"It's class warfare and my class is winning." Warren Buffett

The value of any commodity, ... to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities. (Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations Book 1, chapter V.)

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works....(Barack Obama)

Monday, April 10, 2006

My Mainstream Radical Ideas: The US Budget

If the American people are presented with the areas of discretionary spending in the USA budget, they would make significantly different budgetary choices than those made by both of the dominant parties in Washington.  In fact, their choices are in many respects quite radical:


A new poll finds that the American public would significantly alter the Bush administration’s recently proposed federal budget. Presented a breakdown of the major areas of the proposed discretionary budget and given the opportunity to redistribute it, respondents made major changes.

The most dramatic changes were deep cuts in defense spending, a significant reallocation toward deficit reduction, and increases in spending on education, job training, reducing reliance on oil, and veterans. These changes were favored by both Republicans and Democrats, though the changes were generally greater for Democrats. (link)

Although the study was conducted in March 2005 (full report here), given the emphasis in the poll results on deep cuts in defense spending, it’s likely that, if anything, more Americans would agree with the poll results now given that support for Bush’s war falls noticeably month after month.   


The poll results would be startling in some circles.  For example, most Americans disagree with the Republican Party’s “borrow and spend” (aka “borrow and subsidize the rich”) approach to the budget.  Instead, they believe that the USA should pay its bills and not leave its deficits to the next couple generations to bear:


Sixty-one percent of respondents redirected some funds to reducing the budget deficit, with the mean respondent reallocating $36 billion (Democrats $39.4 billion, Republicans $29.6 billion), though they were not told anything about the size of the deficit. (link)

The American people also know who gets most of the economic benefit from the federal government’s budgetary policies and they know how to redress it: “Besides reallocating funds to deficit reduction, a clear majority (63%) favored rolling back the tax cuts for people with incomes over $200,000.”


Unlike their representatives in Washington and the corporate press, the American people instinctually know where most of the pork clogs the federal budget and they would slash off a big portion of it:


Defense spending received the deepest cut, being cut on average 31%—equivalent to $133.8 billion—with 65% of respondents cutting. The second largest area to be cut was the supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, which suffered an average cut of $29.6 billion or 35%, with two out of three respondents cutting….


As the defense cuts proposed were large, respondents were asked in a separate set of questions what areas they would want to cut. Majorities favored cutting the capability for large-scale nuclear wars, the number of nuclear weapons, and spending on developing new types of nuclear weapons. (Asked how many nuclear weapons the US needs to have on alert, the median response was just 150.) Capabilities for large-scale naval wars and large-scale land wars were both reduced by 58% of respondents. Majorities also favored cutting spending on new types of naval destroyers (55%), bombers (53%), and submarines (52%) and nearly as many cut the inventory for each of these items as well.


Because the USA next year will have the largest military budget than all other nations combined, I believe we could safely cut the defense budget by 40% if not more.  The USA could begin by significantly reducing the 700 plus military bases it has located in other nations and moving toward a policy of military intervention confined to protecting itself from demonstrable imminent attack, assisting in during humanitarian interventions (e.g., starvation and genocide), and protecting nations from invasion by other countries.  The USA should drop its policy of waging wars to “protect its own interests” (i.e., protecting access to and exploitation of the resources of other nations) and develop an economy that can largely operate autonomously from the vagaries of access to international goods and resources (especially energy resources).  In short, we should stop our economic imperialism.  In this respect, my radical ideas largely accord with the American people’s:


When asked how the US should deal with its military commitments to protect other countries, 69% said that “the US should only spend enough to protect itself and to join in efforts to protect countries together with allies or through the UN.” Only 17% thought the US should spend enough to protect other countries on its own and only 11% said the US should only protect itself and not other countries….


In percentage terms, by far the largest increase was for conserving and developing renewable energy - an extraordinary 1090% or $24 billion—which also had the highest percentage of respondents (70%) favoring an increase. The environment and natural resources received a more modest increase of 32% or $9 billion, with 42% of respondents favoring increases.

Although most Americans sensibly believe that other usual “untouchable” programs should be scaled back significantly (transportation, space research and science, federal administration of justice), they believe that budget allotments should be increased in some areas—areas that show the majority of Americans hold progressive values:


The largest increases were for social spending. Spending on human capital was especially popular including education which was increased $26.8 billion (39%) and job training and employment which was up $19 billion or a remarkable 263%. Medical research was upped on average $15.5 billion (53%). Veterans benefits were raised 40% or $12.5 billion and housing went up 31% or $9.3 billion. In most cases clear majorities favored increases (education 57%, job training 67%, medical research 57%, veteran’s benefits 63%), though only 43% of respondents favored increases for housing.


It should not be surprising that the very views the American people actually hold should be propagandized as radical and unacceptable since they are sensible and do not allow for significant wealth accumulation into a few hands.  That these views are not represented as the “mainstream” should indicate how vested interest distorts the real values of the American people in the corporate media and the federal government.