The late, great horror movie actor Vincent Price was once asked if he saw any of his films.
My movies? No, never, Price said. They would scare me to death.
Another Frightening Moment: Spending Tax Dollars On F-35
Something else that's truly problematic, if not scary or frightening: the United States' needless militarism and purchase of unnecessary arms and weapon systems. The needless purchase of planes, ships, tanks, and related items offered by defense contractors boggles the mind.
Consider this: the Pentagon -- which has been massively overfunded for 20 years -- now wants the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The cost per plane? Steady yourself -- this you will not believe -- a staggering $112.5 million per plane! And that's without an engine!
Oh, you said you want to fly the plane? Well, add another $22 million for the engine. In other words each plane will cost $134.5 million. That's one hundred thirty four and a half million dollars per plane.
And, as you might sense, the F-35 is the U.S. Department of Defense's most expensive weapons program, with the total cost of the program projected at $1.51 trillion!
The notion that the United States would spent a gargantuan $134.5 million for each plane amid federal revenue scarcity (due to low income taxes on upper income groups stemming from the Bush income tax cut) represents theatre of the absurd.
Moreover, since House and Senate Republicans are against raising taxes on upper income groups to increase federal revenue, the F-35 must be excluded: Congressional Democrats must oppose it -- for obvious reasons.
U.S. Civilian Underinvestment Has Weakened The Nation
Our nation's infrastructure (highways, bridges, roads, electric grid, mass transit systems) is crumbling: we will see more bridge failures and related transportation tragedies in the years ahead, due to more than a decade of inadequate maintenance. Our public schools need to be modernized and new schools need to be built. Many of our airports are outmoded/antiquated or in need of expansion, as does the air traffic control system. The nation will likely need to build additional hospitals to serve the increased health care needs of an aging population, and to accommodate the tens of millions of new citizens covered under the health care reform act's universal coverage provision. Further, the nation must invest tens of billions of dollars in research into renewable energy resources and in efforts to make the nation more energy-efficient. Finally, hundreds of billions of dollars must be deployed to expand vocational, community college, and classic, research-oriented higher education programs to enable the nation's workforce to have the skills needed to meet the demands of the 21st century global economy.
In sum, a large underinvestment in civilian public goods has severely hurt our nation and weakened the U.S. economy -- that underinvestment has in part stemmed from overspending on defense -- and that trend must be reversed, if Americans want a strong, dynamic, jobs-plentiful U.S. economy and nation in the decades ahead.
Hence, by extension, absent a tax increases on upper-income adults, defense spending must be cut further to free-up funds for civilian public goods and that most certainly means not spending $130-million-plus per plane on a plane the Pentagon doesn't need.
Rome, British Empire, Soviet Union...Is The U.S. Next?
Conservatives and other Tea Party backers with their rhetoric can deny it -- but the reality is undeniable: military overspending and the concomitant underinvestment in infrastructure, education, worker training, and related public goods has decreased the United States' economic and social standing in the world, and if nation does not reverse the policy immediately, the trend will lead to further decline and invariably end the nation's great power status. But don't take my word for it -- listen to Yale University History Professor Paul Kennedy, who has researched the subject extensively.
Scholar Kennedy perhaps best demonstrated the link between too much military spending and national decline in his seminal work, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Random House: 1987). In it, Kennedy argued, among other tenets, that the relative strength between the major powers in the world never remains constant, and that, repeatedly, a great power has thought it could engage in military adventures -- extend itself beyond its ability to maintain those commitments, and neglect its economy, but the result has been empire decline
Kennedy's term for the phenomenon is imperial overstretch, also known as imperial overreach, and the two classic examples are: the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Each spent too much of its resources on the military -- to the neglect of its economy -- and we know what resulted: each empire ended.
And the view from here argues that the United States -- another great power -- in this case a superpower that overspent on defense, has weakened its economy and is in danger of driving its empire to the fate of Britain's and the Soviet Union's, if it doesn't change its course and reverse the policy. To reverse the decline, the United States should cut it's military budget by 50 percent, or by about $350 billion annually.
Kennedy's overstretch thesis, in detail, is as follows: As defense spending increases, this reduces the investments in economic growth, which eventually, leads to the downward spiral of slower growth, heavier taxes, deepening domestic splits over spending priorities, and weakening capacity to bear the burdens of defense.
Eisenhower's Warning About Excessive Defense Spending
Yale's Kennedy was not the first to warn about the dangers of excessive defense spending. Author Daniel Guerin wrote about it in 1936, and the term for the policy -- the military-industrial complex -- was popularized in the famous farewell address by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, in January 1961.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower said. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
Eisenhower, a five-star U.S. Army general who served as supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe, and led our nation to victory in World War II versus Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany, limited U.S. defense spending and rooted-out unnecessary defense programs like no other president in the modern era.
Eisenhower started with a Pentagon budget of $49.3 billion in 1954 or $413 billion in 2011 dollars, and finished his two-term presidency with a Pentagon budget of $49.6 billion in 1961 or $373 billion in 2011 dollars. Further, Eisenhower was able to limit military spending despite the fact that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s was intensifying!
Eisenhower, or Ike, was much lauded by economists, historians, and public policy professionals for his ability to see the economic and societal damages caused by excessive defense spending, and one can also see why Ike was able to turn back the Pentagon brass' continually excessive requests. Pentagon brass? Ike was the epitome of Pentagon brass. In other words, who among the Pentagon's generals had the strength of argument to oppose Ike, who knew U.S. defense operations as well as any defense expert? Further, had Ike been a Democrat, the public probably would have viewed him as being soft on communism. But Ike was a Republican, a war hero, and an outstanding general, and hence the public never supported the wild, unsubstantiated, slanderous accusations by the demagogic U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis.
U.S.: Spent $5 Trillion Too Much On Defense In 20 Years
However, unfortunately in the decades that followed the United States did not have an as knowledgeable and formidable defense public policy professional as Eisenhower, and as a result the U.S. overspent on defense, and really overspent in the last 20 years.
Basically, the United States has spent $5 trillion too much on the U.S. Department of Defense over the past 20 years -- i.e allocated a staggering $250 billion a year too much to the Pentagon that instead should have funded social programs and served as resources for other public goods and civilian needs. The egregiousness of the miscalculation is stunning: there was no reason for the U.S. to spend this extra amount on defense during this period -- the Cold War was over, and no other power represented a territorial threat to the United States, and certainly not an existential threat.
What's more, underscoring -- the United States did not have the money to overspend on defense during this period -- it extended the militarily far beyond the nation's ability to rationally support those adventures. The borrowing used to fund the excessive defense programs created a double hole: the nation will now pay a massive amount in interest to pay-down that defense debt.
Social Service Underinvestment Has Weakened Economy, Nation
Further, as noted, the defense overspending has led to a civilian / social service deficit -- including under-investment in infrastructure, education, and health care -- and as a consequence, the economy has suffered, resulting in lower GDP growth. Further, that military overspending, along with the financial crisis and the Great Recession, limited the U.S.'s ability to deploy an adequate-sized fiscal stimulus to create jobs, and that underinvestment's impact on society has not been insignificant or unnoticeable: social unrest has started to surface in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
Further, it is that economic underperformance triggered by overspending on defense that leads to great power decline. Doubt whether that $5 trillion mis-allocation of funds to defense programs has led to a decline in U.S. power? Ask yourself, in Paul Kennedy-like fashion, the following:
The United States has been fighting the Afghanistan War for more than 10 years. Compared to 2001, what has happened to the status of each -
Iran: weaker or stronger?
China: weaker or stronger?
Russia: weaker or stronger?
Point: All three nations became stronger -- and stronger vis-à-vis the United States -- while the U.S. has expended resources in Afghanistan and has become weaker.
Point: Overspending on defense is weakening the United States' economy and, by extension, is decreasing the nation's power relative to other, major powers and nations. And the United States will continue to weaken, if it does not substantially reduce its defense spending: as noted, it does not have the resources to spend $500 billion per year on defense, let alone the more than $700 billion it's spending now.
Congressional Republicans Want To Spend Even More On Defense
Of course, Republicans, Tea Party faction members, and other conservatives disagree with Kennedy's imperial overstretch thesis.
In fact, many if not most Republicans want to -- incredibly -- increase defense spending yet again! Despite almost $1.3 trillion spent on two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) with unfavorable outcomes -- these conservatives want to increase defense spending further -- diverting even more resources from civilian / social programs.
But as outlined above, the United States does not need and cannot afford to increase defense spending or to purchase the beyond-costly F-35 plane.
The United States must cut defense spending substantially and increase its spending on civilian public goods to end its economic, social, and political decline.
If you doubt what excessive military spending can do to a great power, please review what happened to Rome, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union.
Joseph Lazzaro, U.S. Editor, served as Managing Editor of New York-based financial news web sites WallStreetEurope.com/WallStreetItalia.com, 1999-2004, and as Economics...