As I've been saying off and on for many months now on this blog, America is almost a third-class nation when it comes to social-infrastructure ... whether it be health care for all at a reasonable cost (e.g., compared to Canada), state-of-art transit systems, roads and railways.
Why? One of the main (if not THE primary) reasons is because we spend -- as I have previously shown with figures -- 45-50% of our annual Federal Budget on Defense (excluding Social Security and Medicare which have their separate tax inflows and payment outflows).
But anyone who suggests reducing the Military Budget is immediately characterized as endangering America's security and even of being unpatriotic. But the reality is that this very budget is bankrupting us. We simply cannot afford 700 bases; troops sitting idly by for decades in Germany, Japan, and North Korea; $18 billion a month for the Iraq and Afghanistan war adventures; duplicate aircraft of many types being purchased by the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine Corp.; exotic airplanes and navy fleet ships showing enormous cost overrruns and doubtful practical utility; a stupendously costly outer-space "stars wars" technology that encourages others (e.g., China) to join the planetary militarization herd. The waste is enormous ... compounded by cost-plus contracts that end up being open-ended money trees for the Defense industry.
Obama wants to increase the Marine forces by 60,000 troops ... a questionable goal but if valid, then why not convert existing idle troops to Marines and save millions of dollars? This is a small example of how cost-efficient we must become WITHOUT compromising our security.
So must we begin to get line-item expenditure realistic and tough (as Obama is saying), but even in the Defense area where we are now spending over $585 billion annually -- excluding some $150+- billion Interest Cost on Deficits caused by bloated Defense budgets over past decades.
We should be considering a smaller high tech, fast in-and-out coordinated Military complex with highly trained troop forces and intelligence devoid of duplication ... while encouraging other Western nations to bump up their Defense expenditures by +- 0.5% from low average of 1.5-2.0% of GDP now.
We can then redirect scarce government funds to more productive internal investments
that multiply into more interesting expenditure dollars and jobs than investing in tanks and idle troops (including costly, diversionary and unproductive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).
This is a perfect time to spend next 10-12 years concentrating investments on our internal economy and bringing Defense expenditues down to 3.0-3.5% of GDP or to 30% of annual Federal Budget over next 4 years. For we have a 10-12 year window of opportunity keep Defense spending at more prudent but responsible level since China and India are clearly completely preoccupied in controlling the industrialization of their potentially massive economies. Accordingly, they are in all probability in no grand rush or position to accelerate their military expenditures much above current 1.5% of GDP.
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, we still haven't reconstructed the damage done by Katrina after more than 6 years. WHY? ... because there's little money! Additionally, as most know, our social-infrastructure has been ignored for decades ... along with related added productivity improvements and job generation. This too must change!
European countries are far ahead of us here. They have conveniently acquiesced to US obsession to be the world's primary Protector and Defender ... thereby freeing up vast funds to maintain their social-infrastructures in tip-top, up-to-date shape. Under enlightened, collaborative, diplomatic US leadership -- this self-inflicted costly imbalance also has to change!
But first and foremost we had better get our own internal house in order. As I've said before -- having been in Europe for over 35 years working for European international firms -- Europeans never hesitate to pick our brains and to selectively incorporate partly or wholly our original ideas and successes into their own unique value systems. We could start learning a lesson here in areas we are particularly weak in, namely, health care; all aspects of a modern infrastructure embracing high-speed trains, inter-city transit, sewer and water systems; compact, highly efficient cars; bulk transport via inland water ways and rail; alternate green fuels, and energy conservation. Arrogant inclinations we know everything especially in the social services sphere must also change!
Believe me: I've witnessed first-hand how the rate of innovation has been picking up markedly in Europe over last 10 years ... while it seems to have been sliding into almost neutral gear in the US. This too must change!
Frank Thomas, The Netherlands
Wednesday, 26 November, 2008