Military Spending Should Be Cut

Joe Biden’s recent budget proposal includes increases to military spending. Many on the left criticized this part of the budget proposal and then Noah Smith criticized them and defended the decision.

Smith’s argument for increased military spending is comically bad.

First he argues that there isn’t a tradeoff between military spending and other kinds of spending. His argument for this is that overall government spending and the share of that spending going to non-military purposes has increased over the last 60 years. The point here is apparently that, because the government has ways to increase non-military spending that does not involve reducing military spending, it is not true that military spending trades off with other spending.

But this is just confused. If we put money aside for a second, it’s clear that the materials and workers used in the military sector could be used doing other things. This is especially true right now where there are over 11 million job openings and inflation is north of 7 percent. High and increasing military spending is preventing non-military sectors from hiring the labor they seek, depriving households of the goods and services they want, and increasing public dissatisfaction with the economy.

Next he argues impressionistically that, because it’s a scary world out there, who knows, maybe spending a tremendous amount of money on the military is actually appropriate. But, his argument on this front is really weird.

After acknowledging that the US’s military might already vastly outpaces any other country in the world (US + NATO even more so), he explains that this is in large part because Russia and China are skimping on quality and training, making them much weaker than they seem on paper. He then just concludes, over and over, that it doesn’t follow from their militaries being shitty that we don’t need to spend as much. But this does directly follow.

If Russia’s military is actually extremely weak, which the Ukrainian conflict demonstrates (and they are even weaker now than before Ukraine), then we don’t need to spend all that much to be protected against them. And this is putting aside the fact that we aren’t even willing to use these resources against Russia due to the threat of nuclear war, a reality that makes military build up even less reasonable.