The Obama administration’s $78 billion cut to US defense spending is a mere “pin-prick” to a behemoth military-industrial complex that must drastically shrink for the good of the republic, a former Reagan administration budget director recently told Raw Story.
“It amounts to a failed opportunity to recognize that we are now at a historical inflection point at which the time has arrived for a classic post-war demobilization of the entire military establishment,” David Stockman said in an exclusive interview.
“The Cold War is long over,” he continued. “The wars of occupation are almost over and were complete failures — Afghanistan and Iraq. The American empire is done. There are no real seriously armed enemies left in the world that can possibly justify an $800 billion national defense and security establishment, including Homeland Security.”
Short of that, he suggested, the United States has “reached the point of no return” with its artificial creation of wealth, and will eventually face a sharp economic decline.
Stockman last fall criticized the extension of the Bush tax cuts while the federal government continued to borrow money abroad to pay for its public welfare and warfare programs. His solution to deficit spending — a huge across-the-board tax increase — is contrary to the current anti-tax ideology shared among tea party activists as well as fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party.
Stockman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to run the Office of Management and Budget, offered two models for the US military’s compulsory demobilization: the one after World War I in 1920 and the one after World War II in 1946.
Calling today’s military spending running at 5.4 percent of GDP “simply an absurd level that begs for radical contraction and surgery,” he said that a “reasonable target” to shrink the defense establishment would be 3 percent of GDP by 2015.
What budget cuts?
Republicans, who were elected to a majority in the House of Representatives on promises to cut government spending, promised to cut $100 billion from the budget in their first year. Relatively few have proposed significant decreases in defense spending, and GOP leadership has outright dismissed the possibility.
Some prominent members of the House GOP caucus have even suggested the sum of their austerity measures could fall to only $30 billion, if that.
Republicans in Congress have instead championed their success in extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The Congressional Research Service reported (PDF) that extending debased tax rates to the wealthy will add an additional $5.08 trillion to the US deficit over the next 10 years.
The Bush-era tax rates that Republicans had set to expire were continued for another two years in a legislative compromise that cleared the way for a series of Democratic legislative victories in Congress. President Obama vowed to press the issue again in 2012.
Among their first actions as the House majority, Republicans also pushed for a repeal of President Obama’s health care reform laws, even as the Senate’s Democratic majority vowed to block the measure. Repeal of the laws would cost an additional $230 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office (PDF), and would likely drive the number of uninsured Americans to over 54 million by 2019.
But with the US national debt ballooning past $14 trillion in recent days, even a debasement of the military-industrial complex might be too little, too late.
Some analysts have warned the next debt crisis could be municipal bonds, where a $2 trillion market bubble currently exists. One, who correctly predicted the Citigroup credit crunch, even suggested that over 100 US cities may default in the process.
But very few, if anyone, in Congress, the National Security Council, the State or Defense Departments have even dared to publicly raise the prospect of reducing the military establishment and its spending to offset the national debt, Stockman said.
“Unless you have a profound change in foreign policy, you’re not going to have the possibility of a radical change in defense spending. The later follows from the former,” he said.
“This is a profound disappointment that there’s not even a debate — a serious debate about dramatic change in our imperialist foreign policy and war-making establishment in this administration — allegedly the most left-wing administration that we’ve had in modern time.”
“I don’t have much hope that what needs to be done will be done until it’s finally forced on us by a world bond market crisis, which will happen sooner or later,” Stockman added.
The ‘Ponzi scheme’ of ‘artificial prosperity’
Stockman, who described himself as a libertarian during a recent interview with Reason.tv, told Raw Story that the economy got into this mess because of the public and private sectors’ addiction to “guns and butter Keynesianism,” an economic policy that amounts to a Ponzi scheme that has ballooned since 1990.
“If we see what’s going on carefully, we’ve reached the final unmasking of the Keynesian illusion, that Keynesianism is really nothing but borrowing, stealing from the future to induce consumption today,” he said. “There are no multipliers. Every one of these programs we’ve had from ‘cash for clunkers’ to housing purchase credits have disappeared as soon as they expired and simple shifted activities in time by a few months.”
Stockman explained that before 1980, it took about $1.50 of new borrowing — public or private — to generate $1 of GDP growth. By the mid-1990s, it was $2.50 or $3 of borrowing for a $1 of GDP growth. By 2007, before the big collapse and meltdown finally came, $7 of public and private debt was added to the national balance sheet in order to get $1 of GDP growth.
“When you get to the point of $7 of borrowing to get $1 of income, you’re obviously on an unsustainable path and pretty close to hitting the wall, which more or less we have,” he said.
“So the addicts in Washington are now unfortunately terrified to stop all this borrowing whether it’s for guns or butter for fear of the economy will collapse…. That’s why we’re just at the beginning of solving this massive financial collapse we had in 2008 and not in the process of healthy recovery as some of the pals in the White House or on Capitol Hill or on Wall Street would have you believe.”
America’s “massive debt-created, artificial prosperity” is unprecedented in history, he continued. The dependence on consumption supported by public and private borrowing, not income, is a new stage for Western Europe as well.
A global public debt crisis was inevitable and likely unstoppable, given the political conditions, Stockman added.
“We’ve reached a point of no return. The size of the government. The massive size of the deficits and the national debt that has been created. The precedents that have been established for bailouts and intervention in every sector of the economy. The K Street lobbying system which totally dominates the Congress. All of these are very unhealthy developments.
“And I’m not sure how they are going to be reversed or eliminated,” he concluded. “It may be a permanent way of life. Then, if it is, it’ll be both a corruption of democracy and a serious weakening of the private capitalistic economy.”
With additional reporting and editing by Stephen C. Webster.