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What Does a Progressive Budget Look Like?

By davidswanson - Posted on 31 January 2016

A Proposal from World Beyond War
David Swanson, Director

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has requested budget proposals from organizations and members of the public. Here is a friendly suggestion from World Beyond War.

Last year’s Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposed to cut military spending by, in my calculation, 1%. In fact, no statement from the Progressive Caucus even mentioned the existence of military spending; you had to hunt through the numbers to find the 1% cut. This was not the case in other recent years, when the CPC prominently proposed to end wars and cut particular weapons. With all due respect, how is this censoring of any mention of the military evidence of progressing, rather than regressing?

Military spending is 53.71% of discretionary spending, according to the National Priorities Project. No other item adds up to even 7%. Whether a budget proposal is progressive, communist, fascist, conservative, or libertarian, how can it avoid mentioning this elephant in the room? Military spending, of course, produces the need for ongoing additional spending on debt, care for veterans, etc., so that total U.S. military spending is somewhere over twice the figure used by NPP.

Using the numbers of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which leaves out huge U.S. military expenses (which are of course in several departments of the government), U.S. military spending is as much as the next several nations’ combined — and most of those nations are close U.S. allies and major U.S. weapons industry customers. Because SIPRI almost certainly leaves out more U.S. spending than spending by other nations, in reality U.S. spending on militarism is probably the equivalent of a great many, if not all other, foreign nations combined.

In addition, U.S. military spending is extremely high by historical standards. Looking at the biggest piece of military spending, which is the budget of the Department of so-called Defense, that department’s annual “Green Book” makes clear that it has seen higher spending under President Barack Obama than ever before in history. Here are the numbers in constant 2016 dollars, thanks to Nicolas Davies:

Obama      FY2010-15      $663.4 billion per year
Bush Jr      FY2002-09*   $634.9    ”       ”      ”
Clinton       FY1994-2001  $418.0    ”       ”      ”
Bush Sr      FY1990-93     $513.4    ”       ”      ”
Reagan      FY1982-89     $565.0    ”       ”      ”
Carter         FY1978-81    $428.1     ”       ”      ”
Ford            FY1976-77    $406.7     ”      ”       ”
Nixon          FY1970-75    $441.7     ”      ”       ”
Johnson      FY1965-69    $527.3     ”      ”       ”
Kennedy     FY1962-64    $457.2     ”      ”       ”
Eisenhower FY1954-61    $416.3     ”      ”      ”
Truman       FY1948-53    $375.7     ”      ”      ”
*Excludes $80 billion supplemental added to FY2009 under Obama.

War Spending Drains an Economy:

It is common to think that, because many people have jobs in the war industry, spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs — with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work.

War Spending Increases Inequality:

Military spending diverts public funds into increasingly privatized industries through the least accountable public enterprise and one that is hugely profitable for the owners and directors of the corporations involved.

War Spending Is Unsustainable, As Is Exploitation it Facilitates:

While war impoverishes the war making nation, can it nonetheless enrich that nation more substantially by facilitating the exploitation of other nations? This is far from clear, and if it were, it would not be sustainable in light of the dangers created by war, the environmental destruction of war, and the economic drain of militarism.

The Money Is Needed Elsewhere:

Green energy and infrastructure would surpass their advocates’ wildest fantasies if some of the funds now invested in war were transferred there. Morally, they must be. As a matter of simple continued human existence, they must be, as they must be transferred to housing, education, infrastructure, and healthcare — at home and abroad.

It would cost about $30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world. It would cost about $11 billion per year to provide the world with clean water. U.S. foreign aid right now is about $23 billion a year. Increasing it would have a number of interesting impacts, including the saving of a great many lives and the prevention of a tremendous amount of suffering. It would also, if one other factor were added, make the nation that did it the most beloved nation on earth. A recent poll of 65 nations found that the United States is far and away the most feared country, the country considered the largest threat to peace in the world. Were the United States responsible for providing schools and medicine and solar panels, the idea of anti-American terrorist groups would be as laughable as anti-Switzerland or anti-Canada terrorist groups, but only if one other factor were added — only if the funding came from where it really ought to come from — reductions in militarism.

Some U.S. states are setting up commissions to work on the transition from war to peace industries.

Popular opinion polls show huge support for cutting militarism and increasing spending in useful areas. In 2011 numerous polls found the top public solution to a budget “crisis” was to tax the super-rich, and the second most popular solution was to cut the military. This support increases dramatically when people find out how high military spending now is. Polls show that people have no idea. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland showed people the budget and then asked them about it. The results were very encouraging.

If a supposedly “progressive” caucus will not so much as tell people what the basic outlines of the budget look like, why produce a progressive budget? If you will tell people what the budget looks like, you really ought to follow through by proposing to change it.

We recommend eliminating nuclear weapons and working with the rest of the world to do the same globally. We recommend closing foreign bases, removing foreign and ocean-based weapons, and keeping U.S. troops within 200 miles of the United States. We recommend eliminating aircraft carriers, long-range missiles and other weapons that serve an offensive rather than a defensive purpose. We recommend eliminating secret “special” forces and weaponized drones that allow presidential killing sprees without Congressional oversight. This should, of course, be done through a program of conversion or transition that strategically retools and retrains to benefit U.S. and world workers, infrastructure, energy systems, the natural environment, and international relations.

We thank you for your consideration and encourage you to contact us for additional information.


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