Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Warfare and Welfare

With America's right wing now finally deciding that the budget deficit is a problem, I think progressives and moderates need to take them up on their newfound concern.

In fact, that seems to be where things are headed from inside the Beltway, as a bipartisan commission seems to be firing up to make some of the painful cuts and tax increases that will be necessary to bring the United States back into a position of solvency.

They'll need to put everything on the table. That means addressing every major entitlement and welfare program. They'll need to deal with social security. They'll need to deal with Medicare and Medicaid. They'll need to make cuts across the board, including major cuts to one of our most significant welfare-state programs: The United States Military.

Yeah, I know. I support our troops. We All Support Our Troops. But the reality of our armed services is that they are also a significant government work program. They provide an immense amount of funding to American corporations, as our military-industrial complex is one of the few sectors of the American economy that hasn't been farmed out entirely to China by profit-maximizing execs. The armed services are also an employer of last resort for the able-bodied.

It is not a coincidence that we're meeting our military recruitment quotas easily in a time of significant unemployment, where even a few years ago we were struggling to meet those goals. Sure, many folks join the Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines for reasons of patriotism. But many more are driven to it not because they are warriors by vocation, but because they need a roof over their head and health care. Or because the recruitment incentives help pay off debts. Honestly, it's a combination of many of those factors. But I've known enough active military folks to know that it is a place you go when financial hardship hits. It's viewed as a stable paycheck, a place of financial refuge. Yeah, you might have to go to war, which is not much fun. But at least the medical care is paid for, and you've got a paycheck. Even a tiny paycheck is better than none at all.

But if we're going to get serious about belt-tightening, and we're willing to inflict painful cuts on America's schools and our crumbling infrastructure and our poor and our elderly and our children, there's not a single good reason that our armed forces should be exempt.