Nine Investments We Need More Than Military Defense

Nine Investments We Need More Than Military Defense June 3, 2015

16651427749_19a457f155_zOur national defense budget is $610 BILLION per year. In 2010-2011, at the height of our conflicts in the middle east, our defense spending was more than that of China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, and the eight next highest-spending countries combined. Our annual defense budget triples that of China.

So since we’re only seventeen short months away from the next presidential election and candidates already are in full platform-pimping mode, I wanted to put forward my own proposal for reallocation of our defense budget.

Only half of it actually. I know this will deem drastic to some, but it will still be more than twice China’s defense allocation and five times that of Russia. Plus, in my proposal, the intent is to help relieve many of the factors that often lead to the need for such defense systems in the first place. It may not be as sexy to advocate for proactive funding to reduce international threats (while also saving money and millions of lives in the process) as it is to build a new bomb or cadre of unmanned killing machines, but it’s worth a shot.

So we’re going to say that, with half of the defense budget freed up, we have about $305 billion to work with. Here are my priorities, in order:

  1. Eliminate World Hunger ($30 billion) – much of the desperation that leads people to resort to fanaticism is poverty, which, when applied on a systemic level, leads to a culture of hopelessness and futility. And one of the most obvious and immediate manifestations of such pervasive poverty is hunger. The United Nations has estimated that it would cost $30 billion per year to eliminate hunger from the face of the planet. So we’ll take a tenth off the top for that. Not only is it the right thing to do; it’s also a strategic and economic win for us domestically. We become a humanitarian superpower for a fraction of the cost of being a military one, and our international alliances would grow and strengthen beyond imagination. And when you have better allies, you need less defense.
  2. Revolutionize Public Education ($70 billion) – This fifty-percent increase in federal spending on education will allow us to move the needle significantly on much needed education in the areas of healthcare, science, mathematics and technology. We can shore up our community college systems and keep our public post-secondary institutions open and relatively competitive. And who knows? Maybe with a $70-per-year infusion, we can finally catch up to places like the internationally accessible Khan Academy when it comes to nontraditional education delivery methods.
  3. Give Medical Research What It Needs ($25.5 billion) – Far more money is invested in medical research by for-profit companies than by the government. And while much good comes from this, it also means that the things driving their research generally have to do with how much money it makes. Meanwhile, many medical breakthroughs are within reach, even if they don’t help the proverbial bottom line. Current medical research in the United states sits at around $40 Billion annually. Adding a little over $25 billion is a two-thirds increase that helps give those without the same financial means as those of us with insurance and an appealing economic bracket what they need to stay healthy (which also reduces the overall burden on the reactive medical care system).
  4. Triple non-Military foreign aid ($46 billion) – If you’re going to accelerate and innovate when it comes to medical interventions for the poor and marginalized, there’s an enormous need abroad. At the moment, we spend $23 billion a year on international non-military foreign aid. Along with giving people adequate food, medical care is a key factor to stabilizing poor and volatile nations. By targeting assistance for people in “hot spots” around the world, we help reduce the need for so much military vigilance as the de facto world police.
  5. Forgive All Student Loan Interest ($50 billion) – Americans owe about $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. And if you can’t imagine how many zeroes that is, let’s hope you didn’t pay too much for that fancy post-secondary education of yours. The average student loan interest rate is right around 4.25%, which means we’re paying about $50 billion in interest alone on our student loans. While it may not be feasible to forgive all the debt, the government could cover the interest to keep it from compounding. If we assume the average loan takes 15 years to pay back (ha! not in my reality), and that $50 billion hangs around with a single cohort for roughly that long, that’s a $750 billion savings to US individuals. And and if you require beneficiaries of this no-interest service increase how much they’re paying on the loan so they’re paid off faster, the government doesn’t have to foot that bill as long. And from an economic perspective, this also means these younger people can spend more on housing, cars and other goods, which strengthens the economy, and therefore, the tax base.
  6. Increase Renewable Energy Research ($10 billion) – We invest a pitiful $1.9 billion in renewable energy research. Meanwhile, we’re still entangled with oil-rich countries who still don’t have our best interests at heart. Yes, we’ve become more energy independent in recent years with the proliferation of fracking, but these resources are limited. keep getting more expensive to access, and they add to the pollution leading to erratic climate change. At $12 billion, we’ll push forward dramatically faster toward a fully independent, largely renewable energy infrastructure in everything from residential to industrial and transportation. Aside from the military plus this offers, it also takes a greater responsibility for the fact that we produce more than one-fifth of the world’s emissions, despite being home to less than 5% of the global population.
  7. Strengthen FEMA and Disaster Relief ($8.5 billion) – Do we really need a 50% increase in emergency management and disaster relief? As long as we’re still polluting at the rate we are, yes. And if there’s still any doubt, simply turn on the news to see scenes of profound drought in California, record floods in Texas, unprecedented climate pattern shifts, temperature volatility and…you get the idea. Buckle up, buttercup.
  8. Invest in Infrastructure ($47 billion) – In addition to trillions in deferred maintenance needed for our national transportation and energy infrastructure, we’re running a $94-billion-per-year shortfall that adds another trillion each decade to that price tag. We can at least cut that in half with another $47 billion, stemming the bleeding and putting hundreds of thousands to work. And it’s all well and good if we create a vibrant education system at home, but if people can’t get to work or turn on the lights, we’re screwed.
  9. Create National Broadband ($20 billion) – This ten-year project will cost between $150 and $300 billion to achieve, but in doing so, it will provide high speed internet access (comparable to what countries like Korea already have) to another hundred million people or more. It empowers people in economically marginalized areas both for earning and purchasing goods, and it also creates a platform for greater medical development, technological innovation and educational reform. Like our transportation and electrical systems, our internet grids are antiquated by most global standards. If we’re going to compete in the Information Age, we have to be able to efficiently share information.

There are scads of other need we could use money to address (like Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, the deficit, etc), but from a long-term economic and strategic perspective, these are smart investments, across the board. And they sure as hell save and strengthen more lives than a daisy cutter bomb or computer-powered drone aircraft.

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