‘Guns vs. Butter,’ America’s political dilemma
January 3, 2013
"A nation that continues year
after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom." — Martin Luther King Jr.
"Guns versus butter" has come back in vogue politically. "Guns" basically means spending on security concerns (military defense needs) as opposed to welfare pursuits or "butter" (education, hospitals, housing, schools, etc.).
The choice for nations isn't usually either "guns" or "butter" but rather how many guns and how much butter.
After Afghanistan winds down, America should reduce its military spending more. But there are several political problems associated with drastically hacking military spending in Washington.
First of all, jobs will be lost. The party in power in Congress reaps the most economic benefits by being able to land lucrative defense contracting jobs for congressmen's respective states.
For instance, when Republicans are in power in the House, their individual states become recipients of most big-bucks defense contracts. Likewise, when congressional Democrats are in power, the same holds true.
The bottom line is neither party wants to give up its lion's share of the economic advantages of defense spending. So, slashing the military budget traditionally meets with opposition in Congress.
Companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman use marketing, persuasion and lobbying to promote their interests.
Their efforts benefit politicians since the politician that can amply bring home the "bacon" (i.e., defense jobs) to his or her home state usually gets re-elected as a result.
Thus, for politicians, defense jobs are common currency that "buy" favorable political supporters. On the other hand, drastically cutting military spending can mean political suicide for vulnerable politicians on Capitol Hill. Thus, they'll support only a modicum of cuts.
Second, the peace dividend merits consideration. The peace dividend means the reallocation of spending from military purposes to peacetime purposes, such as housing, education and social projects.
Put another way, a peace dividend is when government concentrates less on guns and more on butter. The transition to peacetime doesn't appeal to the defense industry that stands to lose a lot from war profiteering. After all, the arms industry profits by feeding off of government money supplied by taxpayers at the expense of people's butter.
America possesses an unusual obsession with security. Seeing threats everywhere, the U.S. has become a weapons culture dedicated to the invention, production and deployment of ever-increasing arms that overwhelmingly enriches corporations. And in the process, America has neglected its most pressing butter concerns. The real interests of the vast majority of Americans have been deliberately neglected for the enrichment of the few who benefit from war, international conflict and deep-seated international insecurity. So America's spending priorities become seriously misguided.
The good news is that as America's peace dividend comes to fruition, the economy stands to significantly improve. Decreasing guns increases butter. Weighty butter issues force many politicians to focus more attention on domestic concerns instead of guns. No longer burdened by war and thus spending less on defense, America can only rise again from the ashes like the mythological Phoenix.
And third, diminishing guns shows weakness. Severely cutting defense would likely unnerve America's allies who would view such an action as a grave danger to their security. To save a lot of money, America should kick its allies off the dole, rescind its commitments in having to pay for their defense and remove troops from their nations to force them to pay their own defense bills.
But such a get-tough move would signify to the world that America cannot be counted on anymore for help, that its allies will have to excruciatingly suffer financially and, more importantly, that America no longer ranks as a strong superpower.
It remains to be seen how the new defense budget will affect the overall quality of America's armed forces.
The amount that's allocated to guns depends on the state of the economy, other financial demands and the willingness of people to embrace significant reductions without seriously hurting America's defense capabilities.
Most people don't want a gutted military. America's power would considerably weaken. But the question remains: How many guns are necessary to maintain a high level of security for the U.S., and how much butter can the nation afford without hurting guns and vice versa?
With two wars behind America, the economy will pick up steam again due to less drain on the economy.
Maybe the new focus on butter will improve things. Continuing enormous defense spending can be economically suicidal. Nevertheless, it's time to concentrate on butter once again.
David Briceno lives in Grass Valley.
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