It’s a perennial complaint of the left - that the federal government spends too much on the military, and not enough on education. With President-elect Donald Trump set to take office, the demands are getting louder. The military must be cut, they say, and education spending increased.
That shows a deep, deep misunderstanding of federal spending, education, and the military.
Business Insider recently published a column denouncing the perceived spending gap.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the value of an education in America,” wrote Kyle Jaeger of the new media ATTN network. “But if education is such a valuable investment, why do we spend more than eight times as much of our federal budget on the military than schooling? One indicator of a nation's priorities lies in its federal budget. And by that logic, America's budget makes clear that we prioritize defense over all other expenditures - by a wide margin.”
According to Jaeger, in 2015, military spending accounted for 54 percent of discretionary spending (that’s federal spending minus Social Security, Medicare and other so-called entitlements). At the same time, education spending makes up about 6 percent of the federal budget.
But those figures are misleading. First of all, as Jaeger himself acknowledges, education spending is done mostly at the state and local levels. Citing federal figures alone is disingenuous.
Second, Jaeger fails to acknowledge that military spending largely is educational spending. Our armed services are some of the largest - and most effective - educational institutions in our nation.
Think about it. From the moment a young person enters basic training, education commences. Young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardsmen learn skills and trades they will use - and benefit from - for the rest of their lives.
They often receive college credit for what they learn. The Community College of the Air Force, for example, is massive - it has more than 300,000 students and awards thousands of accredited degrees each year.
The other branches of the armed forces have similar programs. Then there are the trades that young people learn and carry with them into the civilian world - everything from diesel mechanics to construction trades to food services to electronics and information technology. Then there’s the GI Bill, which allows veterans to continue their education.
The military is one huge education effort. That’s not something to be lamented; it’s something to be proud of.
And by the way, the military is also a massive jobs program (one of the few that actually work). None other than Robert Reich admitted this in 2010.
“America’s biggest – and only major – jobs program is the U.S. military,” he wrote. “Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to utensils… If we didn’t have this giant military jobs program, the U.S. unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5 percent.”
The left portrays military spending as an either/or proposition. It’s not.