Monday, December 12, 2016

An Infrastructural Alternative to Military Spending

The Trump victory has drawn attention to large parts of the US that feel left behind. Maybe the military-industrial complex was never really designed with their interests in mind . . .

As we consider how we can move towards a world beyond war, it is obvious that one key is to change the way we are investing our money:

In a world beyond war, it will no longer make sense to be in possession of massive amounts of infrastructure for carrying out war.

Although this axiom seems obvious, several factors make its application challenging. Some of those factors are general, and some are particular to the US, so important because of the degree to which it leads the world in military spending.

The circularity of military infrastructure spending

I think everyone can agree on the fact that, to some extent, military spending is not just a consequence of war, but also an instigator of it. Conversely, to the degree that war is going to go away, that going away can be hastened by an early decrease in military spending.

Prepare . . .
Yes, George Washington saddled the US (and the world) with one of history's most unfortunate bon mots: "If you want peace, prepare for war." It's a statement that is tedious to try to refute, but only because of its delightful symmetry (and its source). It just doesn't happen to be true.

Or at least: even if it was true once, that doesn't make it true for all time . . . .

For it is self-evident that there will be a moment when the market realizes that arms are out and something else is in -- much as the market is currently figuring out that fossil fuels are out and alternative energy sources are in. When that moment comes, profit trumps bon mots, and the paradigm change goes from being hesitant to being an avalanche.

This is especially true if the "something else" has a strong international/commercial emphasis. (Think tourists, not troop ships.)

"If you want prosperity, you need to be open for business."

The electoral stranglehold

The peculiar nature of US public spending is that it must be authorized by a Congress that takes its shape from our peculiar electoral system.

Without working out here the logical steps -- you can do this for yourself, at your leisure -- the fact is that electability at the congressional level is a function of the ability to bring dollars to the district from the federal budget, and the one sure instrument of nationwide distribution is military spending. No one gets to stay in Congress if they don't bring home the bacon. (See, for instance, "Congress’s Deep Hypocrisy on Defense Spending," Bonnie Kristian in TIME, March 17, 2016.)

Military bases in the continental US. (

Bases, defense labs, military contracting, military academies and colleges, and recruitment - they all add to the tab. The money is spread across the country according to a very logical calculus.

I don't think we're going to change the congressional system any time soon. But can we give members of Congress some different bacon to bring home?

A grand bargain

Everyone knows that domestic infrastructure in the US is in a woeful state. It should be possible to make a trade-off: cut spending on military, increase spending on infrastructure.

In my view, the problem with that proposition is that it is not enough of a sure thing. In other words, it's not enough to say, "We'll put together a list of bridges to fix and be assured that sooner or later we'll get around to your district." No, there needs to be a comprehensive project, such that at the very moment a given politician signs away the benefits of military spending in his/her district, the alternative spending gets delivered.

Vision for a nationwide rail system (US High Speed Rail Association)

An example of such a comprehensive system is a national rail system. Pictured above is a vision supplied by the US High Speed Rail Association. To become interested in the possibilities of such a system, it is necessary only to look into the rail maps of Europe or China.

The jobs and other opportunities created in districts throughout the US by all the primary, secondary, and tertiary lines in such a rail system would provide enormous incentive to move spending from military uses to civilian uses. And perhaps as people got a taste of the benefits that spending could provide nearby they would see the desirability of moving the money from far-flung foreign bases, as well.

What I have sketched out here is not intended to specify "the" answer; I put forward rail development by way of example. What I do hope is that this helps frame the problem for successful solving: a very different way of investing for national prosperity will become obvious the nearer we get to a war-abolition environment, and our task is to make it obvious sooner.

See also ...

IT'S A LOCK: Why the US Can't Break Its Addiction to War
What Will "Strategic" Mean in Our Children's Lifetime?
Cutting Defense: Are We STUCK?

Related posts

There is a growing movement of people focused on the "world beyond war." To many of these people, the question is not "if" but "when?" They share a conviction that the world will get there, and they see that it makes a difference how quickly (and in what manner) the world gets there.

(See WAR: Headed for the junkheap, yes . . . but how quickly?)

Adopting a "world beyond war" frame -- saying "war is going away; the question for me is how fast" -- implies optimism-realism, outcome orientation, and humility.

(See The Mind of the "World Beyond War" Activist)

It seems very hard to imagine having arrived at the world beyond war without the hand-in-hand changes in education, infrastructure investment, and the way society decides on communal action in the face of conflict.

(See Where to Put Effort for a World Beyond War)