by Anna Violante

“A grandfather tells his grandson about the two wolves living inside each of us. One wolf is evil, the other is good, and they are constantly battling. The grandson asks, “Which wolf wins?” and the grandfather responds, “The one that you feed.”  It is with this Native American parable that Heidi Peltier begins her study of the huge amount of money the government spends on the military compared to the very small budgets it allocates to the State Department, health care, education, clean energy and infrastructure. The study argues that giving all this money to the Defence Department doesn’t make people safer, whereas increasing the budget for other priorities that provide a better quality of life would.

Military spending increased dramatically In the post-9/11 era. As “State Department budgets were cut in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military started taking on more roles that had traditionally been the purview of the State Department, such as overseas agricultural programs and infrastructure reconstruction”.

Congress has then allocated more and more money to the Department of Defence at the expense of other sectors, to the point that for fiscal 2024, there is an agreement to freeze non-defence “discretionary” spending (the part of budget Congress allocates each year)  at fiscal 2023 levels, while defence spending has increased. “Almost half of the U.S. federal discretionary budget is currently allocated to the Department of Defence ($849 billion out of $1.82 trillion in FY2023)”.

Such a powerful Department of Defence means that there are many more people employed in the military and salaries are higher compared to other sectors. In addition “because the majority of taxpayer dollars and federal resources are devoted to the military and military industries, and most government jobs are in the defence sector, the political power of this sector has become more deeply entrenched and other alternatives have become harder to pursue.” In fact, the study continues, “one of the ways that military spending is maintained at high levels, and grows even when the U.S. is not at war, is by military contractors and members of Congress stoking fears of job losses. Military spending cannot be cut, officials tell the public, because this will threaten security and weaken the economy; people will lose their jobs.” 

In her conclusions, Peltier urges US taxpayers and policymakers to ask themselves: “Is this the way we want to use our resources? Is this the wolf we want to feed?” And after she notes that working in the military sector is more expensive and a few early retirements and government incentives would be enough to shift to more preferable sectors, she explains: “The economic reality, as shown here, is that there are important areas of investment in the U.S. domestic economy in which more jobs would be created than would be lost through reductions to the military budget. Clean energy creates about ten percent more jobs than the military, for the same level of spending, while healthcare creates almost twice as many jobs, and education on average supports almost three times as many jobs as the military. Reducing the military budget and funding other priorities such as healthcare, education, clean energy, and infrastructure, will help increase other forms of security – the kinds of meaningful human security rooted in good health, good living conditions, and a productive and well-educated society – while also increasing employment nationwide.”

read full paper here

Cover image: U.S. Congress, Washington DC by Andrea Izzotti on Shutterstock