War Spending and Paul Krugman

When you are the New York Times, or in this case, one of the only real liberal columnists working for the Times anymore, there are apparently some things you just cannot mention.

How else to explain how a seemingly intelligent economist like Paul Krugman can scorch the Republicans in Congress and President Obama for failing to deal with the crisis of joblessness and deepening economic collapse in the U.S., but never once mention the endless and pointless wars into which the country is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars a year?

“I don’t mean to dismiss concerns about the long-run U.S. budget picture. If you look at fiscal prospects over, say, the next 20 years, they are indeed deeply worrying, largely because of rising healthcare costs. But the experience of the past two years has overwhelmingly confirmed what some of us tried to argue from the beginning: The deficits we’re running right now–deficits we should be running, because deficit spending helps support a depressed economy — are no threat at all.”

What planet is Prof. Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, living on?

The U.S. has over the past decade spent some two trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and on the so-called “War” on Terror.  The actual spending has been much higher (as the honest Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz has explained), because only about 50% of the U.S. budget each year, including expenditures for “intelligence” and the military, is covered by tax collections from individuals, corporations, import duties and other federal fees and collections. The rest is financed with borrowed money, all of which has to be repaid in later years with interest.  This country has spent another $5 trillion or so on the bloated military budget over the last decade, to finance a military complex that costs as much as the rest of the world combined spends on war and preparing for war. And again, only half of that amount was actual tax revenues. The rest has to be paid back over coming years with interest, because it’s all been borrowed.

Hey Krugman! Why don’t you tell people the real reason why the U.S. has a “deeply worrying” fiscal problem looming over the next couple of decades?  Isn’t it really because we’ve got to pay for all these wars and all the militarism that we’ve been buying on credit? Be honest. It’s not future health care spending that’s the problem. It’s current and future military spending.

But that’s only half of it.

Krugman also says that the deficits we’re currently running in the U.S. are deficits “we should be running,” because, as he says, “deficit spending helps support a depressed economy.”

Geez professor.

Even in the ivied halls of Princeton, you surely taught your undergrad economics students the simple concept that there are different kinds of deficit spending.  Deficit spending on job creation — for example hiring teachers who would otherwise be unemployed or flipping burgers if they’re lucky–is an almost perfect stimulus. Virtually all the money paid to those otherwise furloughed teachers goes straight back into the economy to pay for goods and services, to make down payments, to pay mortgages and rents, and it also educates kids, a not insignificant long-term economic stimulus. Money paid to put construction workers back to work building highways or levies or schools also goes for the most part right back into the economy.  But money spent on wars is mostly wasted. Much of it is spent buying fuel (from foreign countries) for weapons systems, building bombs, ships, tanks and aircraft that employ minimal numbers of workers (many of them foreigners working abroad), hiring mercenary forces (also foreign), and bribing allies to go along with American aggression. Very little of the money gets recycled back into the civilian economy.

Years ago, as a journalism graduate student at Columbia University, I had the good fortune to be able to take a course on Pentagon Capitalism and the Permanent War Economy offered by the late Seymour Melman, who laid out clearly not only how wasteful military spending is, but also how little such spending does for the economy in terms of the famous multiplier effect of wages contributing to more economic activity.

President Obama, if he really wanted to snap the U.S. out of recession rather than just enrich his banking industry campaign financiers, would immediately end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shut down the 800-1000 overseas U.S. military bases, call for passage of a generous new GI Bill that would pay for all the returning troops to get college educations, or vocational training, and that would allow them to buy houses for their families, and he would slash military spending by half and use some of the savings to begin a program of economic conversion of military contractors.  The savings from ending the wars and cutting defense spending by half — about $375 billion a year beginning with the 2012 budget year–could be used to hire teachers, park rangers, health care workers for underserved areas, lifeguards for public pools and beaches, etc., etc.

Now that’s deficit spending that actually would “help support a depressed economy.”

Does Paul Krugman know this? Of course he does. Can he write such a thing in the New York Timesthough?  It seems not.

Some things, like questioning military spending and permanent war, are just too outlandish for discrete and civilized discourse.

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-supported online alternative newspaper.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring