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President Trump Proposes Spending $603 Billion on Defense - How Does That Stack Up Against Other Priorities

Description: This chart shows the amount that Donald Trump proposes to spend, per year, on the military compared to spending in other categories in 2016. All numbers are in billions.

Sources: HHS   USDA   Washington Post   Dept. of Ed.   CNN   Nat. Park Serv.   NEA   NASA   AAAS   EPA

Data: Excel

Last updated: February 28, 2017

Discussion: Donald Trump has proposed a $54 billion / year increase in the U.S.'s military spending, which would increase our total military spending to more than $600 billion / year.

In order to put that number in context, it is helpful to compare that amount to the amounts we spend on other key categories. Trump's proposed military spending would be 4,046 times as much as we spend on the arts through the National Endowment for the Arts. It is 8 times as much as we spend on education at the federal level. In fact, it is three times as much as we spend on the arts, national parks, environmental protection, welfare, space exploration, foreign aid, scientific research and education combined.

Put another way, we spend roughly $81 per year per American on foreign aid, and $0.50 per year per American on the arts, while President Trump proposes spending $1,927 per man, woman or child each year on defense. For a family of four, President Trump proposes that we should spend $7,706 on defense.

Such extraordinary expenditures can potentially be justified at certain times in history. A country that is facing a direct threat to its survival might believe that an expenditure that enormous is temporarily justified. Or, for example, that sort of expenditure might have been justified during World War 2. But at present, it is not entirely clear what the rationale for such a high level of spending would be. The United States already spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined- four of whom are extremely close allies. At the level of spending that Trump proposes, the United States would be spending almost three times as much as China spends and more than seven times as much as Russia does. It seems unlikely that we would find ourselves in a war against either of those countries any time in the near future and certainly it is unlikely that we would be in such a war without the support of allies.

If such an enormous dedication of resources to defense is not justifiable on the grounds of a conventional nation-state military adversary, which appears to be the case, then perhaps the justification is that the cost of fighting non-state terrorist actors is high. Certainly, fighting terrorism is important and certainly the military has, at times, played a crucial role in that fight. But, that having been said, our military campaigns in the Middle East are regarded by many as having caused more terrorism than they prevented.

In any case, it is important to weigh the opportunity costs of that expenditure. For example, the additional $54 billion that President Trump proposes pouring into the military could instead be used to double- double- the total amount that our federal government spends on all scientific research. It is difficult to fathom how an investment that great in science would change the lives of Americans and people everywhere. What diseases might be cured? What new technological leaps would be triggered? That much funding could quadruple the amount we spend on our main welfare program- TANF, which would bring opportunity and basic necessities to millions of children who are languishing in poverty.

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