July 13, 2016

Bursting the Pentagon Spending Bubble

Veronique de Rugy

George Gibbs Chair in Political Economy
Summary

Next year the White House will have a new occupant, but one thing is almost certain not to change: a U.S. foreign policy driven by mind-boggling sums of taxpayer money.

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Next year the White House will have a new occupant, but one thing is almost certain not to change: a U.S. foreign policy driven by mind-boggling sums of taxpayer money. With the exception of Bernie Sanders, all the major-party presidential candidates during this election season have said they would oppose military spending cuts. Even the relatively non-interventionist Sen. Rand Paul wanted to bust the military spending caps put into place by the Budget Control Act of 2011, while the other Republican candidates essentially fought over who wanted to increase spending most.

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, left no doubt that he intends to keep the military gravy train rolling. Trump may have said that President George W. Bush lied about Iraq (a war that he claims, falsely, to have been publicly against since the start) but he has nonetheless earned the endorsements of former Vice President (and Hawk in Chief) Dick Cheney; interventionist former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, a man who has rarely met an international problem he does not want to fix with American force.

Don't count on presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to cut Pentagon spending, either. Clinton's track record of supporting more and bigger interventions paid for with a growing military budget makes her virtually indistinguishable from the Republican White House hopefuls. As reason's Nick Gillespie put it, "a vote for Hillary is a vote for war." 

Sadly, the American public is also warming up to the idea of more military spending. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 35 percent say the U.S. should increase spending on national defense; that's a 12 percentage-point hike just since 2013. As Pew notes, "Most of the increase has come among Republicans. Fully 61% of Republicans favor higher defense spending, up 24 percentage points from 2013."

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