Monday, December 05, 2005

Guns versus butter

Some people have criticized the Adminstration for the expense of the war in Iraq. While there are numerous grounds for criticizing the President, this one is particularly small-minded.

It is largely forgotten but nonetheless a completely noncontroversial fact that during the Presidencies of Eisenhower and Kennedy, defense expenditures were nearly half the federal budget, and recall especially that was during peacetime as well. Now, even after the fiscal burdens related to 9/11; Iraq, Afghanistan, Homeland Security, etc., our defense related expenditures are somewhere a fifth and a fourth of federal outlays, depending on who does the counting.

Whatever Bush has done to increase defense expenditures is dwarved by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Drug Benefits, Student Loans, Farm Subsidies, etc. It is the central fact of federal fiscal policy that butter costs much more than guns, and that has been the case for forty years. The War on Terror is essentially the cheapest major undertaking the federal government has. The rest of the budget, by comparison is a typical welfare state morass of a modern industrial state. It would stand up to scrutiny much poorer than any defense-related appropriation, except that the political control over such things is much weaker.

We should understand that for good or ill, that the War in Afghanistan, the War in Iraq, the War on Terror, and the things they represent, taken together, are the big, big picture. Ie, epoch-making, civilization-changing. Whether life as we know it exists in the United States forty years from now is crucially dependent on what happens over there. Those who wish to criticize the Administration should bear this in mind, because there is no doubt that the President does.

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