The Presidential debate on foreign policy recently discussed much about the tax dollars spent on defence. The question of how much to spend on the defence of the United States is always a huge debate. Democrats tend to lean to the side of “Peace Through Diplomacy” and believe that too much is spent on defence. Conversely, Republicans tend to foster the idea of “Peace Through Strength” and want to continue to increase advances in military strength.
However, the conversation of how much we spend on defence brings up another question. Exactly where do all of our tax dollars go? The chart below is the 2011 Budget year of expenditures as a percentage of the total budget.
Photo: Street Talk Live
It is clear that more than 50% of current budget expenditures go to Social Security, Medicare and defence expenditures. However, before those that believe in “Peace Through Diplomacy” start pointing out that we spend too much on defence it is important to put the current levels spending into context. The next chart shows the historical percentages of the budget that each of the four main components make up.
We have continuously reduced defence spending at every turn to try and find “cuts” in the budget. You can see where defence spending increased during the Vietnam War, the Reagan Administration spending was done to bring the economy back online, and the current conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet following each period of increased spending – the defence budget was cut and now stands at the lowest level of spending in history as a percentage of the total budget. However, Medicare and Social Security have continued to consume greater portions of every tax dollar raised.
When putting the current level of defence spending into context it now brings us to a different conversation. There is more that comes out of defence spending than just being the “biggest stick” on the planet. The GPS on your phone, blue tooth technology, digital storage, advances in the speed of wireless communications, etc. all came from defence related research. Furthermore, we have killed our space exploration program which also fostered enormous growth in technology, innovation and medicine. NASA, is such a small percentage of the total budget that the savings are insignificant, however, the losses of future advances is likely to be far more costly. The following video by Neil deGrasse Tyson should make you stop and think.
While both sides can certainly make valid arguments about defence spending – here is something else to think about. How much is too much? How much is not enough? That question, unfortunately, won’t be known until its too late. In a world today where there are global threats not spending enough on defence could yield unintended weaknesses in national security. While it is in the best interest to always exhaust diplomacy in solving global issues – it is not in the best interest of the nation to be at a military disadvantage as a result of neglect should diplomacy fail.