The End of Pax Americana: Courtesy of the Military Industrial Complex
(The above diagram is courtesy of Todd Boyle of Rosehill Antiwar and the Rosehill Policy Institute)
By my count, there are at least three variants of conservative thought here in the US when it comes to foreign policy:
- The moral majority type of conservative. These people appear to be more concerned with moral issues and tend to support a war-like foreign policy. The religious right would be a good example here.
- The neo-conservative or neo-con. These guys tend to support foreign policies closely aligned with the interests of the state of Israel and tend to support interventionist foreign policies, particularly in the middle east. Someone like Richard Pearle fits here.
- The libertarian. These people believe that our foreign policies is not only wrong headed but costly in a time when we can’t afford it. They believe that a radical re-orientation is long overdue and that our policies have gotten us entangled in areas we should not be in and have resulted in more threats to our nation rather than less. Their position is that we need to extricate ourselves from Iraq, Afghanistan and from the role of the world’s policeman. Basically, they think we need to retrench, dramatically cut military spending, close the far flung bases we have all over the world and bring the troops home. Ron Paul fits here.
By way of disclosure, I should say that my own views align very closely with the libertarian view.
I ran across a very interesting article today in The American Conservative entitled Graceful Decline-The end of Pax Americana by Christopher Lane. I highly recommend that you read it in its entirety, but here’s a excerpted portion below that I wanted to comment on:
But it will be almost impossible to make meaningful cuts in federal spending without deep reductions in defense expenditures. Discretionary non-defense domestic spending accounts for only about 20 percent of annual federal outlays. So the United States will face obvious “guns or butter” choices. As Kirshner puts it, the absolute size of U.S. defense expenditures are “more likely to be decisive in the future when the U.S. is under pressure to make real choices about taxes and spending………….As a first step, the U.S. will need to pull back from its current security commitments to NATO, Japan, and South Korea. This is not isolationism….Because that U.S. enjoyed such vast superiority for such a long time, it had the luxury of acting on its delusions without paying too high a price. (That is, if you discount the 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial or the tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel who have suffered disfiguring wounds or been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.) But as my graduate school mentor, Kenneth Waltz, one of the towering figures in the study of international politics, used to tell us about American foreign policy, “When you are big, strong, and powerful, you can afford to make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. But when your power declines, you begin to pay a price for repeating your mistakes.”
The beginning of Pax Americana really began with the US emerging from World War II largely unscathed by the ravages of war while the rest of the industrialized world lay in ruins. At that time, our nation began an expansionist foreign policy characterized by interventions in various places in the third world via assassinations and sponsoring of coups. In the post WWII period, there has not been a time where the US has enjoyed a long protracted period of peace. There have either been interventions, low intensity conflicts or full out wars. Due to this situation, our nation has been consistently on a war footing for the last 65 years and the obvious implication of this fact is that both our foreign policy and major portions of our economy are based on war and the pursuit of empire.
This brings me to the fiscal conundrum the nation faces. When people talk about it, most of the focus is upon the huge unfunded liabilities for the social security and Medicare entitlement programs. No one raises the question why these are so underfunded to begin with. With respect to social security, there are two reasons:
- The unfunded liability for these two entitlements is an actuarial determination based on mortality or expected lifespan. Basically, people are living a lot longer. When social security was first created under FDR, the average American was dying at age 62. Folks today are living well into their 80’s which means that one could drawn social security for nearly 20 years or more after retirement.
- The money collected for social security wasn’t set aside, but was in fact used for general governmental expenditures. This basically began as an accounting gimmick with Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Johnson was pursuing both a guns and butter approach with his policy of expansion of the Vietnam war while expanding social programs at home. To mask how much was being spent on the Vietnam war, his administration begin including social security tax collections and payouts in the budget. This had the effect of hiding the real percentage of spending being diverted to the war effort as well as creating larger surpluses.
Social Security and Medicare taxes are trust taxes, which means the funds were to be held “in trust” for the purpose these taxes are for. This is why they’re separately earmarked when they’re taken from your paycheck.
Because social security tax collections were greater than payouts, the excess amount either added to surpluses or decreased deficits. Every administration, both democrat and republican, took full advantage of the budgetary accounting gimmickry precedent set by Johnson, so this means that the reported deficits were much greater and reported surpluses were non existent in some instances. In effect, the social security surpluses were used to fund other government expenditures and since military spending accounts for anywhere between 30% to 50% of the federal budget, exclusive of entitlement programs, this means that a goodly portion of our retirement money is sitting in the coffers of the military industrial complex. This is like taking your 401(k) savings and using it now versus leaving it be so the money is available when you retire.
If social security tax collections had been placed in a lockbox and not spent for general expenditures either tax rates would have been much higher or the government would have been forced to live within its means and cut spending, including military spending. As it is, the red herring of “too much entitlement spending” is raised as an issue when it really should be “too much military spending”. Again, taxes were specifically earmarked for funding the entitlements, but the funds were raided.
Even with a lockbox in place on social security, we would have still had to address the issue of underfunding due to people living much longer, but because the money was raided, we have to deal with that issue as well as trying to retrieve the money that was diverted.
>I think the fact that this money was taken is borderline criminal and most folks have no clue as to this issue. By design, the gatekeepers divert folks into getting upset with the money spent on welfare or the new healthcare reform, both of which are small beans in comparison to the money diverted over the years from social security to fund military spending.
Vast portions of our economy are based on war and this has been the driver behind the situation. The price of allowing the military industrial complex to drive this nation’s foreign policy is going to be immense. After all, if your business model is based on war, peace is a threat to your economic viability. Unfortunately, a permanent war footing is not sustainable and we’ve really reached the end of the road here. The problem is that most don’t realize how we got here, so their protests and anger are totally misdirected and that’s really by design.