Today the focus is understandably on the US government shutdown. President Obama blames the Republicans and the Republican Congress blames the President. Both contentions are political mere sideshows to the real economic problems facing the Country. The United States’ overall fiscal problem is that we spend too much money, more each year that we bring in in tax revenues. How the money is spent or wasted is secondary to the fact that we are stealing from our children’s future to our benefits today.
There are times when it is reasonable for a country to spend more than it brings in such as real economic crisis and war. However, when a Country continues to run deficits year after year and ignores the perils of the excessive behavior, it is a clear sign of a country degenerating, both economically and morally.
As the federal government grew during the past hundred years, accelerating in the past fifty, it found new ways to generate revenues, i.e. taxes. Some of these revenues were used appropriately to build infrastructure and supply Americans with essential services. However, more recent the taxation system became a methodology to redistribute wealth from some Americans to others. This includes corporate welfare with companies given special tax breaks, as well as entitlements to individuals, some of who are deserving and others who are not. Also, as the federal government grew, a greater number of Americans became employed by that government and are now dependent on it for their livelihood. Finally, when enough funds tax revenues could not sustain this perverse payments system, the government began running ever larger deficits.
One’s personal views and needs will likely affect who one believes is truly deserve it of the government’s sugar. This is irrelevant to the fact that when a government takes resources from some Americans and gives it to others it is a corruptive force.
Often those on the Right focus on entitlements given in the form of social programs as being corruptive to the capitalistic system. While this assumption is correct to an extent, the social welfare given businesses, i.e. the military and other pet projects of the Right, are just as corruptive and damaging to the overall economy.
McKenzie Eaglen and Michael O’Hanlon wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal last summer titled Military Entitlements Are Killing Readiness that reviews how the corruptive entitlement mentality is damaging the United States’ military and its preparedness. Eaglen O’Hanlon list some of the entitlements military personnel currently receive including: 1) health coverage for life with minimal cost sharing, 2) retiree pensions and 3) housing allowances, grocery discounts, tuition assistance, and tax breaks more.
While many contend that our military personnel deserve such perks for serving the Country, the same argument can be made for many parts of society including police officers, firefighters, etc. In fact this same argument has often made for municipal workers and has resulted in many cities and municipalities having to cut services in order to honor these entitlement benefits.
Now, the increasing cost of the entitlements is beginning to squeeze out the United States’ military capabilities and preparedness. Here are facts presented by Eaglen and O’Hanlon:
- The Navy will retire more ships over the next five years than it will build, with the fleet now at only 285 vessels.
- The Air Force has one-third the number of bombers it had during the early 1970s and is currently is aging. The relatively newest B-2 stealth bombers are two decades old.
- In 2014, active duty Army and Marine Corps personnel are set to decrease by over 10% from 2010.
Should the above decreases be the result of a shrinking budget, while it may be bad policy, it would be an understandable economic decision. However, these decreases are more problematic when considered in tandem with the pay/benefit increases given military personnel that according to Eaglen and O’Hanlon include:
- From 2001 to 2012, inflation-adjusted compensation cost per active-duty service member grew 56%.
- From 2000 to 2010, the military’s health-care costs skyrocketed 180%, to $49.8 billion from $17.8 billion—more than double the rate of the national increase. Tricare, a highly subsidized health care system for military retirees, provide members free health care for life. This had led to over use. For example, in 2004 benefit recipients used outpatient services 44% higher than in civilian plans; with the inpatient rate 60% higher.
- Military retirees have very generous pension benefits. One benefit includes receiving 50% of the average salary for the three highest pay years after only 20 years of service. This benefit also includes a cost-of-living adjustment. In 2011 this system cost $20 billion, but also has a perverse impact on combat veterans who rarely serve for a full 20 years and therefore receive no pension benefits.
- There are currently 760,000 civilians working for the military, a number that continues to increase even though the number of active-duty military personnel has decreased.
Certainly our Country should take care of its military servicemen and women, especially those that served in combat. However, that does not justify pay scales or benefits that are considered sacrosanct by some. As these pay and benefit costs squeeze out available funds for weapons and training, we are not only doing the Country an injustice, but also those that serve.
It is politically impossible to rein in the cost of any significant governmental program as long as the government is allowed to deficit spend.. Only when we stop robbing from future generations will true political wrangling and compromise be allowed to assist in bringing government spending under control, a requirement for any successful democracy in the long term.