“Walked out this morning, I don’t believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home.” — Gordon Sumner
Immediately after World War II we had the most important choice in our nation’s history. It may not have seemed like it at the time, but the decision in how to proceed has governed our lives for the past 80 years. We could choose to invest in the people or we could build the biggest army the world has ever seen.
Make no mistake, we tried to do both for awhile. The post World War II economy was the greatest in the nation’s history. Any marker that you wanted to use to measure prosperity tells us this. The challenge of history isn’t about remembering what was. Fortunately, we still have people that can tell us firsthand about the post-war boom in the economy.
The challenge of history is in determining why. Simply put, we as a country chose to invest in our own people. The GI bill has literally sent millions of people to college. Home ownership rates skyrocketed as America saw the development of a modern and thriving middle class.
In the early 1990s we had a decision to make. The Cold War was over and we had ultimately won. The world will always be a dangerous place, but we had the decision of whether to keep investing in the American people or whether we wanted to keep investing in being a super power.
In 1990 the Cold War was more or less over. In 1990 we were spending 325.1 billion on defense. It reached it’s peak at 752.2 billion in 2011. The chart referenced only goes to 2019, but you get the general idea. Obviously, statistics can cut a number of ways. The same chart has the budget as a percentage of gross domestic product. Those numbers look very different.
Yet, one cannot help but imagine the possibilities. No one would suggest defense spending go to zero or even hold at 1990 levels, but we ultimately spent north of a trillion dollars on the war on terror. Of course, that’s just one source. Different sources have different amounts. Sure, we killed Saddam Hussein and we killed Osama Bin Laden, but it is fair to ask how the world is a better place after 20 years of this.
It’s also fair to ask how America is a better place after the last 30 years. We could have retreated to a place of relative strength but one that was more or less an equal partner with the other nations in NATO. We could have heavily invested in our own people.
We could have a stronger living wage. We could have universal health care. We could have free community college at the very least. We could have invested in newer energies and prepared for the 21st century economy. We could have done all of these things and more. One of the hallmarks of a bankrupt ideology is the use of trickery to slide out of the argument. They will tell you that we can’t afford those things. Trillions of dollars on the war on terror says otherwise.
It has never been about whether we have the money. It has been about who should get the money. The right decided a long time ago that corporations and national defense needed that money a lot more than people did. They’ll tell you that we can’t afford to help poor people. They need to help themselves. We can’t afford a standard of living for every human being in the country. We know none of that is true. Of course we can. We choose not to. We choose to give our money to those that don’t really need it.