How A Simple USA Budget Reform Can Save A Million Human Lives in A Year

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A simple reform of diverting some of the highly excessive and wasteful military budget to civilian and health priorities can achieve the highly desirable objective to saving about one million human lives in a year.

The current USA military expenditure which is over 850 billion dollars according to official estimates and closer to 1400 billion dollars according to other reliable estimates is higher than the military expenditure of the next 10 countries and is over ten times the military expenditure of Russia. It is more linked to profit mongering of big arms companies than to realistic security needs. Shocking news of high profit margins and corruption has been reported from time to time. Pentagon has failed repeatedly in accounting audits.

What is more, USA military reach has clearly crossed any reasonable limits. This is well-summarized in a recent article by Katrina vanden Heuvel (published in Responsible Statecraft, September 5), Editorial Director of the Nation, who writes, “We are waging a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine while simultaneously gearing up for a Cold War with China, imposing economic sanctions on 26 countries, maintaining over 750 bases in 80 countries, and dispatching forces to over 100 countries and across the seven seas.” (quote from article  titled ‘ Thanks to Biden, the War Party is Back’). What is more, most of this intervention in foreign countries has adverse impacts on them. As another article in Responsible Statecraft by Nick Turse on August 23 tells us—“Responsible Statecraft has found that at least 15 US-supported officers have been involved in 12 coups in West Africa and the greater Sahel during the war on terror.” (article titled ‘15 USA backed officers had a hand in 12 West African coups’).

Hence without sacrificing any genuine security or welfare interests it should be possible for the USA to reduce at least a third of the military budget, resulting in the availability of 300 to 400 billion dollars or so annually for civilian expenditure.

This military expenditure should be cut in such a way that those military activities which result in highly avoidable loss of human life due to military activities which do not contribute to genuine security interests should be stopped. US military activity and foreign military bases have expanded irrationally in many cases, and a careful monitoring can lead to withdrawal of that activity and involvement which is not relevant for security interests but needlessly causes loss of human lives. In fact withdrawal of such activity will increase goodwill for the USA while saving a lot of budget at the same time. In addition some of the more highly hazardous but avoidable activities should stop. Of course the corruption in arms purchase and military contracts should be checked. All this can easily allow the saving of at least a third of the military expenditure. This is a conservative estimate; in fact the possibilities are more.

This saving of over 300 billion dollars a year should then be used in a very careful way to increase spending in health sector and in helping the weaker sections to meet their basic needs. The health sector is also characterized by big profit-mongering. So care must be exercised to use this annual saving in such a way that it goes not to high profits but to genuine unmet health needs of the less privileged sections of society. Overall the impact should be to use about 250 billion dollars out of the saving of over 300 billion dollars in such a way as to improve the health, medical care, nutrition and essential utility supply to the bottom 25% of the US population.

Frequent concern has been expressed by experts in the USA that life-expectancy in this country has been reducing steadily in comparison to levels attained in several other rich countries. This has led some researchers to explore the number of excess deaths in the USA (or number of ‘missing Americans’) which they define as the deaths which are in excess of the number that would have taken place if the life-expectancy rates in the USA had remained at par with those of comparable rich countries.

One such important recent study by Jacob Bor, Andrew C. Stokes and others has been published in the journal PNAS Nexus on May 29, 2023. This study has estimated the number of such excess deaths in the USA in 2019 at 622,534. During the next two years the number of such excess deaths went up to over a million, but as these were Covid years and a number of other issues become involved, we will go here only by the lower number of excess deaths recorded for a normal year at over 600,000. So what this study is saying that on the basis of comparisons with other rich countries, the USA should have been able to achieve the sort of life expectancy that results in avoiding over 600,000 deaths in a year.

Earlier another study by David Brady on only poverty related mortality published in the USA in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2023 (for over 15 years age group) had estimated that there are 183,000 poverty related deaths in a year in the USA. UN data tells us that at a time when maternal death rate was declining in most countries, in the USA maternal death rate increased to a shocking extent from 12 to 21 during 2000-2020.

More such data can be provided to show that the number of excess, easily avoidable deaths in the USA is shockingly high at well over half a million every year. A very big contribution to human welfare can be made by taking steps to ensure that these avoidable deaths are actually avoided.

The steps that are needed for improvements are well-known in a country so blessed with eminent scholars. In a nutshell, health services have to be improved in a big way for all weaker sections without any discrimination, inequalities must be reduced in a big way so that the poorer people have much better access to nutrition, environment and safety must be much better protected, shelter and health and overall social conditions need to be improved to make way for better physical and mental health while avoiding all harmful addictions. The sum of about 250 billion dollars can be used in a careful way to advance all these causes, including campaigns that will result in reducing inequalities at various levels.

While about 250 billion dollars can be used for such domestic needs, the remaining 50 dollars or so out of the saving of over 300 billion dollars can be used to donate annually to the World Food Program and to various other such agencies to step up their relief and food supply programs in those parts of the world which are most affected by hunger (which are mostly but not entirely in Africa). This in turn would lead to saving a lot of human lives while at the same time increasing tremendously the goodwill for the USA in many sensitive and volatile parts of the world.

Hence it is estimated that this simple budgetary reform of diverting about three hundred billion dollars from wasteful, non-essential, needlessly destructive military expenditure to carefully decided civilian and humanitarian priorities can result in saving about a million human lives annually, without compromising the security interests of the USA in any way.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, A Day in 2071, Protecting Earth for Children and Earth without Borders.

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