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Saturday, July 06, 2019


Real Americans don't ask

by Tom Sullivan

F-35 Lightning. Photo Public Domain via Wikipedia.

"After spending trillions on endless wars in the Middle East over the past few decades," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted July 4, "I don’t want to hear one person tell me that we can’t afford to invest in free public colleges and universities."

For that matter, how exactly do we “pay for” Medicare for All? Yves Smith asked facetiously in an April 2018 post:

  • The same way that we just “paid for” $700,000,000,000 for a single year of military funding.
  • The same way that we just “paid for” $1,500,000,000,000 in tax cuts for the wealthy.
  • The same way that we “paid for” a $1,300,000,000,000 fighter jet in 2016.
  • The same way that the United States has always “paid for” all of the fantastically-expensive things that benefit the powerful: Immediately and without discussion. Because they want it.
Khanna linked to a July 2018 Buzzfeed opinion piece by Lindsay Koshgarian, National Priorities Project Director at the Institute for Policy Studies. Koshgarian challenges Village thinking on such spending as well as the cost of maintaining a global empire:
When Donald Trump lashed out at our NATO allies for not spending enough money on defense, he unintentionally highlighted just how expensive the US’s military spending addiction really is. If we trimmed our defense budget down to the 2% of GDP that Trump demanded of the NATO countries, it would free up about $3 trillion over the next decade, as the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein noted.
Estimates are all over the place on just what the U.S. spends annually to maintain its global empire. In part, because the Pentagon hides an unspecified chunk of it. The Institute for Policy studies estimated in 2009 the United States "spends approximately $250 billion annually to maintain troops, equipment, fleets, and bases overseas." Well over 800 foreign bases, to be inexact, part of a military complex that included (at the time) 545,000 facilities at 5,300 sites both in the United States and around the globe. Politico estimated the costs of overseas adventurism at $160 to $200 billion for 2014.

The Nation published new estimates in January 2019 based on the Pentagon's 2017 Base Structure Report. Nick Turse elaborates:
Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight US territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio.
The most recent report fails to list bases known to exist but officially unacknowledged.
The Department of Defense even boasts that its “locations” include 164 countries. Put another way, it has a military presence of some sort in approximately 84 percent of the nations on this planet ...
Bases. Sites. Facilities. Installations. Outposts. Locations. How many there are and what they cost depends on what they're called and how they're counted. Many, out of sight, out of mind, and off-budget.

Real Americans™ don't ask, "How you are going to pay for it?" Until it comes to domestic spending.

"It just seems like their pockets are only empty when we're talking about education and investing in human capital in the United States: education, healthcare, housing, and investing in the middle class," future member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Pod Save America last August.

Yves Smith continued:
Spending even one more second discussing how we will pay for Medicare for All (or any program that benefits the powerless) is a supreme and cosmic waste of time. In fact, the entire “pay for” question is a sham and a scam, and a trap and a trick. It is cruel and unfair to the millions and millions of Americans that are suffering from ailments, stress, red tape, and bankruptcy.
Smith appended an April 2018 LOLGOP/Eclecta Blog interview with Stephanie Kelton, professor of public policy and economics at Stony Brook University. Kelton is a former chief economist on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee in 2015 and in 2016, and was senior economic adviser to Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. Without diving into Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)* and pretending I understand it, I'll offer her moral and strategic argument for not getting tripped up by the "pay for it" ploy:
I am a strong advocate of encouraging Democrats to pick separate fights. [I believe they should stop linking] the fight of increasing taxes on the rich with the desire to increase spending on programs the Democrats like. For example, to say that you want to make public colleges and universities tuition free and the way we’re going to do that is through a tax on Wall Street speculation. Or we’re going to tax the rich to pay for Medicare for All. Or we’re going to close tax loopholes to do infrastructure. Or whatever the case may be.

I am absolutely in favor of dealing with disparities [such as] income and wealth inequality, and concentrations of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller few. It’s bad for democracy, it’s bad for the functioning of our economy. There are a whole bunch of reasons why I will make the case for increasing taxes on the wealthy.

I will not make the argument that we need to increase taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for crumbling infrastructure and take care of the elderly and so forth. Here’s the reason why: I think it’s cruel and unfair to the sick and the poor and the hungry and to our environment and everything else. To tie these fights together in a way that says, “unless and until.” Unless and until we can “win” on higher taxes, whether it’s carbon tax or [any other kind]. Unless and until we can get the money from “them,” we can’t take care of our people or communities or planet.

That drives me mad. I don’t think we have time to wait around while we try to pick a few [billions] off the billionaire class before we deal with the really serious threats that we face today. We have to decouple these fights. You fight for higher taxes by all means. Go and have that fight. But don’t link success on the other front to your success on [this one]. I’ve watched it fail and fail and fail.
If modern fiscal conservatives were running the show in 1941, they might have dithered over costs while Europe and the Pacific fell to tyranny. Except they wouldn't have. Real Americans™ don't ask, "How you are going to pay for it?" when the exercise involves war spending that lines the right people's pockets. Nor do they ask when a would-be autocrat — another "small man in search of a balcony" — asks taxpayers to finance his militarized effort to show other autocrats he is one of them. They have their priorities. It's just that their priorities are not those of sixty-plus percent of the American public.

Meanwhile, starved of funds, the birthplace of American liberty descends further into disrepair.**

* What Is Modern Monetary Theory (with Stephanie Kelton, Pitchfork Economics podcast April 23, 2019)

** [h/t Susie Madrak]