A Different Kind of Stimulus – Rewarding Our Troops

Photo by: Aaron Escobar

Right now Barack Obama is dealing with resistance to spending trillions of stimulus dollars to help offset reductions in consumer spending.1  While it seems likely that this debt will create a burden for us to deal with later, the notion that we need to put out the fire seems at least somewhat compelling.  While many may question the Obama Administration’s reported claim that this government spending will have wide-ranging benefits, many economists feel that there is a need to replace the decrease in private sector spending.2

When the spending in question is for something that improves the country in the long term, the proposition seems even more appealing.  When we build roads, schools, or even electronic medical records, we’re creating infrastructure that should do long-term good.  It may not be the optimal use of the funds, but it seems a good way to inject some spending into a timid economy and reduce the risk of deflation.

However, while all of this spending is being debated and ramped up, we are simultaneously effectively cutting defense spending.3  This seems both counter-productive and distasteful for several reasons:

Soldiering Is a Shovel-Ready Job

One of the key complaints of Republicans about the spending in the stimulus bill is that it does not take effect quickly enough.4 Military spending, specifically increasing the pay of soldiers and recruiting more, can take immediate effect.  We could start paying our service men and women more tomorrow and that money would flow through the economy.  It would also certainly be a project of less than 1 year to increase recruiting.

Soldiering Is a Public Good

While studies on the effects are rare, anecdotally many soldiers report increases in personal discipline and responsibility due to time in the military.  If young men and women improve their qualities as citizens from military service, it is of great benefit to society.  Additionally, it certainly seems more beneficial than unemployment. 

Obviously having a strong military also benefits our ability to implement foreign policy and maintain peace around the world.  Given that we already have troops in active combat, it seems realistic that additional help would not hurt and give troops a better chance to get out of harm’s way.  It is pivotal however that this spending be on manpower, and not on new technology or other programs.  Modern warfare is rarely the kind of conflict for which stealth bombers were invented, and the goal is to quickly create jobs defending our country.

The Real Boon of an Increased Military

In a time of seeming moral hazard, it seems like a fine time to reward people of service and merit.  While we may have to bail out banks and Wall Street firms with taxpayer money, we can’t feel overly good about it.  Providing bonuses, increased pay, and other perks to our service men and women would not only be more appealing morally, it would have the benefit of creating a notion that the right people get rewarded sometimes.  Much like after World War II, where we rewarded our veterans with perks and programs designed to help them benefit in life, the time seems right for similar spending. 

Rather than cutting defense spending, we should be essentially directing a good portion of our stimulus into rewarding our soldiers that have given us such valiant service, and recruiting more to strengthen our ranks.  The turnaround time on the investment is nearly immediate and it will have long reaching benefits, as our military becomes stronger and perceived as a better destination for young men and women.  It has all the desirable characteristics of a good stimulus plan, with the additional perk that it feels good.

  1. SFGate – Obama touts $3.6 trillion spending outline []
  2. Wall Street Journal – Government Spending Is No Free Lunch []
  3. The Weekly Standard – Senators Raise Concerns about Defense Cuts in Letter to Gates []
  4. CNN Money – Stimulus will take a while to work []