestic spending, and the tax cuts. He doesn’t say boo about the defense increase.

As usual, Bernie Sanders was better than other Democrats. But even he didn’t explicitly reject the idea of a military increase on its face.

As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • “The militarism scam is the best-kept secret in American politics.”

    My first response to this statement was Really? I thought it was the worst-kept secret. But I was gobsmacked when I read the specifics that Ted outlines here. Truly stunning…. Thanks for opening my eyes once again, Ted.

  • When WWI ended, arms factories closed and millions of soldiers were discharged and there was a short ‘primary post-war depression.’ Meaning WWI was also responsible for the Great Depression.

    It wasn’t. Hoover promised that new regulations prevented market crashes, so banks loaned anyone 90% of the cost of buying stocks. If stocks went up 10%, the investors doubled their money. If stocks went down, investors got margin calls (and often lost all their money). Then, one day, stocks dropped by 20% and investors couldn’t make the margin call of 200% of their initial investment, so their positions were closed, and the banks were insolvent. Money was gold, and the Feds had enough gold to rescue the solvent banks that faced a panic, but the Fed couldn’t help insolvent banks. Keynes said the solution was government work programmes, but the ones passed were too small to make much of an impact. Finally, in ’38, a brilliant economist named Adolph Schicklegrüber came up with a government work program that put everyone back to work, a programme called WWII.

    When WWII ended, the West created the Cold War to justify massive military expenditures to prevent a Great Depression. First the Red Menace, until the USSR collapsed. Then, fortunately, other menaces: Yugoslavia, Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq I, etc. Then 9/11 and Saddam’s New Weapons of Mass Destruction that only the most clever and patriotic can see and massive increases from a level that was already ridiculous.

    But the prosperity did NOT come from the Cold War, it came from the 91% top marginal Federal tax rate on unearned income (and there were also state taxes). Hiring workers made the owners money after taxes, so there were lots of jobs, and ordinary workers did well (and most were unionised). Fortunately, Reagan got us out of that nightmare situation.

    Today, Republicans say that all programmes for the poor must be eliminated to resolve the budget deficit, and they have a LOT of followers. The only legitimate government expenditures are military, and since everyone benefits equally from our military keeping the Communists and terrorists at bay, everyone should pay taxes at the same flat rate. And a majority of voters seem to buy that as Gospel.

  • The only interesting justification for enormous size of the U.S. war-making budget (which besides the official “Pentagon” budget also encompasses a lot of the nuclear related department of energy expenditures) is that it includes a massively hidden subsidy to basic research and development.

    A strong case can be made that much if not most of modern technology came out of such programs nominally under Pentagon control. Think aviation, plastics, computers, telecommunications…

    Before “lobbing 95% off”, perhaps ideally the portion of high tech subsidy (10-30%?) of this budget should be transferred out to NSF (National Science Foundation), NIH (National Institutes of Health), NASA, etc. So at least the heavy subsidies for high tech would become explicit, notwithstanding the illusions of the “leave it to the market” crowd (maintaining such illusions may be one of the most attractive uses of military spending at this point). I think such programs – if pursued openly – might prove to be quite popular with the public. At any rate, they should be subject to allocation of funds on their own merits and democratic control in a genuinely democratic society.

    However, is high-tech funding through the Pentagon umbrella still the case today? Though the military controls some of the best systems in robotics and so on, most of it looks like fine-tuning a slightly bigger fighter jet, etc rather than truly cutting edge science. There are a lot of advances in surveillance technology that I shudder to think will find problematic applications in the private sector, but will probably contribute little for actually productive industry. Nothing on the scale of the internet will likely come out of the Pentagon budget for the foreseeable future.

    In that sense percentage-wise the defense (sic) budget is likely even worse than during WWII or the so-called cold-war where much more of it was hidden high technology subsidies which may no longer be true to the same extent.

    • > they should be subject to allocation of funds on their own merits and democratic control in a genuinely democratic society.

      I read a short SF story some time back, don’t even remember the author.

      The protagonist is doing his taxes, he first figures out what he owes, then moves on to the second section. There, he states where he wants his money to go. So much for defense, so much for infrastructure, etc.

      I love the idea, but fear it would work out about as well as ‘democracy’ has today.

  • “The Pearl Harbor attack was a raid, not an invasion.”
    Food for thought, especially when you consider their need for oil and the embargo.

  • > Yet a whopping 54% of discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon.

    And that’s a lowball made possible by Reagan declaring that Social Security was actually government income. Before that, the pie charts didn’t include ‘entitlements.’

    Going back even further, there was that radical lefty Eisenhower warning us against the “military-industrial complex” while trying to CUT the military budget.

  • Military Keynesianism?
    Military budget welfare?
    It’s all so insane. Did DJT tell the Europeans he met last week that we spend spend more on the military than all of Europe does? But then he wants to slash everything except the military budget?What is to be done?

  • «As we move past Memorial Day — the holiday when we remember the war dead, the vast majority who died not to defend America but to oppress people in other countries who never posed a threat to the United States — we should reconsider the assumption that all military spending is good spending.» And there we have it, Ted – military spending is good spending, for the people running the country. The military insanity is no more accidental – but rather, is closely related to – that the Wall Street insanity you describe you in today’s cartoon….