Argh. I can't let this one go by unargued. :-)

First of all, let me state for the record that I, too, am in favor of a smaller military budget. I am not at present able to give you a preferred method for getting there. However, I feel compelled to bring up the darker side of military budget arguments, especially the well-meaning but pernicious "Well, gee, a single B2 would buy (insert gazillions of Good Things here)" sorts of assertions.

While it is true that the sticker price of the B2 Spirit could, if allocated to other areas, purchase a staggering amount of items that are prima facie more important, that's not the whole story. While I suffer from the typical male neato syndrome, and feel that the B2 is a simply beautiful airplane, I don't think that simply not buying it would help, even though I agree it isn't really defending anything in the sense of usefully protecting us. Why? A couple of reasons.

First of all, let's look at the money spent on this aircraft (or any such system; the B2 is merely one example). Yup, it's a lot - between $400 million and $1.6 billion per copy, depending on whose numbers you believe. Any way you cut it, that's some serious cashish.

But where would that money have gone?

To Northrop-Grumman, sure (or whatever Defense Agglomerate Du Jour owns them now). But then? Well, let's follow the trail-

…and more. So. What then? Is the money wasted? Yup, some of it…but a great deal of it filters down to the workers, execs, lobbyists and their families. And from thence…back into the economy. There is an enormous chunk of society and the economy (read: Military-industrial complex) that survives on these monies. If you simply ceased buying the B2 and put in an order for your umpty-bazillion elementary schools, what would happen? Sure, the money would go to teachers and builders and custodians and booksellers and suppliers too…but there's one problem. That market would need to expand wildly to absorb those funds. Wildly expanding industries/markets tend to waste large amounts of the capital that is causing them to balloon - witness the crash. Not that the investment may not be worth it in the long run - just something to consider, especially in light of the next point.

What happens to those people who still live in the mil-ind complex? They suddenly can't pay bills, buy supplies, feed their kids, pay taxes to send their kids to school, etc. I haven't much sympathy for the enormo-conglomorates that own our defense industry, but I do for their workers; and in addition, all the remaining resources of that industry would be thrown into lobbying and influence in an attempt to preserve the business and the well-being of (at least) its executives. This results in corporate welfare - companies being paid an enormous amount to do, well, not much.

There are some who argue that this has already happened to the defense industry. Some parts of it, sure. The B2 may in fact be a prime example. Looked at in this light, it's not an airplane that costs around a billion each, but a big group of people, companies, small children, pets and townships and tax bases that cost that much to keep going - paid for in handy increments of airplanes. There is a need for improvement, no doubt. However, I believe that we need to build the schools the smart way - by looking at the process, and finding ways to ensure that more of that enormous stream of resources comes out the other end and goes into building schools. Why? Because I believe it will be more efficient to channel the delta of that stream of dollars as it runs into the sea of the economy than to try to divert the headwaters near the source, and force the dollars to cut a whole new trail through arid land.

Sorry for the muddled (or is it muddied?) analogy; best I can do after a few drinks this late. ;-)

So please, let's have this argument, and let's try our best to ensure that monies end up in responsible places like in schools and medical care. But let's be careful how we do it. Do you honestly believe that if you simply handed our current healthcare system the price of a B2 bomber and told it to use the funds for care for unwed mothers that more than maybe 1% of it would actually be used for that purpose? Hell no. The first thing that happens when the government decides to spend large chunks of money on a purpose or industry is that an enormous bureaucracy builds itself up around that expenditure, absorbing funds. We've already got huge bureaucracies built up along both the defense and medical care/social service 'budget rivers' - let's do our damndest to fix those (or destroy them) before simply diverting monies in a fashion that will absorb much of them into the process of building a new one.

Soberty, I agree with you - I just want the argument to have as much info as possible in it.

Dataknife notes helpfully that the 'trickle-down' effect described above is considered, in Economics, to be a 'multiplier' of 7. In other words, every dollar spent by the government puts seven into the economy.