Saturday, February 19, 2011

Balance Budgets by Ending the Wars

ON WISCONSIN: End the Wars, Invest at Home

By Tom Hayden
Beaver County Peace Links via

The direct monthly costs of the wars are more than enough to close state budget gaps

Cost of Iraq: $3 trillion [projected]
Cost of Afghanistan: $1 trillion [projected]
California budget gap: $28 billion
Wisconsin budget gap: $138 million

The details can be debated, but these figures make clear that the budget crises faced in places like Wisconsin and California can be ended by rapidly ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. California taxpayers have contributed no less than $146.3 billion to these wars since 2001; Wisconsin taxpayers, $18.4 billion. Direct monthly costs of the wars - $12.5 billion in Iraq, $16 billion for Afghanistan – are more than enough to close the gaps in those two states.

It is time for our most prominent liberal economists to broaden their analysis of the domestic crisis to include spending for these unfunded wars. Only Joseph Stiglitz has done so.

Where are the others? Are they ambivalent about ending the wars? If so, they should explain their reasons. Are they afraid of the counter-attack by the right? It is more likely that their conventional economic models simply discount the factor of war expenditures. If that’s the reason, a quick adjustment of their analysis would make a huge contribution to the national debate.

Many national liberal organizations have been silent on the costs of Afghanistan, too. For example, the AFL-CIO bluntly stated that they would not participate in last October’s march on Washington if Afghanistan was part of the platform. AARP never mentions the trillions for war, even as the dismantling of Social Security is on the horizon. Where is the NAACP? Where is MALDEF? Or the National Organization for Women?

It was important that over 100 city councils signed up as “cities for peace” during the height of the Iraq War, and a ray of hope that a similar effort is beginning today.

The domestic constituencies facing budget cuts and pension losses need to recognize that only a drawdown from war and a transfer of funds to domestic needs can turn this crisis around. The option of raising taxes is blocked by the Republicans. Further cuts will worsen the recession. The corporate community cannot be forced to invest the billions they are sitting on. Incentives for private investment cannot guarantee that job creation at home will be the result.

Our commander-in-chief, however, backed by congressional Democrats and honest fiscal conservatives, can plan and direct a responsible phase out from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the redirection of the savings to job creation and deficit reduction. It’s entirely plausible that Obama can be re-elected on such a platform in 2012.

First, the domestic wing of the Democratic Party has to decide to stop denying and ignoring the cost of the war at home. In the Detroit of my childhood, it’s true that the Great Depression was ended when workers – including Rosie the Riveter - turned out jeeps and tanks in the manufacturing plants. The current wars, funded through deficit spending and borrowing, rely on high-tech weapons like drones, and require a fraction of the troops deployed in World War 2, Korea and Vietnam.

If these wars are not put on the chopping block, it will be health care, pension funds and Social Security. It’s that simple. Cheaper ways will have to be found to defend our vital national security interests, or the budget wars will devour us at home.

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