© Josh Sager – April 2015
The United States Defense Department has grown so large that it has become the military equivalent to a hoarder’s apartment—bloated, filled with pointless waste, and always growing larger and more cluttered. As such, I propose a set of targeted transfers from military bloat to alternative programs that will have a much more positive impact on the USA and the world as a whole.
In FY15, the US military received $628 billion in funding. This absolutely dwarfs the military funding of any other nation on the planet. In fact, the USA military receives over three times more funding than the 2nd place nation (China), and more than the combined funding of the 2nd through 9th largest militaries combined. I propose re-allocating 20% of the military budget, totaling $125.6 billion per year (2015 dollars), to fund three high-impact social welfare programs. These cuts would be called extreme and dangerous by the right, but the simple facts are that our military would remain overwhelmingly powerful after these cuts and our national security would be functionally undiminished. Limited audits of DOD spending have indicated massive fraud and abuse in the military, including nearly $1.1 trillion in contractor fraud from 2001 to 2011 ($101 billion per year).
Here is a short description of these three programs:
First, I would spend $30 billion annually to completely eliminate extreme hunger, for the entire world. While it may initially appear to some that this is a low cost estimate, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Department produced the estimate with input from numerous experts in their fields. This program would serve three primary purposes:
- It would alleviate a massive amount of pain in developing nations (never mind the food-insecure in the USA). Starvation kills 3.1 million children every year and is a significant impediment to the development of a society.
- It would mitigate a lot of anti-US fervor abroad. Populations that are used to being bombed by the USA will instead be given aid that saves lives rather than ends them. From a purely efficiency-focused standpoint, the tens of billions of dollars a year to eliminate starvation and cultivate pro-American sentiments are a lot more valuable than developing new weapons systems that only serve to radicalize populations against our nation.
- Food insecurity destabilizes nations and results in chaos that acts a breeding ground for radicalism. The civil unrest in Libya, Syria, and Egypt was partially precipitated by food shortages that were poorly handled by the government—this stirred up anger which was capitalized upon by extremist groups that promised solutions.
Second, I would spend $20 billion annually to virtually eliminate homelessness in the United States (an estimated price calculated by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness). This cost would actually decrease over time, as homelessness is expensive for the state (ex. incarcerations, assistance programs, medical care, etc.) and the initial investment of these billions would prime the system to reduce costs elsewhere in the future. Shamefully, the 2013 Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress concluded that there are approximately 58,000 homeless veterans in the USA (over 12% of the total homeless population), many of whom suffer from untreated medical or psychological conditions stemming from their service.
Eliminating homelessness in the USA would serve these veterans, along with the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fallen through the cracks to land on the street. It would reduce crime and overall medical costs for society, while freeing up time and effort that could be spent addressing other problems.
Third, I would spend $62.6 billion dollars annually to completely eliminate tuition at all public universities, effectively instituting a system of universal and free higher education. Free college tuition reduces the burdens of obtaining an education and provides an alternative to expensive private institutions. While it isn’t a cure-all—there are issues with educational inflation and a glut of less-useful liberal arts majors (ex. art history)—access to a free college education has been shown to be beneficial in nations where it is implemented (ex. Israel).
Education is vitally important to every nation, and promoting a well-educated populace will improve our nation’s competitive advantage on the world stage. If we want developments in science and technology to stay in the USA, we must ensure that there are enough high-skilled workers available.
In total, eliminating severe global hunger, ending homelessness in the USA, and giving every American access to a free public higher education would cost us approximately $112.6 billion each year.As cutting the military by 20% would save $125.6 billion each year, this means that we can easily afford these programs and still have $13 billions left over to reduce the deficit.
I can see no rational argument against such a re-allocation, but have little faith that it would be possible given our current political climate. Put simply, the defense industry makes billions every year through the war machine, and some of that money is funneled back to the politicians who create the budgets. These bribes ensure that our government keeps shoveling our money into the pockets of the military industrial complex and starting no-win interventions abroad (ex. Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.).
That said, this is one issue where people of principle on the left and right can agree on, as nobody likes military waste, and almost everybody would prefer to fund programs that have the greatest benefits for the American people over those that are far less effective.