So in the current maelstrom that is the debate over the federal budget, it seems that the appropriations for defense are nearly entirely off the table.  Let’s take a look at how much we spend on defense from several angles:


Here’s a video presentation by Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry’s fame) explaining how to put some of that spending to better use (especially to help kids here and around the world).  [Caveat- he’s talking about discretionary spending, not the overall budget].

Now, if a guy in the ice cream business can get it, why can’t Congress?

Pure Numbers

Let’s expand on his comparisons to the spending of other nations.  Not only does the US outlay on the military dwarf our current “enemies’,” but it would take the next 22 nations combined to equal our budget on the military.  That gets us down to Poland–you know, that military powerhouse of the 21st century.

Not coincidentally, we lag behind many of these countries in health care (despite the dated nature of the report) and our scores in math and science.  Finally, though the US ranks pretty high (4th) on the Human Development Report (effectively a comparison of overall quality of life), we drop to 12th when inequality is adjusted for (i.e. income, life expectancy, and education).  There’s a correlation here, and dare I say causation?  (Hint: the countries that spend less on defense score higher in these areas.  And yet, they’re not being overrun by their enemies).

The Founding Fathers

How about that bedrock upon which our country was founded–where did they rank defense in their vision of the republic?  Fourth out of six, behind forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, and insuring domestic tranquility. That’s right, from the pen of men who thought carefully about every word and its impact on future generations, they put it in the 42nd percentile. (That’s like an “F” in most schools).

As for the powers enumerated to Congress (Section 8), defense doesn’t appear until number 11 (the 47th percentile).  I can’t help but see that they felt other functions of the government were much more important.

Now I know the concept of “defense” has changed over the years and that does need to be taken into account; but it sure seems to follow that the other functions of our government listed in the preamble (and its more modern functions) are getting the short shrift when an excessive amount of our wealth is being spent on the military.

I do believe in protecting ourselves from enemies (foreign and domestic), and if we want to act as a world police force (whether they want us to or not), well, there are worse countries out there that could be throwing their weight around (if they’d spend more).  But I would never advocate doing so at the expense of our general welfare and forming a more perfect union.

P.S. That quote at the beginning of this piece is by a president…and a 5-star general.  If he was worried about it, shouldn’t we be?