In challenging times like ours, it is important to step back and look at the big picture. In the Senate we wrestle with painful choices to balance the state budget. Some factors affecting the budget are outside of our control, some we can control, and others fall somewhere in-between. While most legislative work addresses things we have direct control over, we should at least understand other factors influencing the resources available.
The cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars is the budgetary “elephant in the room.” It’s enormous and it’s right in front of us, yet we don’t talk about it as we face our economic woes. We don’t need to get into arguments about the wars to consider the burden war places on our economy.
President Dwight Eisenhower, one of our nation’s greatest military leaders, late in life, expressed deep concern about what he called “the military industrial complex.” Eisenhower stated, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
During World War II, people were told that the war would require blood, toil, tears, and sweat — real sacrifice, not just for soldiers overseas, but also for the people back home.
In contrast, for the current Iraq and Afghan wars, people were told they wouldn’t have to sacrifice at all; taxes would be cut, not raised. President Bush told people after 9/11 that the patriotic thing to do was to “go shopping.” Perhaps that was due to delusional ideology, or perhaps it was a trigger-happy leader who recognized that if people understood the true cost, the war would be unjustifiable.
What this means for Minnesota’s economy is clear. In addition to the incredible sacrifices made by so many military families, Minnesota’s share of the cost of the wars now exceeds $5 billion for every two-year state budget cycle. Think of the investments that could be made in our communities if the federal government invested that money in the states instead of in the war. We could have avoided the layoffs of teachers and police and firefighters and health care workers. Think of the investments in living wage jobs, the investments in nursing homes for seniors, the investments in early childhood and helping at-risk kids succeed, the investments in public infrastructure.
Minnesotans working to build a better future face growing setbacks: Young people on the “six year plan” to get a two year college degree because they work two jobs to pay tuition. Parents struggle to find a safe place for their young kids during the workday because of cuts in sliding-fee child care. Employers unable to hire older workers because their pre-existing conditions would send the employer’s insurance premiums through the roof. People with disabilities face shrinking state programs that once covered them.
Those setbacks occur because states are unable to help people get a fair shake due to budget problems. It is time to press Washington to change its priorities away from war and into facing human needs in our communities.
The military budgets of all other nations of the world combined, barely exceeds the $693 billion the U.S. will spend on the military this year. And the $693 billion doesn’t include the $42 billion for Homeland Security, nor the undisclosed budget for the National Intelligence Program.
Based on population, Minnesota’s share of total military spending, including the two wars, is almost $12 billion every year. That’s two-thirds as large as our entire state general fund budget of roughly $17 billion/year. Imagine what we could accomplish if we cut our military spending by half. The savings would balance the state budget and make huge investments in education and community development.
President Eisenhower said, “I hate war, as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” He was clear in his message: “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children.”
Sixty years later, we can see that the endless war has a real cost here at home. For the first time in our history, we are losing ground: High school students today have a lower graduation rate than their parents’ generation. Fewer young adults have access to health care than their parents have. Today’s workers will be less likely to have a decent pension than their parents enjoy. Eisenhower warned us. In spending money on war, we are truly taking away the hope of our children.
If we care about our future, ignoring the economic cost of war is just as foolish as ignoring the human cost.