Cut the Military Budget—in Half

By diderot

July 12th, 2019


ou’ve got to eat to stay alive, and that doesn’t come cheap, does it? Grocery costs add up—averaging about $3,000 for every American every year. That’s a significant chunk of your household budget.  But you’ve got no choice.

However, do you know what else costs every American $3,000 a year?  Defense--as in the total tax dollars awarded to the Defense Department and other defense-related programs in government.  That’s $3K for every man, woman and child.  Stunning, but true.  For decades, politicians have argued the merits of “guns vs. butter” in building budgets.  But for you, the verdict is in—you’re spending on both. Just as much for national firepower as you are for butter and everything else you eat.  And there are no coupons for the missiles you buy. You pay full price—and an obscene amount more.

The costs of food and defense might be equal, but there’s an infinite difference between them.  Because every month, you can check your grocery receipts and figure out exactly where the food money went.  Not so for Defense—not at all.  Even after decades of outrage and auditing mandates from Congress, we taxpayers don’t know where defense dollars go. Congress doesn’t know.  Even the Defense Department itself doesn’t know. 

And there’s only one way we’re ever going to find out. 

Slash the military budget—by half.


es, this sounds draconian.  It’s fair to ask, “with that kind of extreme reduction, how would we ever keep safe?”  Unfortunately, I can’t make the case unless we begin with numbers.  So in advance, I apologize and I’ll try to keep this list of examples short:

·       This one you’ve probably heard before: America’s defense budget is larger than the next nine nations combined.

·       The amount Donald Trump wants to raise American defense spending annually is larger than Russia’s total defense budget.  In other words, on top of what we already spend, we’re adding an entire Russian military—every year.

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  • Senators as diverse as Bernie Sanders and Chuck Grassley have long tried to get an accurate accounting from the military.  For a decade, more than a billion dollars a year was spent for 1,200 of the country’s best outside accountants to dive in and get to the bottom of all this.  Last year they came back and said, effectively, “we give up.  We tried, but we can’t figure this stuff out.”  The Defense department has put the “byz” in byzantine.

  • To make matters worse, last fall a new law was passed that allows agencies involved in “national security” to transfer funds from one operating line to another without ever having to explain it, or even admit that it’s happening.  While operating two sets of books is illegal for a business, it’s perfectly fine for the military. 

  • For the most recent year, Americans paid $279 billion for wages and salaries for all civilian federal workers—you know, those dreaded “bureaucrats” who are “wasting” your tax dollars.  But we spent $350 billion on defense contractors—not military members themselves, but the outsiders we employ to serve and arm the military.

  • One of those outside contractor projects—Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet—is a decade behind schedule, has repeatedly failed benchmark tests, and remains the most expensive single defense expenditure in world history.  It is set to eventually cost $1.5 trillion—that’s with a “T”.  And thus far, the new plane has been shown to be less effective than the plane it was supposed to replace, the F-16.  But Congress won’t shut off the money spigot.

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So, enough on the dollars. It’s sufficient to say that the military is awash in cash—so much that they’ve lost track. And it’s getting worse.   The Defense department came to Trump this year with a Santa Claus-level wish list…and Trump told them to come back later and ask for even more.


he U.S. has 16,000 planes, 280 warships, over 8,000 tanks and more than half a million military sites in 80 countries.  We are ready for combat.  We are the prohibitive favorites to win any form of conventional warfare against any foe.  But anymore, who would ever fight us that way?

There will be no more trenches dug into battlefields, or endless dogfights fought over oceans, because America would certainly prevail. We’ve got thousands more planes, and better trained pilots. Overall, despite China’s efforts, we remain clearly dominant in warfare technology. But this hardly spells “the end of war”. War has simply moved to new venues:


Russia decided an American election in 2016 and consequently divided our country for the foreseeable future.  They won that war.  No bullets or bombs were needed. Fulfilling Khrushchev’s famous warning, they “buried” us—with social media.  They could never have achieved this impact using traditional military might; even trying would actually have unified Americans.  Instead, they divided us and conquered; psychologically speaking, their cyberattack blew America up.


Coverage of Trump’s trade war with China generally centers on things like soybeans and washing machines.  But the genesis of the turmoil lies largely in the ongoing theft of intellectual property by the Chinese. This has been going on for decades. An estimated 94% of all software sold in China is pirated, mainly from U.S. companies. Physical copies are produced in dozens of huge plants inside Chinese borders. And as with the Russians, the impact of Chinese theft is dividing America.  On one side of the tariff argument are the U.S. companies that invent that pirated software and other IP—they want heavy enforcement.  On the other are U.S. companies and farmers who don’t want to see their current China trade relations disrupted—that destroys their business models.  There’s no easy solution; several Presidents before Trump have failed to resolve this.  So once again, another foreign actor is “winning” a war with us without firing a shot. 

Climate Change: 

Lastly, the largest threat of war on a global scale devolves from climate change.  As increased heat disrupts weather patterns…as it turns farmlands arid and reduces access to clean water… millions will be forced to move.  That means mass migrations and local border conflicts caused by dwindling resources.  This is the greatest growing peril to world peace.  (To their credit, the armed forces have spent money to figure out how we might best deal with this threat.)  But no number of fighter jets or aircraft carriers can defeat climate change. 


utting the ridiculous theft of taxpayer dollars for defense purposes seems imperative.  We are squandering fortunes and bulding historic, monumental debt to lay on the backs of our kids and grandkids. Yet nothing happens. 

Here are two major and related reasons:

Congressional Cowardice:

First, there’s the familiar issue of base closures.  The Pentagon itself agrees that at least one of every five could disappear tomorrow with no impact on safeguarding the country.  But standing in the way are Congresspeople who fear they will never win reelection if military and related civilian workers are put out on the street in their districts.  This is fully sanctioned honor among thieves.

Congressional Corruption:

And Congress is also at the center of the second, far more intractable issue. It’s campaign money—as in the millions that various members of the military-industrial complex use to underwrite Congressional campaigns. The heinous Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court not only flooded elections with dirty money…it also effectively put the defense industry beyond fiscal reach.  The military can spend as it pleases, and charge taxpayers whatever it wants.  As it stands, there can be no reform in military spending without changing campaign finance law.  It’s so bad that defense lobbying is actually in decline—because there’s hardly a soul left in Congress to lobby against. Responsibility has surrendered.

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y call to halve defense funding may sound extreme, and it may also seem impossible.  After all, if armies of accountants can’t figure this stuff out, how would even well-intentioned lawmakers know where to start?

There’s a simple answer—at least in theory.  Zero-based budgeting.  Authorize no spending based on what was spent last year.  Instead, start over.  Build from the ground up.  “Tell me what you need, and how much you think it’ll cost.” Make the military take account and make its case.  Even at half of what we allocate now, we’d still be spending almost double what’s budgeted by the second biggest spender, China. 

Let a panel of the right outside experts NOT in Congress—Republicans, Democrats and independents—hear the pleas and build that budget. Combine accountants, retired military and efficiency experts. After hearing from the branches, force them to present a sensible budget proposal to the public and Congress--on the same day. We who pay the bills deserve full transparency.


fter implementing such a zero-based plan, America would remain perfectly safe—except, perhaps, for a few thousand lobbyists. But the central mandate in this process needs to remain ironclad—we will only spend 50% of what we do now. 

Yes, the pigs will squeal.  The Army, Navy and Air Force will attack each other, scratching for the biggest share of a shrunken pie.  But for we taxpayers, the end result is finally finding out what’s really necessary.  Budgetarily speaking, we are a country with a huge sinkhole in our collective backyard…pretending it’s not threatening to swallow the whole house.  We are wasting hundreds of billions. We’ve got so many better things to do with that money.

So, let’s do our own oversight.  The Pentagon needs someone to answer to. Let it be us.  Cut this thing in half.

And let’s do it now.

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