The Political Economy of Military Spending in the United States

By Alex Mintz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

On the Domestic Political-Economic Sources of American Military Spending

Thomas R. Cusack

Many commentators agree that Ronald Reagan’s tenure in the White House was marked by some major shifts in American domestic and foreign policies and governmental priorities. Such courses of action as the cutback in tax rates, substantial restraint on domestic programs and spending, and vast infusion of funds into the military sector, were some of the principal policy initiatives we associate with the Reagan administration. It is my contention that, at least with respect to the last-named example, the Reagan policy represents nothing more than ‘politics as usual.’ That is to say, while dramatic in terms of the quantities of money involved in the ‘Reagan defense buildup,’ the policy was simply a continuation of past practice, one which reflected certain typical responses to a set of conditions that has come to play a major role in shaping American military spending practices.

The first section of the chapter provides some background. Here the development of the American military effort in the post-World War II era is presented. Included as well are some details on the scope of the changes in the structure of the federal budget brought about by Reagan’s practice of military Keynesianism. In the second section the American experience is examined from the perspective of whether it must be viewed as an exceptional case in terms of the defense burden that it has carried relative to other industrialized democracies. An argument is made and empirical evidence provided which suggest that this exceptionalism exists only in that the US is singular in terms of the scope of the military effort; on a theoretical level it conforms with a general pattern that arises from a state’s position in international hierarchy and its domestic political-economic arrangements. The third section briefly surveys some of the many schools of thought on the dynamic forces driving

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