Thursday, November 12, 2009

Economic Justice and Military Spending Cannot Coexist

The Fight We Must Win

Our next door neighbor's adult son has moved in with her. Two years ago, just before it was clear that the economic poop had well and truly hit the fan, he had moved out to a place of his own. Now, having lost his job, he's back. They're being careful with each other right now, as opposed to two years ago when we would hear them arguing almost nightly and it was clear that he had to move on and that they were out of patience with their shared living arrangements. I presume that it is only a matter of time before they begin finding the same old faults with each other.

Another friend has been having difficulties with his pre-teen son who suffers from a variety of emotional disorders and learning disabilities. He lives in a state that has never fully funded the service his son requires, but in the last year those services have been rationed more thoroughly than before and he finds that his family cannot get all the help that his son needs. He is considering moving to another state, but which one is flush with cash and fully funding the array of mental health, educational and social services he is seeking?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 26 states that had plugged deficits at the beginning of this fiscal year, have discovered that they haven't plugged enough. New gaps have opened up and new cuts must be made before the end of this fiscal year. Almost all those states and at least a dozen must make further budget cuts in the next fiscal year, as well. (See CBPP's report here).

Given that federal stimulus spending helped many states fill recent deficits, and that there is no new stimulus spending on the horizon, it seems pretty obvious that state spending for health care, education, highways, public transportation, housing and emergency services for the poor and the unemployed will drop, even as the demands increase.

The $787 billion stimulus package passed in February has saved or created 640,000 jobs, CNN reported in October. But the economy has lost 7.3 million jobs since December 2007 (read the report here). With $1 trillion+ federal budget deficits, steady right-wing criticism of the first stimulus (second, countin the even more feeble Bush stimulus package), and uncertainty over the cost of health care reform, it will take a great deal of political courage for Congress and the President to propose and pursue further stimulus spending large enough to help.

But there's the rub. At this point in time, in a country with significant unmet social needs that is also fighting two (long) wars, any effective political leadership will have to be courageous. So, assuming the existence of such a quality, I once again offer military spending as the pot of silver (if not gold) to be placed on the table and redistributed according to the real needs of Americans, rather than the needs of empire.

As frequently happens, I cite the ever reliable Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) for some of the facts that best support an argument for cutting military spending. "... the standard economic models that project job loss from efforts to stem global warming also project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to 2 million jobs in the long run," Baker wrote in a recent column that appeared on-line at

The calculations Baker references are based on projections covering a 20-year period, so the actual current job losses from the military spending increases since 2000 are certainly lower, in the area, say, of half to three-quarters of a million jobs. But if the US had been saving those jobs over the last seven years, rather than bleeding them away, it would have had the impact of another stimulus bill; and likely a timelier and more effective one.

Unfortunately, President Obama has recently signed a defense spending bill that increases the military budget by about five percent. Though it is the accumulating, down-the-road impact of such spending increases that do the most harm, even a one percent decrease annually in the next three military budgets would have a small, positive and growing impact by 2012 and beyond, providing new stimulus to the domestic economy in the amount of, perhaps, $90 billion (the estimated total of annual one percent cuts, plus three to five percent in avoided annual increases). But the longer-term political impact of such cuts matters more than the immediate social benefits.

Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will involve serious political fights. Resistance will come from members of Congress with large military bases and large numbers of workers in military production living in their districts. Weapons manufacturers and military contractors already spend huge and corrupting amounts of cash on lobbying and political contributions. But as the costs of empire and war erode our domestic economy and our manufacturing base, there is nothing to be gained by avoiding political fights about the direction of spending and everything to win.

The federal budget picks winners and losers and has been picking the military-industrial complex and corporate interests to win since the 1950s. Beginning the fight to pick new winners now--American workers, the domestic economy, social justice, et al.--is a surer way to reelect Obama and progressive Democrats in 2010 and 2012. Small gains now in cutting military spending will set the stage for bigger fights, larger cuts and, ultimately, peace dividends and economic justice in the years beyond 2012.

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