In 1987, a book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by historian Paul Kennedy accurately predicted the demise of the Soviet Union and the coming decline of the United States. Kennedy explained very succinctly that the rise of any power depends on the balance between economic and military strength. According to Kennedy, nothing good comes of a country bankrupting itself to finance military adventures.
In a few weeks, a new congress will assemble in Washington DC, and take up the people’s business. Republicans hold the majority, and many of them claim to be fiscal conservatives. Since the United States has been operating in the red for years, predictably the new majority will be looking for ways to “trim the fat.”
Their pet project is outlawing earmarks. Earmarks are those federal dollars that get tucked into this and that bill for spending in various congressional districts. They help a lot of people. This fact is reason enough for the Republican Party to abolish them. When that happens, the U.S. federal budget will save a whopping one per cent. Just in case that went by too fast, I’ll repeat: Earmarks comprise $1 of every $100 in the federal budget.
Smart Democrats will play along, making it a non-issue until 2012. Then they can remind voters that a Republican majority insisted that new bridges were a waste of money.
A more sensible approach to cutting the budget can be found by paying attention to Paul Kennedy. Twenty-two per cent of the federal budget goes to defense. Here is a place where cutting the budget could yield tremendous savings. Some people on both sides of the aisle in congress are beginning to think this might be a good place to cut-People as different as Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).
There will be vocal opponents of such an approach. Some people value war as an economic engine. A lot of the rich people for whom congress just extended tax cuts are among them. These are defense contractors who have made big money as war profiteers. Be prepared to hear their howls of pretended terror over leaving our country undefended. Calling them disingenuous is kindness. Americans have never hesitated to defend themselves when attacked. They will not do so if the need arises. However, having tremendous stockpiles of materiel “just in case” is not necessarily the best use of our economic strength.
Meanwhile, instead of spending money on guns, Americans will be able to buy a little butter. History indicates that a people can only have both for a little while.
The fact that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been kept off the books has complicated the deficit problem. With any luck, the new Republican majority will address the problems the old Republican majority created when it allowed the last president to go on an irresponsible spending spree.
Not spending money to kill people will accomplish two large and worthy goals. First, it will build good will for the United States, something we can always use. Second, it will save money and buy a little of our country back from China, which holds a great deal of our debt.
There are lots of ways to cut a budget that totals nearly $3 trillion dollars. Not all of them have to hurt Americans. We can sacrifice some of the sacred cows in the budget. We can restore the balance between our economic prosperity and our military reach. We can use our money to build bridges and prosperity, or we can purchase bombs and death.