Monday, October 13, 2008

National Defense

"The monopoly of government is no better than any other. One does not govern well, and especially not cheaply, when one has no competition to fear, when the ruled are deprived of the right of freely choosing their rulers. Grant a grocer the exclusive right to supply a neighborhood, prevent the inhabitants of this neighborhood from buying any goods from other grocers in the vicinity, or even from supplying their own groceries, and you will see what detestable rubbish the privileged grocer will end up selling and at what prices! You will see how he will grow rich at the expense of the unfortunate consumers,what royal pomp he will display for the greater glory of the neighborhood. Well! What is true for the lowliest services is no less true for the loftiest. The monopoly of government is worth no more than that of a grocer's shop. The production of security inevitably becomes costly and bad when it is organized as a monopoly. It is in the monopoly of security that lies the principal cause of wars which have laid waste to humanity."
-Gustave de Molinari

The amount of money that our country spends on national defense is staggering, especially when compared to the rest of the world. In 2006, the United States alone was responsible for 46% of all military spending, and our disproportionate share of the total is only expected to increase in the years ahead. Our closest rivals come in at a mere 5% of the world total. Is this lavish expenditure of public funds truly necessary in order to maintain our domestic tranquility? Is it any wonder when other nations mistrust or conspire against us? Is the international perception that America has become an empire seeking to control the world with an ubiquitous military presence really unjustified?

"Defense is a service like any other service; that it is labor both useful and desired, and therefore an economic commodity subject to the law of supply and demand; that in a free market this commodity would be furnished at the cost of production; that, competition prevailing, patronage would go to those who furnished the best article at the lowest price; that the production and sale of this commodity are now monopolized by the State; and that the State, like almost all monopolists, charges exorbitant prices." -Benjamin Tucker

In the 2007 United States federal budget, Department of Defense and "war on terror" spending together were freely admitted to be almost 20% of total expenditures. This figure is actually very deceiving because the funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan comes largely from supplemental expenditures allotted by Congress throughout the year. It also does not include expenditures by the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons design and testing. Spending on Veteran's Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security are tallied under separate categories. The payment of interest on the national debt consumes an additional 8-9% of the overall budget, and past government borrowing for military spending contributes significantly to the total debt. The hundreds of billions spent annually on defense contribute to our burgeoning budget deficits, increasing the interest on the debt that future generations have to pay and deferring much of the cost. Some sources go so far as to claim that spending on our national defense ultimately amounts to 54% of all federal spending! I recommend a perusal of this website for a very interesting justification of this view. I will let you judge the accuracy of their methods; it is clear to me at least that federal budget figures downplay the actual cost of national security.

"Certainly no man can rightfully be required to join, or support, an association whose protection he does not desire. Nor can any man be reasonably or rightfully expected to join, or support, any association whose plans, or method of proceeding, he does not approve, as likely to accomplish its professed purpose of maintaining justice, and at the same time itself avoid doing injustice. To join, or support, one that would, in his opinion, be inefficient, would be absurd. To join or support one that, in his opinion, would itself do injustice, would be criminal. He must, therefore, be left at the same liberty to join, or not to join, an association for this purpose, as for any other, according as his own interest, discretion, or conscience shall dictate."
Lysander Spooner

I believe that an end to forced participation in the government's monopolization of security is the only way to eliminate wasteful spending and promote sensible policies for the defense of our nation and our communities. I understand the argument given in favor of government mandated support for defense based on the tendency in human nature to exploit any system where it is possible to benefit from a service without being forced to pay, but I believe that the commonly accepted cure of forced participation in government monopoly is worse than the disease. If individuals in our society were free to choose which organizations to support, as well as their level of participation, our economic situation at home and our political situation in the world would be very different, and in my opinion, much improved. If the military monopoly of the state were abolished, I do not believe that we could continue the imperialist and interventionist policies which have shaped the course of the last 100 years. This world-wide meddling is not without its consequences. We now have enemies all over the world who feel justified in their hatred of us. Many peoples that historically recently were friendly to our cause would now love to see us fall, and a few have heads of state that would be willing to use all the powers of their despotism toward that end.

It is difficult to hypothesize on the viability of a truly free society using the current state of global affairs as a guide. Any change to the current model might very well have to be gradual in order to avoid catastrophic upheavals. When thinking of these difficulties, I am reminded of a quote from Thomas Jefferson regarding the issue of slavery:

"As it is, we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in the one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

Unfortunately, the longer you hold on, the larger the problem becomes.

Click here for some interesting ideas on how a free society might provide for a national defense.
Listen here for a great treatment on the monopolization of security by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.