Death, Taxes, and a Bloated Military Budget

The Military-Industrial complex describes the relationship and obsession of the military in mainstream American culture. A Military-Industrial Complex (which I’ll abbreviate MIC from here on out, although that probably isn’t an official acronym) slowly steeps people into approving of overbearing military activities and power nationally and globally. The MIC normalized military fanfare in sports and mass gatherings with plane flyovers accompanying national anthems, rapidly increasing (and widely supported) military budgets, and massive military contracts were given to oppressive/ monopolistic companies like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.

While I understand Ethanomics exists to discuss the economic and financial implications of what I write about, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what havoc the U.S. military wreaks internationally. The MIC propagandizes millions of Americans and billions of other global citizens to be numb to the constant human rights violations and lives were taken simply as byproducts of operation. A notorious example of these dangerous byproducts occurred in 2015 under the Obama administration. A drone strike left 75 children and doctors missing or killed in an Afghani hospital, and the event went largely unpunished. Thanks to the MIC, people accepted it as nothing more than a mistake, because y’know, we all make mistakes that kill people now and then. I can get deeper into why our military is terrible (corrupt missions, neglect of veterans post-service) but because this is Ethanomics and there are people far more educated on ethics than I, I’ll stick to the Ethanomics script.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the U.S. commissions the largest military in the world by any metric: service members, budget, number of tanks/boats/planes, etc. The military budget sat at $718 billion for 2020, or 57% of discretionary spending (discretionary spending is money spent that the government receives with no predetermined purpose. Because we pay Social Security tax, the money collected isn’t discretionary because it’s earmarked for S.S.). The $718 billion is a continuation of an alarming trend sparked by George W. Bush post-9/11, inflating the military budget beyond belief. Ever since Bush got troops to the Middle East for the so-called War on Terror, Presidents have campaigned on removing troops from the area but then increased budget and presence once elected into office. While the intent around the world is objectionable, a constantly inflated military budget is essentially a government-sponsored Ponzi scheme to destabilize the world at the financial cost of ~$2,000 per year per American.

A bloated military budget exists because of corrupt leadership, contractors, and increases in recruiting. Recruiting provides jobs and benefits to people, universally agreed-upon social goods, but the military does far more harm than good for the American economy and its taxpayers. The American military is run by Lloyd Austin, a former Army General and advising board member of Raytheon, the 3rd biggest contractor for the U.S. military. Austin is qualified for the position as a former General, but because he held such a powerful position within Raytheon, a conflict of interest arise as a board member of the contractor. In all fairness, Austin promised to divest himself from Raytheon, but since he can still make nearly $2 million from the company during the resignation process.

Austin represents a system larger than himself or any presidential administration. From the beginning of corporate politics in America until now, corporate shills like Austin have held positions of power to garner their companies’ business in every industry, not just the military. In the case of the military, contractors made $404 billion in 2019, increasing $20–30 billion per year, totaling 59% of the budget. Contractors make their money by selling military goods or services like planes, boats, or healthcare, which is excusable, but spending is still irresponsible. The military’s biggest contract failure (so far) cost $1.7 trillion over 60 years spent on research and development for a new lighter-weight fighter jet most famous for catching fire before takeoff. Financial loss is expected when developing a new project but not when you put 20–40% of an already bloated military budget into a single project over the past 30 years.

Corruption and loss aside, the military budget includes economically stimulating activities such as salaries and benefits for servicemembers and retirees. Service members are, of course, salaried and compensated relatively well, especially from a young age *insert Airman with a Camaro joke here*. Benefits including health/dental insurance, education, and a pension make the occupation more lucrative. While I have no problem with any of these benefits, they manipulate naive and/or disadvantaged students into believing military service is the only way to a better life. For many, this may be true, but to hold healthcare and education ransom in exchange for an individual risking their life and psychological well-being is abominable. The most liberal cost estimates of universal healthcare price the service around $7,000 per person per year and similar estimates for universal college cost $15,000 per student per year. Slashing these benefits for servicemembers and providing them to Americans as public goods is entirely possible without tax increases and would still leave the U.S. with the largest military budget in the world, still double the next highest.

The military budget has been under criticism for years as it perpetuates global instability and perpetuates war crimes for the same of profits. Social services provided by the military (housing, healthcare, education) are perks of the job but are far cheaper per person when they come as a good for the people rather than packaged benefits of the military. To end this article, please realize that the military budget is a problem but it dwarfs in comparison to the actual humanitarian crimes committed in the name of the U.S. military abroad.

If you hate trickle-down economics and love pages whose names are puns, this is the place for you.