Much has been said about our current financial crisis but there has been little discussion of the real cause of the crisis, which is our massive debt. The sub-prime mortgage mess was merely the straw that broke the camel's back.
Massive borrowing by the U.S. government has sucked the liquidity out of the credit markets and fear of a collapsing dollar is sending shock waves throughout the world markets. There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis.
First, in the current fiscal year, we are spending massive amounts of money on "defense"- projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. The Department of Defense's expenditures for 2008 are larger than all the other nations' military budgets combined. Our military spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history and we are financing these huge military expenditures through massive borrowing from China and other nations. If you begin in 1789, when our Constitution was adopted, 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 $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has doubled to over $11 trillion!
Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our manufacturing base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military spending. This is based on the mistaken belief that public policies focused on huge expenditures on wars, weapons and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment. Military spending is, in fact, a supremely wasteful economic activity.
Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in those things necessary for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call "opportunity costs,"- things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system is falling apart. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our aging infrastructure, which is rapidly deteriorating. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer of civilian goods--an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.
History has demonstrated that it has always been the world's leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political, diplomatic and cultural influence. Today we are no longer the world's leading lending country. In fact, we are now the world's biggest debtor country, and we are desperately trying to wield influence on the basis of military power alone. Continuing on this path of taking on more and more debt to finance our huge military machine will ultimately mean financial ruin for our nation.
Some of the damage done can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that our country needs to take. These include quickly ending the war in Iraq, closing many of our over 800 military bases around the world that no longer play a role in our national security, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to the real national security needs of the United States, and ceasing to use the defense budget as a jobs program. If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don't, we face national insolvency and a long depression.