By George Levinger and Lindsay Koshgarian
NORTHAMPTON — In the widely revered “Analects of Confucius,” one of his disciples asks him about the essence of good government. Confucius replies as follows: “The requisites of government are that there be a sufficiency of food, enough military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler.”
When his disciple asks: “If it were necessary to dispense with one of these, which of the three should be done without?” Confucius answers: “The military equipment.” Asked again, “If it were necessary to dispense with one of the remaining two, which one should be foregone?” Confucius replies, “Part with the food. Death has always been the lot of men; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, then the state cannot exist.” In other words, a healthy, trusted government is vital. Otherwise we’ll eventually live in a failed state.
Will the United States become a failed state?
Confucius’ prescriptions stand in strong contrast to those of today’s Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. Today’s so-called conservatives distrust and disrespect most government programs that benefit ordinary citizens; they give money for the military the highest priority when voting for our national budget.
In 2015, military expenses are scheduled to be 54 percent of the money Congress allocates. Although the Defense Department regularly refuses to audit its enormous expenditures, Congress scrutinizes the budgets of other agencies and slashes them whenever critics find fault.
Today’s military spending is now higher than at any time since World War II; the opposite is true for spending on our nation’s social and physical infrastructure. Defense hawks claim this spending is necessary for our national security, but military waste and inefficiency show this is not always the case. In contrast to the wisdom of Confucius, our government forsakes investment in the people for investment in military equipment and gadgets.
From 2014 to 2020, our government is expected to spend approximately $3.9 trillion on the Department of Defense. Coincidentally, the American Society of Civil Engineers has said that our nation requires infrastructure investments of $3.6 trillion over the same period — yet President Obama’s proposed $478 billion infrastructure investment over six years has limited prospects in today’s Congress.
In 2014, our government chose to spend $7.54 billion for developing the F-35 jet fighter. This fighter is billions over budget, years overdue and plays no role in today’s most urgent conflicts, such as that against ISIS in Iraq. What if the government had chosen to use that money to fund four-year public university scholarships for almost 200,000 college students, providing a start toward regaining our intellectual leadership?
Similarly, our government chose to spend $2.4 billion on the Littoral Combat Ship, a pet project that experts say is ill-suited for actual battle. What if, instead, we had put 150,000 low-income children through two years of Head Start?
Also in 2014, our government chose to spend $18.56 billion on nuclear weapons and associated costs. What if, instead, the government had chosen to use the money to fund solar panels for 18 million homes, approximately one in five U.S. family homes?
Each example provides just a glimpse of what might be if our government prioritized domestic investment as highly as Pentagon pet projects. But time and time again, Congress has chosen military investment and counterproductive gadgetry over investment in people. The irony is that feeding the military budget without careful independent scrutiny actually damages our total security; for example, 30 percent of applicants for military service are too unhealthy or uneducated to be accepted for the armed forces. The U.S. need not give up its investment in military equipment to invest more in education, clean energy, infrastructure, health care or other human needs. But a reasonable diversion of our military funding would go a long way toward paying for vital domestic needs.
So here we are. We invest ever more in the military, and less and less in the people. Faith in government is at an all-time low. We would do well to heed the warning of Confucius, a true conservative, before we find ourselves with a fully developed military arsenal but left with little in our country worth protecting.
President Obama has just released his fiscal year 2016 budget, and it invests more heavily in domestic needs — including education, job training, and infrastructure — but allocates more money for the military. Many of his proposals for domestic investment are likely to be blocked by today’s “conservatives.” Before lawmakers cast those proposals aside in a fit of partisan wrangling, however, they should consider what it would take to earn back the faith of the people. As Confucius said, if the people have no faith in their rulers, then the state cannot exist.
George Levinger is professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Lindsay Koshgarian is research director of the National Priorities Project in Northampton.