Ethical Realism

December 6, 2010

Two Political Goals: Let’s Limit Military Spending & Demand Accountability

Filed under: outreach,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:11 am
Tags: , , ,

There are many admirable political goals, such as protecting human rights, helping the poor, protecting animals, protecting the environment, preventing wars, and so on. However, the government is notoriously bad at doing anything for the better of the common good because politicians have a lot of favors to return mainly to corporations and lobbyists who care little about the common good. Nonetheless, there are non-partisan goals and we should pressure the government to do the right thing when it is blatantly obvious to everyone what needs to be done. In particular, consider these two non-partisan goals for those of us in the USA:

1. Let’s limit the runaway military spending.

I suggest the following:

  1. Our military is too large.
  2. Military spending can be cut.

Is the military too large? I understand that we have over 700 bases in 120 countries. We are not at war with all of those countries. (We are still in Japan and Germany, etc.) I suggest that we should bring these troops home. They don’t belong in other countries and it is very expensive to have troops all over the world. The military should be used to defend our country, not to be all over the place. No other country has military bases spanning the globe, and it’s probably not necessary for national security as Truman claimed.1

Can military spending be cut? Military spending “exceeds the average amount spent by the Pentagon during the Cold War, for a military that is one-third smaller than it was just over a decade ago” (Washington Newsletter March 2006, 3 [PDF]). Additionally, US military spending is 43% of the military spending of the entire planet combined, which is more than the top 14 other countries with the highest military spending. I see no reason to think that we need to spend so much more money on the military compared to everyone else.

2. Let’s investigate corruption and hold people accountable.

The Federal Reserve can’t account for $9 trillion2 and the military can’t account for $2 trillion.3 When the government lack accountability, corruption and waste might not be far behind. For example, we know the military wasted $100 million on unused plane tickets.4 We should demand that the government be accountable and stop wasting our money. We need to investigate the Federal Reserve and military spending and hold people who waste our money accountable.


For some reason the US government’s out of control military spending and unaccountability have barely made the news despite being of the utmost importance and having obvious moral implications. Although the wealthy might seem too powerful and the wealthy often thrive off of out of control military spending and government unaccountability, we can unify and make our demands on the government clear. The two goals above are of dire importance and everyone can agree to have them. Big business can lobby the government to act against the interests of the American people, but we are not powerless. We can vote, protest, voice our concerns, lobby, advertise, and so on.


1 Truman claimed, “We must do all we can to spare her from the ravages of any future breach of the peace. That is why, though the United States wants no territory or profit or selfish advantage out of this war, we are going to maintain the military bases necessary for the complete protection of our interests and of world peace. Bases which our military experts deem to be essential for our protection, and which are not now in our possession, we will acquire. We will acquire them by arrangements consistent with the United Nations Charter.” (Public Papers of the Presidents: Harry S. Truman.)


  1. I would agree that the US military budget is almost comically large and disproportionate to any threat the US faces. However, arguing military budget cuts in this climate won’t be easy.

    And given the rise of China, it’s not unexpected that the Old Guard will do what it can to project power to deter the rising superpower from taking the lead. Arguably counter-productive in the long run, but that’s what nations have done for centuries, sadly. And it’s the times of transition from one superpower to the next that can be the most fractious. Hopefully we’re all wise enough to avoid any outright conflict during the transition – although I’m perpetually reminded of humanity’s general lack of wisdom.

    Also, military spending isn’t necessarily non-partisan; conservatives typically harbour very strong feelings about the military. In fact, it’s one of the only aspects of government that conservatives love to throw money at. Democrats might well agree the military budget could with with some trimming, but Republicans are unlikely to be easily swayed. That’ll make it (another) nasty partisan battle.

    But if it can be cut, it’ll be good for everyone. It might even slow the military build-up going on in China, as it won’t feel as threatened. Then that money could go towards building closer economic ties, which will obviate the need for conflict. At least, that’s the Clinton-esque theory I subscribe to.

    On waste, of course eliminating waste would be great. All governments tend to become increasingly burdened with waste and inefficiency, and it’s always a trial to keep these in check.

    That said, I’m not convinced there really is $9 trillion unaccounted for, as is suggested in that report. The US budget spending in 2010 amounts to 3.7 trillion, so that would be over twice the entire US budget that has disappeared. I’d need more evidence than the grumblings of Republican to convince me of a fiscal debacle of that scale. Also, the Fed isn’t strictly government spending – so if its balance sheet expands by $1 trillion, that doesn’t mean the government has ‘spent’ $1 trillion. Don’t know what what it means.

    Anyway. I’d vote for your measures. But a) I’m Australian, and b) I’m partisan (centre-left by Australian standards, although probably a radical liberal by American standards).

    Comment by Tim Dean — December 6, 2010 @ 10:18 am | Reply

    • I don’t think republicans are so against cutting military spending — especially knowing that there’s a lot of waste involved and the fact that we have bases spanning the globe. Almost no one even knows about that happening!

      I think the republican politicians tend to be for “comical” military spending, but that doesn’t mean ordinary republicans are. If my conclusions aren’t as obvious as I think, then I would like to hear an argument against them.

      (Republican politicians do not appropriately represent republican citizens, and the same can be said about democrat politicians. They are a bunch of jerks returning favors to their “benefactors.”)

      The Fed isn’t technically part of the government, but it is highly protected, secretive, unaccountable, etc. The fact that the money “can’t be accounted for” doesn’t mean it was wasted or lost. It just means that what was done with the money is a secret. It’s “off the books.” By the same reasoning the unaccounted military spending isn’t merely “lost” into oblivion. It could be wasted, but some of the money might just be off the books.

      Comment by James Gray — December 6, 2010 @ 10:55 am | Reply

  2. I think we can all agree that unaccountability opens the window for corruption to follow. Accountability is certainly a good thing to have. It forces the fact that one has to justify their actions. The government certainly needs to be held accountable.

    Having accountability places an importance to the fact that government has certain obligations, placed by the people, to follow. The government will be held accountable based on how it follows the obligations placed by its citizens. Without accountability, the government can do as it pleases.

    Comment by J.C. — December 13, 2010 @ 2:11 am | Reply

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