Jim Wallis: Why should you, a successful businessperson, be worried about the military budget? Why did this become such a life mission for you?
Ben Cohen: It was the same spirit that led Ben & Jerry's to work to improve the quality of life in the communities that we're a part of. There are things a business can do to integrate concerns for social justice and people who are being oppressed, but there are also things that only a country can do.
When I was working through Ben & Jerry's, it was clear that even big businesses, even huge foundations that have gobs of money, pale in comparison to how much money the federal government has. To restructure the edifice that creates injustice and poverty, you really need to look at the federal budget. That's where there's enough money to solve all these problems, without raising taxes, just by moving some money around. So that’s how I got to that point.
Wallis: How did you first become aware of how much money we're talking about and what that could mean for everything else?
Cohen: Part of it was getting just the vaguest idea of how much $1 billion is. You hear numbers such as 500 million, a billion, 500 billion, and they're all more than you can ever imagine. As Ben & Jerry's became a $100 million business and then a $300 million business, I began to understand how much that really is. Three times that is still less than $1 billion. It is shocking to me that we now spend $700 billion a year on the Pentagon budget. When I first started working on this issue a decade or so ago, the Pentagon budget was about half that amount.
Wallis: How do you help people visualize a number that large?