It’s time to ask tough questions about our nation’s spending priorities

The ability to solve complex problems is a sign of maturity, intelligence and, some would argue, what separates humans from other species. Difficult questions can engage perception, knowledge, problem solving, judgment, language and memory.

A fair bit of money is deducted from your pay, withheld as income tax. The aggregate of all that tax money is what is known as discretionary spending, the tax money that Congress can debate and decide how much to allocate to various government services and programs every year. It is truly complex.

Let’s use a jet with a payload as a metaphor. You have a Boeing 747; it can carry 248,000 lbs. of materials and you can send it anywhere in the world. Where is it going? What is it carrying? Why?

Would you load your plane with blankets and warm clothes to aid the survival of refugees and displaced persons feeling war and violent conflict? What about the homeless?

Would you load your plane with water bottles or water treatment and filtration equipment?

Would you send food or implements to try and restore farmland? Would homelessness, hunger or disease be on your list of priorities at all?

Information and experience shape decision-making.

Whatever your choices, right or wrong, they were accompanied with a price tag. Our country reached its debt limit, $31.4 trillion, Jan. 19. This debt is all past spending, and we should be asking tough questions.

According to a study from Brown University, the United States has spent $5.85 trillion on post-9/11 war spending through 2022 and another $2.2 trillion is already spent on future obligations. So-called defense spending accounts for more than half of all discretionary spending. So, it looks like the metaphorical 747 is at least half full of guns and bombs. Interest payments on U.S. debt, which may eclipse the defense budget by 2025 or 2026, show the high costs of waging wars we could not afford to fight.

I wonder why I haven’t heard mention of military spending, the cost of running military bases all over the globe, the cost and inadequacy of our combat operations or anything else about our failed military policy. It is a triple whammy: we spend more on these campaigns than anything else (as a percent of discretionary spending), they are not working — the dramatic failures have been painful to watch — and challenging the status quo on military spending is frowned upon. What will it take to honestly talk about the military industrial complex in America?

The true costs of war are rarely told; families are killed or driven from their wrecked homes; soldiers and civilians die; nature is polluted and infrastructure is destroyed — and the debt ceiling is hit.

Perhaps it is time to review the rich history of nonviolence, the ability of peacebuilding and the efficacy of peacemaking operations in achieving mutually beneficial outcomes. Violent destructive conflicts could be avoided and constructive conflicts with the potential for enduring positive change could be identified.

It is time we stopped loading our planes with guns and bombs to wage war all around the planet (and outer space). The debt ceiling is proof that war is not working. We cannot afford it. We have the capacity for complex problem solving, let’s finally prove it.

And, by the way, refusing to raise the debt ceiling when Congress already authorized all the spending that caused that debt ceiling to be hit is not the same as Congress suddenly deciding to order a less expensive meal at a modest diner. It’s actually exactly like eating a large expensive meal at a pricey restaurant and then leaving without paying.

Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, a project of the Oregon Peace Institute, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.