The American philosopher, John Rawls, addressed this dilemma in an innovative way. He thought of a hypothetical situation that would help guide our ethical principles of fairness. He described a situation where all of us would be in a pre-mortal state, behind a “veil of ignorance,” where we none of us would know what circumstances we would be born into. We could just as easily be born into a wealthy family as we could be born into the slums. With these assumptions, what principles would we all agree are fair principles upon which to build a society?
In his recent speech on the Senate floor, Senator Bernie Sanders passionately declared, “There is a war going on…a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country, against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country” (see his video speech below). There are a number of data points that indicate the truth of Senator Sanders claim.
Today, the U.S. has over 725 foreign military based in thirty-eight countries. In contrast to the $1 trillion that we are spending on “defense” each year, the U.S. spends roughly $750 billion on social spending. Much of this spending significantly benefits low-income U.S. citizens. Which of these programs would we be willing to cut? Approximately 31% of the population had at least one spell of poverty lasting two or more months during 2004-2007. Most Americans—59%—will spend at least one year below the poverty line a some point between ages 25-75. So it is something that impacts most Americans either directly or indirectly. Rather than trying to fix our deficit “crisis” by cutting benefits to the needy, we should look at what is wrong with our political and economic systems that continue to increase inequality while neglecting superfluous military spending.