February 04, 2015


"Has the American left lost sight of the big picture? While liberals have been fighting line-item battles against the Republican right, government itself has been changing -- and slowly disappearing.

Are we winning some battles (not so many, come to think of it) but losing the war?

Discretionary spending has fallen dramatically -- too dramatically -- in recent decades, primarily as the result of lower, post-Cold War military budgets. But the promised post-Cold War "peace dividend" has failed to materialize. We've seen neither better public services nor wider prosperity. The military budget is still bloated, and only the wealthy and corporations are better off than they were four or five decades ago.

We need an active, independent left willing to challenge the push for smaller government. A well-managed government can revitalize the economy even as it makes our world a better place to live. Many Americans seem to understand that instinctively. Where, then, is the movement that will make that argument?

Our nation needs a new vision, one that proposes using government resources to meet newer and broader challenges instead of downsizing them to ease the tax burdens on the wealthy and corporations.

Instead of benefiting the privileged, some of those savings could have been used to fund domestic programs to improve the lives of millions of Americans.

That would have had another benefit: Studies have shown that non-military government spending is more cost-effective in creating jobs than military spending. So a shift from military to domestic spending would tend to boost both employment and middle-class wage growth, two areas where our economic picture has declined since the early decades shown in the chart above.

That's a compelling big-picture argument. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be making it.

The president's latest budget proposal shows the limits of our current debate. He has proposed increasing military and non-military (discretionary) spending by roughly the same amounts, which means that defense spending under the president's plan would still exceed domestic spending ($561 billion vs. $530 billion -- and that smaller domestic figure includes significant military expenditures, as explained above).

Why should that be the liberal side of the debate? A vibrant, independent left would propose reductions in military spending -- and steeper increases in domestic spending. After all, we are the sole remaining superpower. By broad consensus, our greatest national-security threat is terrorism conducted by non-state actors. Why, then, are we still greenlighting costly high-tech weapons systems?

And why are we expected to spend $355 billion in the next 10 years (according to the CBO), and as much as $1 trillion over 30 years (as estimated by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies), to maintain and rebuild our nuclear arsenal? (See also the Arms Control Association.)

That makes no sense."