Is Debt the Greatest Threat to the American Republic?
We trim this 2008 article from Alternet posted January 28 and append a fundamental solution.
By Chalmers JohnsonIt is hard to overstate what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense's planned expenditures for fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations' military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Leaving out Bush's two on-going wars, military spending has doubled since the mid-1990s.
Along with hundreds of billion for salaries, operations (except in Iraq and Afghanistan), and equipment and the "supplemental" budget to fight the "global war on terrorism", the DOD asked for an extra $93.4 billion to pay for hitherto unmentioned war costs in the remainder of 2007 and an "allowance" of $50 billion to be charged to fiscal year 2009. This comes to a total spending request by the Pentagon of $766.5 billion.
But there is more:
* $75.7 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs;This brings US spending for its military during fiscal 2008 to at least $1.1 trillion for the first time in history.
* $46.4 billion to the Department of Homeland Security;
* $38.5 billion to the Department of the Treasury for the Military Retirement Fund;
* $25.3 billion to the Department of State for foreign military assistance (primarily for Israel and its Arab neighbors);
* $23.4 billion to the Department of Energy for developing and maintaining nuclear warheads;
* $7.6 billion to NASA for the military-related activities;
* $1.9 billion to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI;
* $1.03 billion outside the Defense budget for recruitment and reenlistment incentives; and
* $200+ billion in interest for past debt-financed defense outlays.
By November of 2007, the US national debt breached $9 trillion. This was five weeks after Congress raised the “debt ceiling” to $9.815 trillion. The debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion until 1981. When George Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has increased by 45%.
This huge debt can be largely attributed to our defense expenditures in comparison with the rest of the world. World total military expenditures (2004 est.): $1,100 billion. World total minus the US: $500 billion.
Since the Great Depression of the 1930s ended with World War II, many feared demobilization would bring back the Depression. During 1949, the economy was in recession. The Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb and lowered the Iron Curtain while the Reds were winning the civil war in China.
The US began to manufacture large aircraft, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and surveillance and communications satellites. President Eisenhower warned against this military-industrial complex in his farewell address. By 1990, the value of the weapons, equipment, and plants devoted to war was 83% of the value of all factories in America.
Between the 1940s and 1996, the US spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing, and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the United States had 32,500 bombs, the peak of its nuclear stockpile. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them.
During the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all American research talent was siphoned off into the military sector. As a result, unknown innovations never appeared. During the 1960s, Japan began outpacing us in the design and quality of electronics and automobiles. In 1968, the United States' machine tool stock was the oldest among all major industrial nations.
During the four decades from 1947 through 1987, the Department of Defense used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the value of the nation's plant and equipment and infrastructure stood at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock.
The world's leading lending country usually influences the rest of the world in politics, diplomacy, and culture. We took over this role from the British at the same time that we became the world's leading lending country. Today we are the world's biggest debtor country.
Editor: The author advises us to tax the rich and fund butter not guns. A better idea might be to not let wealth concentrate in a few pockets in the first place by charging full value for government privileges like corporate charters; and rather than let politicians spend public revenue, pay dividends to citizens from recovered “rents”. Then people won’t need to join the military for benefits or take jobs connected to bases or weaponry. Further, don’t tax people’s efforts so they can learn to see themselves not as helpless pawns but as useful individuals, worthy of living in a peaceful, rational world.
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