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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/2/13

Orwell for Congress! (Never mind, he's already there...)

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(Article changed on November 2, 2013 at 13:03)

Oceania was a Soviet-style dictatorship ruled by "Big Brother".   Stalin is dead and the Soviet Union is history, but Orwell's insights are still relevant.

Critics in this country have long railed against profligate military spending.   They point out correctly that US taxpayers are saddled with a greater defense burden than is true in any other advanced society in the world.  Taxpayers are curiously oblivious to this argument, so it's hardly surprising that calls for deep defense cuts fall on deaf ears in Congress.

However, Republicans who fought to defund "Obamacare" and who oppose raising the debt ceiling, the very ones who clamor the loudest against the evils of big government and budget deficits but have no problem with outlandish expenditures on war and weapons, are shameless about demanding deep cuts in social spending .   Thus, for example, i n the spring of 2011:

"the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives [was] intent on taking out fuel subsidies for the poor, federal funding for Planned Parenthood, money for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System, and the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant that "supports state-based prenatal care programs and services for children with special needs," among many other programs, but not (as New York Times columnist Gail Collins pointed out recently) the millions of dollars the U.S. Army sinks into its "relationship" with NASCAR.    


Tea Party Tantrum
Tea Party Tantrum
(Image by Mike Licht,
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Tea Party Tantrum by Mike Licht,

To repeat:  these are the same politicians who never question the size or contents of a bloated defense budget and are not in the least troubled by the Pentagon's well-documented failure to account for untold billions of dollars that simply disappear without a trace every year.   The US Defense Department hemorrhages taxpayer dollars and yet Congress continues to pretend that military and war-related waste and mismanagement aren't a problem.   (Never mind, for example, that most of the $73 billion in AID money poured into Afghanistan apparently vanished into thin air .)

Officially, the US spent about $645 billion last year.   But anybody who knows anything about the federal budget knows that it's sliced and diced for political reasons in ways that would make any self-respecting public accountant cringe.

According to one detailed analysis, actual US defense spending in 2011 was a staggering $1.2 to $1.3 trillion, a sum greater than the GDP of Australia or the Netherlands.   A country with a GDP of that magnitude would have the 15th largest economy in the world.  

But let's pretend the official $645 billion figure is accurate.   Even if we spent HALF as much as we really do we would still spend TWICE as much as China, India, and the rest of Asia; about 10 times more than Russia; as much as the next 15 biggest military powers combined (see charts at this URL ).


From Navy ships perform evasive maneuvers during a simulated strait transit exercise.
Navy ships perform evasive maneuvers during a simulated strait transit exercise. by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Meanwhile, although we spend far more on war and weapons than any other country in the world, we spend less than a bunch of other countries on health, education, and pensions.   The OECD aggregates data that tell a disturbing story, particularly when juxtaposed with defense outlays.

What the statistics on social spending show is that the US spends less relative to GDP than France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands,   the United Kingdom, and Japan, among others.   And in country comparisons of   social spending for selected policies, the US comes off even worse.  For health, education, and pensions, the US spends about 16% of GDP.  Here's what a sampling of what other countries spend: Sweden 29.4%, France's 29.2%, Denmark, 27.1%,   Germany 26.7, Belgium, 26.4%, Finland 26.1%, Italy, 25.0%, Brazil 22.5%, Norway 21.6%, the UK, 21.3%, and Spain 21.2%.   The US also devotes a smaller share of GDP to social policies and programs than the next lowest social spenders (Australia, Canada, and Ireland).     

So here's the 1.3 trillion dollar question:   Why is it that whenever Congress gets out the meat cleaver, it's social -- not military -- expenditures that are on the chopping block?   Don't expect the Democrats to demur either.   Not cutting the defense budget is the ONLY BIG THING the two major parties agree on.  

Essentially, defense appropriations amount to a bipartisan exercise in throwing money at nearly every military base, fighter-bomber, battle ship, and boondoggle the military-industrial complex has been able to dream up since Congress passed the National Security Act in 1947.  Talk about creating a monster!   Sixty-six years later we have military facilities and defense contractors in every state and congressional district, 11 carrier battle groups (no other country currently has more than one operational carrier), and military bases in dozens of foreign lands.


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Tom Magstadt earned his doctorate in international relations at Johns Hopkins (SAIS). He is a twice-tenured college professor and political science chair. He also served as a foreign intelligence analyst, a Visiting Professor at the Air University (more...)
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