By Ryan Kiel Zabel
In 2022, defense spending in the United States is drastically high, three times more than the next highest defense spender, China1. A big part of the increase in spending in the twenty-first century has come as a result of the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Starting right after 9/11, the US engaged in a military conflict that has exceeded expectations when it comes to time, money, and lives lost.
Fast forward to the present day, defense spending does not appear to be going down. In late 2021, the US finally removed the last of their military planes from Afghanistan, signaling what appears to be an end to the conflict2. Given how much the US has scaled back its involvement in the Middle East, it would make sense for the defense budget to follow suit. However, that is not the case. President Joe Biden has proposed a $773 billion defense budget for the 2023 fiscal year, continuing the worrying direction of this budget trending upwards over the past two decades3.
There are still repercussions from this war that are haunting the US to this day. 1.8 million veterans have some sort of disability, physical or mental, resulting from the conflicts in the Middle East, and the US owes $2.2 trillion in veteran care costs over the next 30 years4. This is not to mention the hundreds of thousands that died during these wars. Not only was the US involvement in the Middle East costly at the time, but it will continue to impact this country for the foreseeable future. We will continue to feel the after-effects of these wars not only in terms of future costs and injured veterans but also in the precedent that was set with defense spending going forward.
The reasonable takeaway is that the defense budget should be dramatically reduced and the funds should be reallocated elsewhere, but what is a good alternative for that money? Reinvesting the funds into something that would help US citizens much more than military
spending would be far more beneficial for society. Healthcare is a very clear area where the US is lagging behind other countries in the world. What would this reallocation look like?
First, let’s examine the current system. The US has a mixed system that includes public, private, and for-profit insurers. While the US spends the most per capita on healthcare by a considerable margin, they rank 18th in the quality of healthcare as measured by the LPI (Legatum Prosperity Index). We have 30 million citizens who are uninsured, and one in three Americans reported skipping some sort of medical care because of costs5.
A quick comparison to other countries in the top ten of healthcare rankings shows some obvious differences with the US healthcare system. US citizens have to pay high out-of-pocket fees for healthcare costs, the second-highest of any OECD country. The US also does not provide universal coverage, which leads to more than half of low-income (earning less than $40,000 a year) citizens reporting having trouble with medical costs6.
A possible fix for this is switching to a single-payer system. This would lead to a much more streamlined system, and remove the worry of money for those who need it. A study done for the PLOS Medicine Journal examined 22 different possible single-payer plans in the US for the next 30 years and found that making a switch is very much a feasible task7. Many of these plans involved saving money when compared to the current healthcare system, but it is a hard thing to know for sure.
If the healthcare switch will cost the government money, then the defense funds can be redirected, however, if there ends up being money saved, then there are many other positive alternatives. For example8:
- $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid;
- $2.3 trillion could create 5 million $15 per hour jobs with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years;
- $1.7 trillion could erase student debt;
- $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years; ? $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay;
- $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the population of low-income countries.
I used two different models to try and figure out how much money could realistically be cut from the defense budget after adjusting for inflation. The first was a forecast based on a linear regression on the years leading up to 2001, which actually showed a negative trajectory for defense spending. The second assumed that the 2001 budget continued to the present day. This model also predicted a massive amount of defense spending decrease. These two models predicted that we would save 7 trillion dollars and 5.38 trillion dollars respectively. Either way, that could have funded any of these projects previously mentioned, and would continue to save us hundreds of billions of dollars per year to use for future projects.
It is clear that the US should make major changes within its healthcare system, but how much that would cost is hard to know for sure. Whether or not the switch to single-payer health care saves money in the long term, there is very clearly a need for reallocation of defense funds. The excess spending of the Department of Defense over the past 20 years has been egregious and has robbed US citizens of a number of alternative programs that would benefit them much more. Moving funds from military spending to other priorities is one way to improve the lives of all our citizens.
- Military Spending by Country 2022, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/military-spending-by-country.
- Gaouette, Nicole, et al. “The Last US Military Planes Have Left Afghanistan, Marking the End of the United States’ Longest War.” CNN, Cable News Network, 31 Aug. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/30/politics/us-military-withdraws-afghanistan/index.html.
- “The Department of Defense Releases the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Budget.” Defense.gov, 28 Mar. 2022, https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2980014/the-department-of-defense-releases-the-presidents-fiscal-year-2023-defense-budg/#:~:text=On%20March%2028%2C%202022%2C%20the,Department%20of%20Defense%20(DoD). Accessed 11 May 2022.
- Crawford, Neta C. “See Human Costs Data.” The Costs of War, Sept. 2021,
- Best Healthcare in the World 2022, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/best-healthcare-in-the-world.
- “Survey: 79 Million Americans Have Problems with Medical Bills or Debt.” Commonwealth Fund, https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/newsletter-article/survey-79-million-americans-have-problems-medical-bills-or-debt.
- Cai, Christopher, et al. “Projected Costs of Single-Payer Healthcare Financing in the United States: A Systematic Review of Economic Analyses.” PLOS Medicine, vol. 17, no. 1, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003013.
- Koshgarian, Lindsay, et al. “State of Insecurity.” Institute for Policy Studies, 10 Sept. 2021, https://ips-dc.org/report-state-of-insecurity-cost-militarization-since-9-11/.