Sunday, September 25, 2011

...Dwight's plea

By kay.e.strong

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general, who first drew attention to the potential for misplaced power to threaten America’s peaceful methods and goals.  As President, he alluded to the emergence of “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” Pleading that the nation take nothing for granted,  in his farewell address to the nation he asserted, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." [Farewell Address, January 17, 1961]

If only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel proper meshing,” what do we—the citizenry know?  Do we know that some fifty years ago this phenomenon was indelicately described as the military-industrial-congressional complex?  That this complex refers to a self-reinforcing network of relationships: (a) Pentagon leaders in need of approval for hefty defense spending budgets exercise oversight on contract disbursements, (b) the industrial armament sector in need of lucrative government contracts and flush with profits and legions of lobbyists, and (c) legislators in need of reelection contributions exercise voting power over beneficial legislation.

Do we know that the Department of War, oops, that name changed euphemistically from War to Defense in 1947, corners the single largest share of annual discretionary fund in federal budget? That the defense budget, according to the National Priorities Project (NNP), “has largely escaped budget cuts in recent fiscal years, experiencing real growth while other agencies and programs have sustained critical cuts.”  And as such the Pentagon’s annual budget has grown by 43% from $290.5 billion to $526.1 billion (in constant FY 2012 dollars) since 2001.  “Security,” the newest euphemism replacing defense, has consumed $7.6 trillion since 9/11. According to one estimate the DoD announces contracts valued at $5 million or more each business day.

Due to the size of its budget, the Department of Defense is responsible for an estimated 39% of net interest paid on the national debt in 2011. This has varied historically from a high of 70% of interest in 1946 to a low of 10% in 1940. The federal government has spent an estimated $2.7 trillion on interest paid to finance national defense. Both increased federal borrowing and increased Department of Defense spending are associated with periods of war. [NPP: ]

Do we know that while the authorized DoD budget pays DoD employees and soldiers, buys weapons and supports training and war-fighting (NNP), other monies attached to DoD are off-budget appropriations, i.e. not included in the federal budget proper.  These “off-budget” monies finance emergencies and fund wars. Ten years of war in the Middle East has come at a staggering price tag: $1.26 trillion through 30 Sep 2011.  Current estimates place the cost of war at some ten billion dollars a month.  If you prefer running tallies, then visit the Cost of War Counters < >--updated every millisecond. 

Given the cold hard facts, I’m hard pressed to conclude that the biggest threat to American security and liberty lies outside our borders.  The distress of a federal budget long hijacked by the military-industrial-congressional complex is being felt in every corner of America…crumbling infrastructure, growing impoverishment, stalled economic growth and the lost futures of our youth. Just how much more economic “hollowing" can the nation sustain before it enters a unrecoverable free-fall?

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."-- Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation, 1961

Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail:


  1. A new read from the New York Times: The Pentagon Budget and the Deficit

  2. Why not "dissolve the Dept. of War,oops! Defence", then?


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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.