Can You Afford Wars of Choice?

by: James Leroy Wilson

The U.S. is fighting three wars — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya — even though we’re going broke.

Each is a “War of Choice,” not necessity. None of these countries threatens us. Afghanistan did host Al Qaeda, but that crime was punished years ago. 

So how does the U.S. end up fighting “wars of choice?” Other countries don’t do this.

It’s true that Britain and France want to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, but why do we have to participate? Britain and France have a combined population of 128 million, and rank 3rd and 4th in military spending –ahead of Russia. 

By comparison, Libya has a population of only 6.4 million, the same as Indiana. Did we really need to be involved?

The world treats the U.S. like Daddy Warbucks because of the following disparities…

Although Britain and France have a large population density, combined they have only a little more than 40% of the U.S. population, and they spend only 2.5% and 2.3% percent of GDP on their military, compared to 4.3% for the U.S. In 2008, Britain and France combined spent less than a quarter of what we spent on the military.

In fact…

* Only 9 countries spend more on defense as a percentage of GDP than the United States 
* Almost all have low standards of living. They suffer from military-induced poverty

Our biggest “competitor,” China, spends barely 1/7 of our military budget, and less than half in terms of GDP. China and India combined — with one-third of the world’s population – spend less on their military than Britain and France combined, which is less than a quarter of what the U.S. spends.

In fact, the United States accounts for 48% of the entire world’s military spending!

While other countries may have large armies – a man with a gun is cheaper than the sophisticated hardware U.S. politicians like to buy — they do NOT have the means to impose their will on other countries. They can provide manpower and equipment for auxiliary roles to support U.S.-led wars, or for UN peace-keeping missions, but they lack the ability to wage Wars of Choice on other countries. They can’t afford it. Well…

We Americans must now realize that we can’t afford it either.

But even if we could afford it, we shouldn’t do it, because the results are so bad. There’s little evidence these wars are making us more secure, but they’re definitely making us poorer.

Last week, the Hoover Institution’s George Schultz, Gary Becker, and John B. Taylor proposed a “Budget Game-Changer.” 

Their proposal didn’t even talk about Defense, but their evidence applies as much to defense as to any other area of federal spending…

* Higher federal spending is NOT associated with higher employment rates
* When federal spending fell as a share of GDP in the 1990s, employment rose!
* And higher federal spending since 2000 has been associated with job losses, NOT increased employment.

The reasons for this should be obvious. Federal spending is less efficient than private spending, because the The State pays no penalties for waste and failure. This means that inefficient government spending crowds out more efficient private spending, resulting in a net loss of jobs and wealth.

In short, increased federal spending decreases both jobs and social affluence. And this applies to defense spending just as much as any other kind of statist spending.

In December, I used the Independent Institute’s tool to measure some of the negative impact.

I learned that for persons of median age, education level, and income, statist spending could cost $500,000 in lost wealth over a lifetime. $85,000 of that will be lost due to so-called defense spending, and wars of choice, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

These numbers are deliberately conservative. The younger you are, the more The State and its wars of choice will cost you. And the more you earn the more you’ll pay. But for someone with 40 years to live, every dollar that the Federal State takes from you could have created $5 in increased wealth, if saved and invested.

It’s easy to say that the Federal State is needed for some things, and that defense is at the top of this list, but how much “defending” do we actually need? After all…

* The U.S. has no hostile neighbors
* We have oceans to protect us
* No other nation on Earth has offensive capabilities that can reach us (other than with ICBMs that are relatively cheap to deter)
* It’s fundamentally impossible for any nation to invade and conquer the United States, even if we abandoned our large defense establishment entirely, and went to a Swiss-style reserve army instead

If we had just one-third of the current defense budget, the $400 billion saved could increase private job and wealth creation dramatically. This would be the best “stimulus” we could have, because this money would be available for the private sector to use as it sees fit, instead of as the politicians prefer.

Even then, the U.S. would still spend more than twice what China does. That’s more than enough to keep America safe.

What it likely wouldn’t permit is for U.S. politicians to station troops in wealthy countries like South Korea or Germany.

And, more importantly, it wouldn’t be enough money to bomb, invade, or occupy countries like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

This means we’d benefit even more…

* Fewer war dead
* Lower costs and less emotional turmoil due to fewer disabled veterans
* Better relations with more countries as we intervene less
* No more Wars of Choice

So what’s your verdict? Can you afford more wars of choice? Do you want to continue funding a bloated defense establishment, or would you like to keep more of your money to pursue your own goals and benevolent purposes?

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