When I first arrived in Durham, I met with Dr. Beth Mattingly, Director of Research on Vulnerable Families at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. A few weeks earlier, I was looking for data about income inequality to better understand how the top 1% of Americans keeps getting richer while the 99% keeps falling further behind. I found an important part of the answer in Mattingly’s study on Gaps in Youth Opportunity.
Mattingly demonstrates that both income inequality and opportunity inequality are correlated and growing. Her team’s research is the next level of detail following Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis . Putnam concludes that youth from middle class families have less opportunity to succeed than upper income youth and poor youth have the least opportunities of all. Putnam concludes that the “opportunity gap” gets wider as income goes lower and the American dream of working hard and getting ahead no longer applies to all.
Mattingly does the state-by-state analysis. She graphically shows growing income and opportunity gaps within each of the 50 states and for the city of Washington DC. Her major conclusion is that income determines access to a wide range of opportunities especially for our youth. Lower household income correlates to lower test scores, lower access to afterschool activities, and fewer advanced classes in schools. She told me about related research showing access to effective teaching is also lower in schools found in low-income neighborhoods.
The bottom line is that working harder is less likely to lead to success for all but the top 1% of our nation. An hour after this meeting, I learned more about where the taxpayer dollars are going that are clouding over the American dream.
In front of the small theater in the student union, the “Governing Under the Influence” banner read: “The top 5 weapons contractors spent $53 million dollars influencing Congress in 2013 and got $142 billion in contracts.” The guest speaker was William Hartung, his topic The Profits of War. In round numbers, the Department of Defense proposed 2016 baseline budget is $535 billion with an additional $51 billion for overseas operations and that does not include about $20 billion in the Department of Energy budget for nuclear weapons. That also does not include anti-terrorism budgets in other agencies.
Hartung begins by saying excessive military spending is enormously profitable – and enormously wasteful. He speaks to two issues: whether we are doing the right thing and how poorly we spend our defense budget money. The Pentagon is the only government department that cannot pass a financial audit. It cannot track where its taxpayer dollars are going. It cannot answer basic questions such as how many people work for Defense and where do they work or how is the money spent? It cannot track weapons, machinery, supplies or spare parts. And our national response is to keep increasing the military budget!
Hartung cites President Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address warning America about the power of the military-industrial complex. For Eisenhower, this was as much an economic concern as a spiritual one with the capability of the military-industrial complex to change and endanger the nature of our democracy. Today, we spend twice as much on Defense as we did when Eisenhower left office. Just as Eisenhower experienced, anyone who speaks up about excessive military spending is trampled by attack ads stirring up fears and demanding more and more powerful weapons.
We are having no national conversations about why the Pentagon spends defense monies in the ways they do. Hartung makes many relevant points:
- More than half of our discretionary spending is for defense – everything else from healthcare and the environment to education and jobs training gets shorted.
- We spend 12 times as much on the military as we do on diplomacy.
- Excessive military spending seems linked to a misguided strategy of covering the globe with military force “going anywhere anytime.”
- Hartung cites one study that concluded we need only 311 nuclear weapons to demonstrate overwhelming force, yet we have more than 5,000 nuclear weapons and plans to build more.
- The revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry has consequences: the Pentagon does not drive hard bargains when we buy military goods and services; it ignore demands for financial audits; and the Pentagon continues to award “cost plus” contracts so that cost overruns also mean more profits.
And underlying all this is the main question – wouldn’t a more cooperative foreign policy provide for a better defense of our national interests than excessive military spending?
Before and after Hartung’s presentations (I went to two), I talked with New Hampshire voters and spoke to one class at New England College. Everyone I talked with –- small business owners, students, activists and employees of every store I went into -- to a person, they all described themselves as Independents. Most said they were registered or would register as Independent. Every question I was asked was current and relevant; my answers carefully considered. New Hampshire residents take their first in the nation primary very seriously. I am changing my schedule to spend more of the next 2 weeks in New Hampshire.