A Sign of Spiritual Distress

A democratic nation’s true priorities are revealed in its national budget. If you examine how a country spends tax dollars, you will understand its values and spiritual health.

Measured against this yardstick, our nation’s number one concern is not the education of our children or the plight of the poor, but the profits of defense contractors and their lobbyists. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending is still America’s number one budget priority.

The total U.S. defense budget exceeds $275 billion this year—18 times as much as the combined spending of all the potential adversaries identified by the Pentagon itself, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba. (Iraq’s total defense budget is about $1 billion.) If you add the entire military budgets of Russia and China, the United States still spends twice as much. And—as if the United States were somehow shortchanging the Pentagon—the Clinton administration is seeking a $12 billion military budget increase this year, as part of a five-year, $112 billion add-on, the largest Pentagon increase since the Cold War.

But the real national tragedy—and the top indicator of America’s spiritual distress—is revealed when Pentagon spending is compared to other programs funded by the federal government. For example in the current U.S. budget, while the Pentagon receives $276 billion, the country spends $31 billion on education, $30 billion on children’s health, $21 billion on affordable housing, $7 billion on the Environmental Protection Agency, and $5 billion on Head Start.

This year about half the $580 billion discretionary budget—or half the money Congress actually votes on—goes to the Pentagon. The rest is divided among nondefense programs—for example, housing and income security (10 percent); health (6 percent); education training and employment services (8 percent); and environment, science, agriculture, and energy (9 percent).

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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