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We Really Do Spend More Than $1 Trillion on War

Posted on Jan 5, 2011
U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller

The Pentagon’s budget is only about half of what the U.S. spends on war and defense. If you add costs like nuclear weapons and the medical care of wounded soldiers, the figure tops $1 trillion. Robert Higgs has the math to prove it.

To keep things in perspective, the National Endowment for the Arts requested $161.3 million in funding for 2010.

Robert Higgs / Independent Institute via FDL:

For now, however, the conclusion seems inescapable: the government is currently spending at a rate well in excess of $1 trillion per year for all defense-related purposes. Owing to the financial debacle and the ongoing recession, millions are out of work, millions are losing their homes, and private earnings remain well below their previous peak, but in the military-industrial complex, the gravy train speeds along the track faster and faster.

National Security Outlays in Fiscal Year 2009
(billions of dollars)
Department of Defense 636.5
Department of Energy (nuclear weapons & environ. cleanup) 16.7
Department of State (plus intern. assistance) 36.3
Department of Veterans Affairs 95.5
Department of Homeland Security 51.7
Department of the Treasury (for Military Retirement Fund) 54.9
National Aeronautics & Space Administration (1/2 of total) 9.6
Net interest attributable to past debt-financed defense outlays 126.3
Total 1,027.5
Source: Author’s classifications and calculations; basic data from U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2011 and U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970.
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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, January 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm Link to this comment

“Yet you accept a trillion for “wars”, also an supportable assumption. “

More facts and figures easily confirmed. Far more evidence thsn Rico’s slanted sweeping characterizations.

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By frecklefever, January 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment


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By samosamo, January 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment


A little late with this bit of information. If anyone
read Chalmers Johnson in his ‘Sorrows of the
Empire’(published about 2004), you would
already know this. But it is nice to see the break
down of the funding of individual departments
even though they are not that accurate. Not that
accurate? Yes, for the real costs one would have
to know the black budgets of any part of the
governments war machine and even in congress
that are very few who are privy to that
information along with ‘caution of secrecy’. So to
posit, I would not be surprised to find the u.s.
budget for wars, criminal bribery(lobbying),
dictator and ‘warlord’ pay offs to exceed
$2,000,000,000,000.00 A YEAR. That is no big
deal to these high spenders as they just get the
fed to print up several more pallets of cash for
their drunken sprees. Whatever, there is that
connection lurking behind the screens.

What may happen to s.s. is or will be a crime of
grand larceny since most everyone on this post
have paid their hard earned money into it and
deservedly should get it back as the program is
set up to do.

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By tomack, January 6, 2011 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment

Whatever your losing fast I hope it aint altitude!

I would add a question to gmonst’ salient point, and that is: what trillion are we spending on what freeloaders?

I have the 2010 budget right in front of me (it’s a matter of Public Record, you know? Literally….Public Record…amazing stuff that ole Public Record) and I don’t see a line item for Freeloader.

Unless of course you’re referring to Social Security, Medicaid, and/or Medicare. Of course, you couldn’t be. Could you? Cuz if you are, you have ALREADY lost it.

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By Gmonst, January 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment


I will give you that the title of this article that we spend a trillion on “war” is a little bit misleading.  Still it is not misleading to say a trillion/year on defense spending.

Do you think our defense spending is wholly appropriate?  Does it not strike you as excessive? 

If an individual spent about 50% of their income on security cameras, guns, and other items for the defense of their home.  Constantly upgrading, constantly updating, often paying wildly inflated prices with little care for effectiveness or necessity.  Would you not say that person was crazy?

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By Kronos, January 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

New liberal talking points: The military-industrial
complex = jobs program for the right wing. Think about
it. It’s not about protecting our shores, it’s about
providing well paid jobs for people that adopt a right-
wing ideology. It is also excellent insurance against any
kind of populist uprising.

This talking point will serve a couple purposes. 1. It
forces the right to see that Keynsian economic policy
works. They will of course have to further argue that
this permanent stimulus should go toward destructive ends
instead of creative ends like infrastructure. But you see
where that goes - nowhere.
2. How can they accuse dems of being socialists when so
much public money is pouring into military-linked
households. Keep saying it - soldiers work for the
government. They are government workers. Say it again. We
have to counter the memes being propagated by the right.

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By SarcastiCanuck, January 6, 2011 at 11:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How many dollars per dead Taliban does that work out to?Probably cheaper to buy them all trailer homes in Oklahoma and wait for the next twister to take them to Oz….Look Toto,its a flying Talib…

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, January 6, 2011 at 10:50 am Link to this comment


I’m losing it fast. Be nice!

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By tomack, January 6, 2011 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

It will take a revolution to cut the defense budget to what it should be—roughly half. Too many making too much for too long. It’s embedded now. Like television, oil, and bad hair do’s (Hi Rico!)

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, January 6, 2011 at 8:58 am Link to this comment


Yet you accept a trillion for “wars”, also an supportable assumption. And my statement wasn’t an argument and of course wasn’t “logical”.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, January 6, 2011 at 7:23 am Link to this comment

I’m still waiting on my ‘peace dividend’ trumpeted by Reagan.

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By alturn, January 6, 2011 at 1:04 am Link to this comment

That’s also before black box spending and the CIA. 

“According to Maitreya, the way “mega-giants” rob the health and wealth of individual nations does not come out in the media, because within governments everywhere individuals profit from this situation. “This has got to come to an end”.
After this crash, the first duty of governments will be to feed people with the right food. Their second duty will be to ensure adequate housing. Health and education will be the next priorities. Investment along these lines in other parts of the world will follow, and lastly, defence. In short, the crash will lead to a reordering of priorities.”
- World Teacher Maitreya through an associate as reported to the media by Share International

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By purplewolf, January 5, 2011 at 11:51 pm Link to this comment

Just How Much Of Our Money will go to the military this year? These are the 2011 recommended discretionary spending amounts.America spends 1.98 million dollars each and every minute on war expenses. What does this say about our national priorities when the majority of our budget-86%+-is devoted to systems of VIOLENCE, AGGRESSION AND MILITARY MIGHT?

America spends more money that the rest of the world combined every year on destroying lives and the world we live in on these endless and senseless and lied for wars to make the rich richer.

We spend about 6% of every tax dollar on all of the following:social security retirement,social security disability,medicare,prescription coverage, medicaid,health and human services,food stamps,elder abuse programs,child abuse,unemployment programs and many other things fall into this category.In the 1980’s education was included in this program.

Education is now listed separately and cost 4% of every tax dollar. So these two departments that touch everyone are about 10% of each tax dollar collected.

Military,what they admit to anyway,start at the lowest figure admitted 59%. Add to that “other programs 4%, Department of Homeland Security-3%, NASA-1%,Interior-1% and yes it does figure into the “war dept.” think not, America’s indigenous peoples are still prisoners of war and the War department didn’t know what to do with these people,so the turned them over to the Department of the Interior to contain and maintain the.They are still not a free people and therefore need to be added to the war costs total.There are also other departments which aid and abet in these war operations.

The above war cost that are made known consume 68% of the tax dollar. And whose backs do they feel they have to balance the budget on ? Why those who have worked and paid into the “safety nets” that the repugs claim are unfunded or an entitlement program and that those who have earned their safety nets are not entitled to them now.

what makes more sense to cut wasteful spending on?

tax dollar:  1.00%      tax dollar: 1.00%
war expenses:  .68%+      humanities   .10%
          ———      & education——-
          .32% or less           .90%     

Maybe the way the repugs look at this is the that 90% left after the humanities and education programs are paid for,actually think it cost 90% sort of like dyslexia or AADD and that the 32% left after war spending only cost 32% or less and not the real amount of 68%+,they just have it all backwards.

We have been doing this for far to long. It is time to stop and go in a different direction as the past has proven that the government has been wrong before.

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By aacme88, January 5, 2011 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment

How about that million employee “Security” establishment. NSA, etc. Is that included? I don’t think so. Peanuts though. Probably no more than a hundred billion. Maybe two.

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By aacme88, January 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm Link to this comment

According to conservatives, this is what brought down the Soviet Union. For once they may be right. Coupled with disastrous taxation and regulation choices, it will bring us down.

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, January 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm Link to this comment

“And we spend a trillion on freeloaders. So what?”
Flawless logic based on empirically unsupportedable assumptions.

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, January 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm Link to this comment

And we spend a trillion on freeloaders. So what?

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By GW=MCHammered, January 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

$1 trillion/310 million americans = $3,226 each per year
But only about half work so = $6,452 worker

Cough it up taxpayers.
Again, where/what are the spoils of war?

“We’ve had men who are Ivy-league groomed running this country since 1988. We’ve had 22 years of Yale and Harvard running this country right now and the problems aren’t getting solved. What’s missing is we need people obviously who are educated…[but] haven’t lost sight of what the middle class in this country needs.” 
Alec Baldwin

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By berniem, January 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm Link to this comment

What about all of the “classified” and off-budget expenditures on behalf of the empire? Are there even any estimates of how much is spent? Isn’t this why there is no money in the social security “lockbox”?

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