In 2011, The US defense budget topped all other nations at $739.3 billion. China, the most populous nation in the world, came in second at $89.8 billion. India, the second most populous nation, claimed the ninth spot at $37.3 billion. What’s striking is the US spent $250 billion more than the next nine countries combined (source).
How’s that for perspective?
I’m not sure what this says about the US’ preparedness for peace or eagerness for war but this made me think of The Giving Pledge.
THE GIVING PLEDGE
Remember The Giving Pledge? In 2010, Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made a public statement that they would pledge at least 50% of their wealth to philanthropy and urged other well-heeled Americans to do the same. To date, there are more than 65 individuals and couples, most if not all are billionaires, who have officially signed on to The Giving Pledge (source).
In reading the statements of these generous philanthropists, it’s interesting to note their reasons for participating. Some of them take the opportunity to spotlight the noble causes that are dear to their hearts: global health, equality for all, education, to name a few. Some state an abiding sense of responsibility they cannot ignore, rather than merely an opportunity to give back which many have yet to embrace. Some address that undeniable feeling that, once the basics are covered, any excess amount is not integral to their happiness. A few of them mention that, while they prefer to give without calling attention to it, they hope that their example will encourage others to do the same.
Beyond these individuals and couples who have taken the pledge, there are many others who give significant amounts of their wealth to philanthropic causes. This should come as no surprise. According to a recent global poll, Americans top the list as being most charitable compared to 152 other countries (source). Individuals continue to be the main source of donations in 2010, contributing $211.77 billion and $22.83 billion in bequests. These figures account for 81 percent of total giving (source).
Highest defense budget? Most charitable nation? Hmmm. Oh, what would we do if we truly knew our power, our resources, our potential for good?
If the US slashed its defense budget in half, we would still have the highest defense spending (if that’s important) and have $370 billion left to direct toward other programs. $370 billion. We could create all sorts of green jobs, a win-win for climate and the economy. We could rebuild our public education system; bring sports and the arts back, plant edible schoolyards, offer assistance to those whose financial circumstances prohibit them from going to college. We could offer courses to everyone on women’s reproductive health and rights so that we would all be better informed about what women and mothers go through and not have to keep fighting the same old oppressive battles. We could take another stab at universal health care so that no one would have to choose between medication or meal. We could train leaders-in-the-making so that the caliber of candidates running for office gets a boost. We could teach peace, love, generosity and philanthropy to children beginning at an early age. We could design imagination classes for grownups who need them. We could create programs for the homeless, single parents, seniors without families, the disadvantaged, etc. so that life may improve even if only a little.
Dreams are only the beginning. I dream. We dream. There’s nothing wrong with that no matter how vehemently a cynic objects. What’s wrong is if anyone gets beaten down so bad that she or he is unable to dream at all.
What would you do if you had a say on how to spend $370 billion?