Sunday Sermon: Defense Spending’s Crowding Out Effect

While I’m glad we will spend more money on medical research in 2010 (although what about basic research? It needs help too.), until he confronts the massive amount of defense spending in the U.S.–$872 billion proposed for 2010 ($133 billion of which is for the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars)–it will be very hard to get funding for other things anything else. Matthew Yglesias explains (italics mine):

Preble says that this enormous expenditure “flows directly from our foreign policy.” But it’s worth also saying that our foreign policy flows from the vast scope of our defense spending. My biggest concern about the war in Afghanistan isn’t overblown feasibility concerns, but the failure to take seriously David Obey’s point that we should put this in some kind of cost-benefit framework. Arne Duncan doesn’t have a $700 billion per year budget to play with as he tries to help American kids learn. Jay Rockefeller doesn’t get to say “I could make this health plan really good by kicking the ten year cost up to $7 trillion.” People are starving in Ethiopia for want of a fraction of the DOD’s daily budget in food aid.

Am I the only not-young person who remembers that, after the Cold War was over, we were supposed to have a “peace dividend“? I want mine, with interest. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald accurately describes the order of priorities:

…according to The Washington Post, dropping bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan — all while simultaneously ensuring “effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women’s rights” to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan — is an absolutely vital necessity that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services (such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens. “U.S. interests in South Asia” are paramount; U.S. interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs and rural areas are an afterthought.
As demented as that sounds, isn’t that exactly the priority scheme we’ve adopted as a country? We’re a nation that couldn’t even manage to get clean drinking water to our own citizens who were dying in the middle of New Orleans. We have tens of thousands of people dying every year because they lack basic health care coverage. The rich-poor gap continues to expand to third-world levels. And The Post claims that war and “nation-building” in Afghanistan are crucial while health care for Americans is not because “wars, unlike entitlement programs, eventually come to an end.”

Except that’s what we were told after the Berlin Wall fell, and now we’re spending more on defense than we ever did during the Cold War.

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4 Responses to Sunday Sermon: Defense Spending’s Crowding Out Effect

  1. llewelly says:

    We did get a peace dividend after the cold war ended. That’s one of the reasons the Clinton administration was able to bring the deficit down to zero.

  2. JasonTD says:

    The main problem is that a peace dividend requires peace. As llwelly pointed out, Clinton was able to take advantage of one during the mid to late ’90’s. The world is decidedly not at peace right now, nor is it likely to be soon even if we can stabilize and leave Iraq.
    Also, not having money to spend hasn’t seemed to stop the Federal government from spending it anyway in a very long time.

  3. Joshua says:


  4. Rob Jase says:

    Heck, I’m old enough to remember when the Republicans called the Democrats the war party because of WWI, II, Korea & Viet Nam.
    Apparently they’ve since discovered that war can bring dividends if you own stock in the right companies.

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