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Economy

What We Could Do with All That Money We Waste on War

If the government can't protect people from would-be enemies AND provide basic social services, those leaders are in defacto default of their social contract with their own people.

Why do people gather themselves into communities, states, nations? Of course there are many reasons, but there are primary - one could say "primitive" motivators:

1) There's safety in numbers. A group can defend it's individuals better than individuals can defend themselves. And it's not just because of greater numbers, but the effect of leveraging the greater pool of human talent and pooling of assets of the group.

2) Pooling of individual assets results in an joint asset base that can do more for the group than individuals can do for themselves. An individual family cannot build a school complex for their children, but the group can. An individual cannot build a hospital themselves, but the group can.

Those two primary drivers of modern civilization are joined permanently at the hip. They are inseparable. And they represent the primary clauses in any national contract between their people and leaders.

After all, what good is to be defended well, but uneducated, living in poverty and dying young from preventable and/or curable deseases all because there's no money for schools, jobs or medical care? And the flip side is true too. What good is to have the best education and healthcare in the world if some primitive hostile force can simply march right in, starting killing folks and loot the entire enterprise right to the ground?

And so it's important to keep the Yin of social spending and Yang of national defense spending in at least a modicum of balance.

So, since this is a census year, maybe it's a good idea if, once every decade or so we not only count how many people have joined our national group, but how we're treating them. Radical, I know, but hey, someone had ask.

Thanks the site National Priorities Project, you can see just how much selected defense spending cuts into your state's social funding. Here's an example:

Taxpayers in California will pay $132.6 billion for total Iraq and Afghanistan war spending since 2001. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

  • 54,556,982 People with Health Care for One Year OR
  • 2,368,070 Public Safety Officers for One year OR
  • 1,872,544 Music and Arts Teachers for One Year OR
  • 19,920,760 Scholarships for University Students for One Year OR
  • 23,883,376 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
  • 396,771 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 49,549,276 Children with Health Care for One Year OR
  • 15,855,590 Head Start Places for Children for One Year OR
  • 1,903,809 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
  • 236,176,080 Homes with Renewable Electricity for One Year

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of the liberals who thinks defense spending is a waste of money. Remember, it's balance we're looking for here and shifting too much defense spending to social spending has it's own destabilizing consequences. I'm just saying that, when I look around these days what I see is a fat defense sector, a bailed out financial sector and a growing list of funding-starved social/domestic programs.

I just did a little social-balance-census myself this morning and this is what I came up with in less than hour. There are things Congress and the administration seem to have no problem funding and other things that go begging:

CAN DO CAN'T DO
Fund two all-out wars in the Middle East Fund a world-class public school educational system
Bailout Wall Street and Big Banks... (Potential total cost $23 trillion) Provide affordable health insurance for 50 million Americans
Build roads, hospitals, schools, water and electric system in Iraq and Afghanistan Repair or update America's own crumbling civilian infrastructure.
Provide tens of millions in earthquake aid to Haiti & Chile Finish the same job in New Orleans
Provide Blackwater commercial mercenaries with another $1 billion contract Fund community policing. Program cut from $110 million a year to $20 million.
Spend $1 billion for a new all-glass US embassy in London Fund school construction here at home. (School Construction Funding Cut From Senate Stimulus Bill)
Spend $4,545,000 for wood utilization research in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives. This research has cost taxpayers $95.3 million since 1985. One would think that after 24 years of research all the purposes for one of the world's most basic construction materials would have been discovered. Fund cutting edge research projects.(Reuters: Roughly 700 planned science projects have gone unfunded as a result, jeopardizing facilities in the United States and elsewhere.)
Spend $6,430,414,000 for 142 "anonymous" defense projects. This accounted for 6.6 percent of the earmarks and 57 percent of the cost in the bill. Fund research into childhood cancer.
Spend $41,500,000 for three projects funding presidential libraries: Fund Public Libraries
Spend $39,700,000 by then-Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), for the Advanced Homeland Security Training Center for his home state. Provide job security here at home.

And you and I know, that's just scratching the surface. If a government cannot balance both the people's need to be protected from would-be enemies AND provide basic social services, those leaders are in defacto default of their social contract with their own people.

And when that happens, and goes on for too long, a new social dynamic kicks in. It goes like this:

"Don't piss off people who have nothing to lose."

Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.
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