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Are We Giant Suckers? While the US Blows Money on the Military, Europe Spends Dough on Social Programs

Hawks simultaneously argue that lavish U.S. military spending subsidizes Europe’s social welfare programs, and that we’re the smarter party in this deal.

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But interestingly, conservatives simultaneously argue that lavish U.S. military spending subsidizes Europe’s social welfare programs, and that we’re the smarter party in this deal. Our kids get the wonderful opportunity to die in distant lands, while theirs are burdened with the horrors of decent retirement security and free health care.

Max Boot, a prominent and utterly pathological neoconservative, went so far as to lament that we, too, are spending too little on the military these days, writing, “It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when the federal government spent most of its money on the armed forces. In 1962, the total federal budget was $106 billion of which $52 billion—almost half—went for defense. It wasn’t until 1976 that entitlement spending exceeded defense spending.”

For Boot, however, the really frightening prospect is that we’ll go the way of Europe. “Last year government spending in the 27 European Union nations hit 52% of GDP,” he wrote. “But most of them struggle to devote even 2% of GDP to defense... When Europeans after World War II chose to skimp on defense and spend lavishly on social welfare, they abdicated their claims to great power status.”

On that last point, it's worth noting that in a 2010 poll of citizens in 27 countries, 53 percent of respondents said the EU had a positive influence on the world, while 46 percent felt the same about the United States. Europe is unquestionably a global power.

Boot asked, “What happens if the U.S. switches spending from defense to social welfare? Who will protect what used to be known as the 'Free World'? Who will police the sea lanes, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism, respond to genocide and other unconscionable human rights violations, and deter rogue states from aggression?”

What he doesn’t say is that the American Right has long opposed the kind of international security cooperation that might shift some of the cost of policing the world to other states. If we didn’t insist on doing it ourselves, perhaps we wouldn’t have to.

But I suppose that when Americans are waiting in line for food stamps—or waiting to pay their respects to a soldier who died in some godforsaken country thousands of miles away—they can take an abstract pride in being the world’s only superpower. The argument has always seemed to me like the biggest loser in Las Vegas saying that the house is a sucker .

So remember to take pride in American power, and remember that it comes at a very high price.

 
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