In the second presidential debate last night, there was plenty of intellectual dishonesty coming from both sides. But the most striking instance of this was President Obama’s promise to reduce deficits and create jobs “using the savings from ending wars.”
Wars cost money. A lot of money. In the past, America has had to go to war to defend itself against actual threats, and the money for those wars just had to be spent. For example, if our founding fathers had not fought the Revolutionary War because they did not want to spend the money, then we would not be independent from Great Britain right now. But the conflicts we are engaged in now, toppling dictators in the Middle East, some of whom only came to power because of our influence, are just simply not worth the money.
Deciding not to go to war is not the same thing as saving money. By President Obama’s logic, the fact that we did not invade France this year means that we saved a few billion dollars, or whatever such a war would have cost us. Not spending money on wars and other programs that we do not need is not saving money—it just means we are not spending more.
President Obama and Governor Romney need to get serious about what saving money really means. Saving means cutting unnecessary spending, not just refusing to pile on more spending. Serious saving requires being honest about the fact that our entitlement programs are unsustainable. You would not know it from the rhetoric, but we simply cannot keep benefits the same for all current retirees and people close to retirement. We have to make cuts now, not just promise cuts for future generations.