The previous column outlined a series of investments I believe are essential to meet three serious challenges facing 21st century America: advancing scientific R&D, developing an educated work force and ramping up agricultural productivity desperately needed for a world population approaching nine or even 10 billion people by 2050.
All of which requires a significant expansion/improvement of our national infrastructure.
Some of the multi-trillions that will be required between now and then can be provided by private sector capital, by established corporations, venture capitalists and innovative entrepreneurs. The majority of the funds needed to accelerate progress in all three areas, however, must be sourced from federal and state governments.
Where does that money come from? Other than having the Federal Reserve simply print up more paper, that is.
Apparently, raising taxes, even on the super-rich, whose lifestyles and investment opportunities wouldn’t be seriously impacted by paying a couple additional percentage points in taxes, is off the table. For better or worse, the electorate has been conditioned to resist any attempt to raise taxes on anyone.
For example, here in Washington State back in 2010, an attempt at instituting an income tax only on residents earning more than $200,000 a year was soundly defeated. Post-election polls indicated that the majority of voters were convinced that it would be a matter of mere months before such taxation was imposed on everyone in the state.
And of course, any taxation is always painted as an economy-wrecking, job-killing measure that would destroy American commerce as we know it.
Here’s the alternative: scale back the nation’s global military empire.
A Single Source of Funding
The “e” word is used deliberately. We’ve been conditioned since the early years of the Cold War to simply regard the massive funding handed over to the Pentagon as “the military,” and to regard the diversion of national resources into weapons of war as “supporting the troops.”
Woe to the politician who doesn’t express outright reverence for not just the personnel in uniform but the deployment of those troops in dozens of often massive bases around the world; the continued waging of endless wars in the Middle East and Africa; and the manufacturing, operation and maintenance of literally thousands of ships, planes, submarines, missiles, drones and numerous high-tech weapons system.
All of that spending by the Department of Defense doesn’t include the money shoveled into military campaigns that are allocated “off the books;” the healthcare and other services that must be provided to veterans; and the costs of Homeland Security; the intelligence agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency that are part of the larger federal government security apparatus; and the debt service that must be paid on the borrowing that’s financed the last 16 years of warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
We spend far more each year on the military than the publicized $681 billion allocated by Congress for FY 2019.
But if we’re engaged in a war on terror, as we’ve been reminded relentlessly since 9-1-1, how is it that we need a massive stockpile of nuclear missiles, hundreds of high-tech bombers, a fleet of naval vessels greater than the world has ever seen and a massive array of combat troops, weapons and machinery deployed around the entire globe?
Are we planning to defeat Islamic radicals by attacking them with nuclear submarines?
Truth is, we can — and must — decelerate the diversion of precious resources of money, energy and materials into the war machine.
There’s nothing unpatriotic about suggesting that we don’t need to spend trillions on armaments every year to maintain our national security. Exactly the opposite, in fact.
If the goal is to make our country great, then we need to be thinking about how to revitalize manufacturing by ensuring that we have a technically trained work force available for the jobs of the future; how to finance investments in public education that would at least bring us to parity with numerous other countries whose students outperform ours; and equally important, how to advance the productivity, efficiency and diversity of American agriculture.
All of the above are do-able — as long as we’re willing to commit the funding and the political will to make it happen.
The will to do so must come from a majority of people placing their priorities where they ought to be.
The funding can only come from one source: smaller, leaner, significantly less costly military spending.
If there are better ideas out there, I’d love to hear them.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.