Economics

Cutting the Pentagon Budget

Reductions in military spending are both necessary and possible.

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Military expenditures are one of the reasons the U.S. government's financial path is unsustainable. Setting aside expenditures related to the country's ongoing wars, the fiscal year 2011 defense budget requested by President Barack Obama is $549 billion, 2.8 percent more than last year. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to cost $159 billion more. That comes to $708 billion, the biggest military budget that the United States has seen since World War II.

Defense will represent 19.6 percent of the federal government's overall spending and 64 percent of discretionary spending. Even adjusted for inflation, according to Travis Sharp, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security, this level, $644 billion in 2000 dollars, is 13 percent higher than the Korean War peak ($624 billion), 33 percent higher than the Vietnam War peak ($534 billion), and 23 percent higher than the Reagan era peak ($574 billion). 

And we might end up spending even more than that. In March the administration came back mid-year to ask for $33 billion more to support the troops in Afghanistan. Don't be surprised to see another supplemental spending request in fiscal year 2011.

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can't for political reasons. Commentator Matthew Yglesias writes: "The military is the most trusted institution in America and then on top of that the defense sector of the economy has a lot of money and economic reach. Consequently, it's very politically difficult for a president to do anything that provokes the ire of the defense establishment whether or not it polls well in the abstract."

Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. Figure 1 shows large variations, increases and decreases, in military spending since 1942. During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent (Figure 2). The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998.

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Figure 2 shows that most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early '70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

If liberals underestimate the political feasibility of Pentagon cuts, conservatives often overestimate the value of the spending. Many seem to believe the military budget should never be trimmed. The right-wing Heritage Foundation, for example, points to the "long war against Islamic terrorists" to justify the need for always-growing Pentagon budgets. 

Here too, the data tell a different story. In 2008 the U.S. military budget represented 48 percent of the $1.4 trillion in military spending worldwide (see Figure 3). That's six times as much as runner-up China and more than 10 times as much as Russia. Are all the other countries of the world in less danger of a terrorist attack than we are? 

Perhaps the level of spending and the level of danger don't have much to do with one another. After all, our military budget was already massive and growing ($364 billion in 2000 dollars, 40 percent of world spending) before we were attacked on September 11, 2001. 

As Benjamin Friedman, a defense analyst at the Cato Institute, recently noted in The Christian Science Monitor, "North Korea, Syria, and Iran trouble their citizens and neighbors, but with small economies, shoddy militaries, and a desire to survive, they pose little threat to us. Their combined military spending is one-sixtieth of ours.…And with an economy larger than ours, the European Union can protect itself."

Furthermore, the degree of waste and fraud that attends Pentagon contracting and spending is infamous. A March report from the Government Accountability Office compiles an impressive list of serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense, including misreporting of contracts, assets, and properties. Travis Sharp, the defense analyst, tells me: "Reports from across the political spectrum, including from watchdog groups and defense contractors, have estimated that over $50 billion per year could be saved by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon's supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices. Of course, winding down operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would add even more to these potential savings."

It is true that military spending as a percentage of GDP has gone down, declining from 6.2 percent at its high in the 1980s to 4.6 percent in 2009. In response, some on the right, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have proposed that Pentagon spending be fixed at 4 percent of GDP. It's a strange suggestion: Indexing military spending to GDP makes about as much sense as indexing your rent to your salary. And I suspect McCain and Mullen would not agree that the budget should be slashed from its current 4.6 percent level to the 4 percent ideal.

The important question is not how much money we spend but whether we spend it effectively and meet our defense needs in the process. Demanding that military spending be driven by economic growth is just another way of saying that military spending is not about safety. It's about spending as an end in itself. 

Veronique de Rugy (vderugy@gmu.edu) is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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225 responses to “Cutting the Pentagon Budget

  1. How many freakin people are actually in Afghanistan? If you divided the amount of money by the number of people, could we have not bought the whole country?

    And isn’t the cost of 1 cruise missle equal to the GDP of Afghanistan?
    Look, we can’t turn them into the Swiss – we got them up to the Chicago level and thats the best we can do – so lets go.

    1. “And isn’t the cost of 1 cruise missle equal to the GDP of Afghanistan?

      Only if you exclude opium farming.

      1. Why not send a few back woods southern SWAT teams in? Pick up trucks are cheaper than tanks…

        1. Two birds with one stone. I like it.

          1. That on vicious slander of native fowl but I like the concept too.

    2. Unless we’re willing to start colonizing it, there’s not much to do.

    3. They are way past Chicago.

  2. Apparently Tom Coburn is one Republican willing to cut some defense spending. (McCain is another, at least with certain programs.)

    1. Coburn is a hypocrite socialist. Against spending… except for agricultural subsidies and shit like that.

  3. A March report from the Government Accountability Office compiles an impressive list of serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense, including misreporting of contracts, assets, and properties.

    Corruption and thievery, inside government? Who’da thunk it?

  4. Demanding that military spending be driven by economic growth is just another way of saying that military spending is not about safety. It’s about spending as an end in itself.

    Memo to Veronique: ALL government spending is about spending as an end in itself. ALL of IT.

    1. A curious way indeed to close an article that is otherwise dedicated to cutting defense spending, with little regard to it’s efficacy or efficiency.

      We could of course close down a great many foreign bases (and save a lot of money) if we want to follow libertarian dogma of non-intervention, but you might get called a “kook” these days for such a suggestion.

  5. Maintaining 15 Giant nuclear powered aircraft carriers may be a “little” pricey but the Japanese will never again challenge us for control of the Pacific.

    1. Japan is not detered by our military presence from attacking us, they are detered because we infiltrated their economy on a base level. It would not be in thier best interests under any circumstance to provoke violent action with the US. This is one clear example of how economics is much mroe powerful that 15 NImitz class carreirs. If the citizenry of the attacker fear losing their cash cow then they wont attack…the populous will control the elite’s actions (In the broad strokes. Obviosuly wakaloons exist). If we spent more time trying to trade with our “enemies”(the people of the nation states not their global representatives) then we would reapidly see a reduction in overal violence.

      Elementary my dear Watson

      1. AND TO CONTINUE (I am in some sort of mood today):

        Regional Spheres of influence are being completely overlooked in our national defense strategy of the last 20 years. Regan was the last to take them seriously and he did so from almost a purely military angle. Just because the nut jobs are not nation states does not mean SoIs are no longer applicable…I would argue they are more so now than ever. To use the termite example below, the MOST effective way is to get the other “good” bugs to kill all the termites. In global defense parlance: If a bunch of Canadians are plotting to blow up the Seneca casino in Niagara I am fairly certain Canada will take care of the problem. Reasons: 1. We(the us) are the ZOC actor, don’t piss off your ZOC actor 2. about 62% of the people who work on the US side of Niagara are Cannuks. 3. Canadians attacking Americans (native or not) would cause Canada to lose valuable social, economic and political capital within the region.

        HELL, Even if they did everything they could to stop it and we were sympathetic to their efforts, the fact that it succeeded would cause the region to undergo some serious local strife an recession.

        This is a basic principle…make it cost more for the nation states and their occupants to support/allow/not do everything within their power/ that it is to just hunt them down and eliminate the threat.

        Hong Kong is another example. When it was handed over the Chinese, no matter how much they wanted to, left it mostly alone. Why? Incentive. Extend this incentive to our markets, and theirs, and then pressure them, the ZOC actor, to take care of Kim…

        We really should be using economics and SoIs to solve the terrorist dilemma. Local actors are much more effective (especially with the goals stated below like no innocent casualties, no real damage, etc.) than full frontal military approaches.

        Soapbox…I’m off it now

        1. LOL. Good thinking man

        2. I thought we tried to pay Afganistan hundreds of millions of dollars plus rent to run a oil pipe line through their country. Look what happened they refused and attacked us anyway. So much for the lefts argument about the poverty we forced on them, how I don’t know, hence forcing them to attack. Sometimes a nut is just a nut and attacks anyway. Please correct me if my info is wrong.

          1. Uhh…when did Afghanistan attack us, exactly?

            I know some folks are sort of ignorant when it comes to history and geography, but if you look at the globe Afghanistan is on the other side of it and if you check their national statistics you will see they have zero resources with which to attack us.

            And I think we would have seen some kind of news report if they had, don’t you?

            1. I think the poster was referring to the Taliban government of Afghanistan aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden’s terror network, which certainly did attack us. The 9/11 attacks would therefore be considered an act of war, even if they occurred without official Afghan backing. The fact that the Taliban then was uncooperative in the prosecution of the terror network was justification for judging them complicit in the attack.

            2. Ron, you need to not comment when you don’t know JACK. They can attack the US without actually making the attack on our soil. We have Embassies and bases all over the world. An attack on any one f them is an attack on the US.

              1. JohnD
                Tell me where the error is in my comments. I didn’t even mention the embassies, which you bring up, which only enforces what I said. So if I don’t know Jack then neither do you.

        3. “full frontal military”

          That website is filthy.

      2. Exactly the reason I don’t think the Chinese would attack.

        1. Just like how trade between France and Germany averted two world wars?

          1. Thank you for pointing that out.

            Economics takes a very distant second place to jingoist politics.

        2. Once again the TWO TIM scenario raises it’s ugly head.

          1. Should I use my old handle ‘Tym’? … which originated from Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barret and not Ayn Rand, although that makes sense to on a libertarian site.

            1. Maintain trade ties and we should be able to avoid conflict.

      3. France was the largest trading partner of Germany just before they BECAME part of Germany in WWII.

        1. apparently there are two different Ron’s posting here

  6. military spending is not about safety. It’s about spending as an end in itself.

    Creating.

    Saving.

  7. Well, two points about what is for de Rugy a remarkably sloppy article.

    First, the comment about indexing your rent to your income is dumb. In fact, people generally do just that: they rent or buy the most expensive place they can afford, so rent generally is indexed to income.

    Secondly, the obvious reasons for the massive growth in military spendings are:

    (1) We haven’t given up on wanting to use force to defend our interests in a very forward-based way around the globe. Nothing new here.

    (2) Our identified enemies have changed from being large states (the USSR or even China) to small states (Iran, Iraq, South Korea) and stateless terrorist organizations.

    (3) We have increasingly demanded zero casualties and zero collateral damage in military operations, and completely forsworn the use of crude weapons (like nukes) that imply them.

    It’s harder and more expensive to defend your house against termites than grizzly bears. The bears present nice fat targets, and are easy to detect penetrating the perimeter. Furthermore, if you want to kill termites, the cheap solution is to burn down the house. Next cheap is to fumigate with some deadly pesticide (which may kill innocent bugs). But the very most expensive way is to carefully disassemble the house, board by board, so that you can carefully squash each termite in a pesticide-free eco-friendly way, then re-assemble the whole shebang.

    That’s pretty much what we’ve wanted to do. We spend enormous amounts of money on very fancy equipment and extremely conservative tactics so that one or a handful of bad guys get killed while zero troops or bystanders get hurt.

    The only way to change this situations is to (1) redefine our interests so they don’t include stuff like trying to prevent Iran from getting a bomb, or determining whether or not the Taliban rule Afghanistan or Pakistan; or (2) bring our opposition posture much closer to home, e.g. try to construct some kind of Maginot Line and sit behind it; or (3) return to cruder and cheaper weaponry — nukes, dumb bombs — and accept that both unintended collateral damage and our own casualties will be higher.

    I could see some or all of these, particularly the last, but I see zero chance of them happening any time soon. Our present posture is a truce between the imperialists, the fraidy-cats, and the bleeding hearts. Inasmuch as that covers nearly everybody, where is the constituency for change? Among taxpayers who have to foot the bill? That’s just “the rich” and we don’t care about those bastards these days. They’re probably BP shareholders.

    De Rugy’s vague hand waving about “waste” is pathetic, the usual canard of those without any better idea. There is no way there is $200 billion of waste in the Pentagon’s budget. If you want to substantially cut it, you’ll need to redefine its goals and methods.

    1. (2) Our identified enemies have “changed from being large states (the USSR or even China) to small states (Iran, Iraq, South Korea) and stateless terrorist organizations.”

      NORTH Korea

      1. Ha ha oops! Thanks.

      2. One enemy? One?

    2. “…There is no way there is $200 billion of waste in the Pentagon’s budget….”

      Without Clintoning the thread, it depends on what “waste” means.
      Years ago, I was an estimator for a job shop. I priced a Gov’t RFQ and sent it up the line for approval; came back with a note that the price should be 4X my quote.
      To shorten a long story, the inspection and cert process cost, yep, just about 3X the part costs, so the job accounting came out just as it should.
      So, was that “waste”?

      1. Yes and no. From your point of view, and any sensible expert, obviously. But it was almost certainly the result of about 55 mandates imposed by Congress to, among other things, make sure everything meets certain standards and make sure gravy is doled out to the right people and (most ironically) to make sure rigorous accounting standards are in place to eliminate waste and fraud.

        So from the political point of view, this isn’t “waste” because it’s ensuring that Congress can point to this or that program when challenged to say they know what the Pentagon’s contractors are doing. It’s just a political cost for the item — and you perhaps naively thought the only costs should be materials and labor, ha ha.

        But it would also be a mistake to extrapolate from the cost of a very small item up to, say, the cost of the F-22 or DDX programs, things where the materials and labor costs run to the $billions. In those cases, a few $million in political overhead is a minor chunk of the tab. That’s what I mean when I say you can’t cut the military budget by 1/3, returning it to 1990s levels, just be eliminating “waste.”

        Still, if you’re trying to say military procurement is far more expensive than the civilian equivalent, you’re unquestionably right. But it would be a mistake to think that politically it would be easy to have it otherwise.

        People would have to get used to the idea that, for example, smart people in the Army just picked up the phone and talked to their contractors, and they did stuff informally and quickly, without having to have staff exchange notes, and trusting each other on whether such-and-such a thing met Milspec Foobar 999.

        We’d definitely reduce costs. But every now and then there’d be some massive visible screw-up — substandard equipment, a big fraud, some tragic unexpected flaw that snuck through abbreviated review — and people would die and the news media would start their 20/20 hindsight Monday-morning quarterbacking, spotlighting the poor Hispanic recent immigrant single mother trying to put her life back together after an insensitive Congress and military focussed crassly on merely saving money caused her terrible brain injury that leaves her unable to hold her newborn child. Snif. Aren’t you tearing up already?

        We have an obvious analogy in front of us right now. What’s the cost of offshore oil? Right now, it’s the cost of drilling, a certain tab for oversight and regulation compliants, plus — alas — every 20 to 40 years, the costs to clean up or remediate a big oil spill.

        What do you think will be the cost next year? In order to prevent the costs of a big spill ever again there will be an enormous increase in the cost of compliance with safety mandates and regulation. It’s very difficult to predict the unpredictable — accidents — of course, so they’re going to have to massively overdo it, covering every conceivable possibility for another nasty oil leak with layer upon layer of regulation, inspectors, watchers, double-checkers, go-slow mandates, and so forth. The cost of offshore oil is going to increase quite a bit.

        This is engineering. As they say: fast, reliable, cheap — pick two! As a rule in national-scale endeavors, like space travel or the military or (these days) health care or the environment, we insist on the first two. We’ll continue to do so as long as we can afford it, although the day when we no longer can is perhaps not far off.

    3. Accepting civilian casualties, is, in modern times a non-starter.

      Yes, they will happen, but shrugging them off is no longer acceptable. The bottom line is troops are going to have to take increased risks on the battle field in an attempt to avoid innocent casualties.

      So in my view that leaves us a redefinition of our tactics and goals in general.

      I’m of the mind that we don’t need to be so aggressive in fighting a potential termite infestation… which is what we seen to be doing.

      To stick with your analogy, if the house isn’t infested with termites, do we really need to surround the property with a 24/7 detail of people with mosquito nets, pesticide and tweezers attempting to stop every termite that enters the property line in an attempt to avoid a possible infestation?

      That’s essentially what we’re doing with terrorism, homeland security and the TSA/no-fly list system.

      1. Well, it’s worse than that. We actually forswear some economical solutions because they endanger certain social myths.

        For example, you’ll notice that all of the recent successes in stopping airplane terrorism were the results of active and enterprising civilian vigilantes.

        So an obvious economical solution to the problem of airline terrorism is simply to arm the flight crew and passengers. Pilots want to carry weapons already, and are fighting to do so against an intransigent Federal government. I’m sure plenty of other air crew would pack heat if they were allowed.

        Now imagine this airplane flight: you arrive at the airport 15 minutes before the flight takes off, just like we used to do in the 1970s and 1980s, you stroll down to the gate with your wife and kids to say goodbye, you walk onto the plane, showing your ticket to the flight attendant at the boarding gate. Oh, and as it happens you’re carrying your .44, so you also show her your permit (with the little FAA stamp that says you’ve taken the short course on firearm safety in the air). You notice about 10% of your fellow passengers — twenty or so, ranging from a few ex-jarheads in theirs 20s to some solid fortysomething businessmen and grannies in their 60s with smallish .38s — are doing the same.

        When you get on board, you notice as usual that about half the flight attendants are armed as well.

        What are the chances now, you think, that some dickhead is going to stand up and yell This plane is going to Cuba? Mmmm…I’m going to say somewhere between zip and zero.

        But this is not a politically possible solution, because it runs afoul of the modern social myth that only “trained professionals” can be trusted with deadly weapons. Not you God-damned mentally unstable fractious peasants, who must just sit down and be patient while your betters figure out how to protect your miserable lives.

        If anyone ever develops a reliable robot car, you won’t be allowed to drive anymore either.

        1. Do you really want to live in a world where every two-bit Tupac wannabe can bring a gun on a plane?

          1. Why yes, yes I do.

            Because, you moron, the number of two-bit Tupac wannabes is greatly exceeded by the number of ordinary reasonable men and women. So if we’re all armed, the Tupacs are totally outnumbered and will be fucked up good and hard the instant they make a move. Oh, to be sure, they might get off the first shots and hurt somebody, but them’s the breaks — the price of liberty and true security (the kind that comes from your own hands).

            On the other hand, if you create rules that take the weapons out of the hands of sensible men and women, the Tupacs will ignore them, of course — leaving the Tupacs armed and the rest of us depending on bare fists.

            Which is unbelievably stupid. Have you actually thought any of this through? Or has your brain been replaced by a 12-line Perl script and a big database of slogans?

            1. There is nothing ordinary or reasonable about walking on to a plane with a gun.
              You have a pathological fetish for guns.
              And are the poster boy for why the actual ordinary and reasonable people of the world are scared of U.S. Americans.

              1. Quite the contrary, my excitable friend. It is you and your fellow travelers who have made a fetish of guns — who see them as some giant symbol and source of all evil, who cannot see them as a tool, no more or less than any other tool of men, capable of just as much harm or just as much good as the intentions and nature of the men wielding it determine.

                You place your life in your neighbors’ hands every day when you drive down the highway, or cross a busy street, or ride in an elevator that someone else designed, built, or serviced, or for that matter fly an airplane.

                But you have poured all your fear and anxiety about being dependent on your fellow man (born no doubt of your contempt for him) into a symbol — the gun — and childishly believe that if only you can isolate and ban and make a talisman of hate out of the thing, then you’ll not need to be afraid of another man ever again.

                That this is ludicrous, even pathetic, is obvious from the increasing lengths to which you need to go to feel “safe.” You can’t just ban guns on planes, you have to ban knives…screwdrivers…metal nail files…toe clippers…more than 3 ounces of liquids. Soon you’ll only feel safe if you fly sealed up in a metal box, with your own oxygen supply.

                Well, so be it. You may live your life as a scared animal. Others of us would prefer to live as free men — and, yes, free men are dangerous.

                As for your last statement: you’re an idiot, or deeply ignorant of your history. The “actual ordinary and reasonable people of the world” adore the United States. They clamor to move here — will cross shark-infested waters in rowboats, or trek weeks across the desert, or wait in lines years long, for the chance to live as free men. And oppressed peoples all across the world continue to look here for their inspiration.

                The people who are afraid of Americans are the tyrants, the abusers, the elitists who think they know best how to run everyone’s lives (and wouldn’t dream of trusting ordinary peasants with guns), the same old ranks of the aristocrats and greedy arrogant sons of bitches.

                As well they should be.

          2. Hell yes.

            I also want to see titties on prime time.

          3. Honestly, I’m more worried about the reasonable men and women. When the arab guy gets nauseous, gets up suddenly and starts running toward the cabin, I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of those reasonable people panics and shoots. It’s not that air marshals are better with guns than normal people, but at least when there’s only one person on the plane with a gun the chances of someone shooting when they shouldn’t are lower.

            1. Are you speaking for yourself? Are you saying you would panic and let fly? Well, then, I agree you should not carry a weapon. Actually, if you’re that silly, you should probably also not be trusted with a driver’s license and certainly not allowed to have children.

              Or are you speaking of people you know well? Friends? Family? If so…well, I can only encourage you to get to know a better class of person.

              But if you imagine you’re speaking for the rest of us — if you’re saying you can judge these situations coolly, but we’re a bunch of God-damned idiots…well, in the first place, fuck you and your arrogance.

              But in the second, why don’t you look up the actual numbers of gunshot deaths caused by registered gun owners who panic and start shooting wildly? There are 80 million gun owners in the United States, so there’s your starting point. No doubt, if what you say is true, there should be at least several thousand “panic” killings per year.

        2. AHM THE ONLY ONE IN THIS ROOM PROFESSIONAL ENOUGH

    4. Everything I was going to say, Carl said it better. I’ll also point out that we spend more on transfer programs than we do on the military, and the consequences of cutting the military are far worse than the consequences of cutting transfer programs.

    5. I agree with much of what you say. I would add one thing to make a more complete picture, though. There is some value in the “technology development” side of defense spending that is of great benefit to the general population. Yes, I know there “might” be cheaper ways to develop some of these things without bringing in the defense contractors, but often the non-military uses of some of these technological breakthroughs aren’t apparent early on. I would point to the internet as one example, and GPS as another that most people have heard of, but in reality there are THOUSANDS of examples. Resin technology, for example, got a huge shot in the arm due to Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose. Lasers were invented by Hughes Aircraft Company as well – and I doubt that the team which invented that really knew all of the applications that would come from it. Hughes Aircraft Company first used it’s new Laser technology for rangefinders in the M-60 tank. Just some food for thought.

      1. Sure. Besides, who doesn’t like cool weaponry? Not anyone with a Y chromosome, and we’d be fools to let women run the planet.

    6. (2) Our identified enemies have changed from being large states (the USSR or even China) to small states (Iran, Iraq, South Korea) and stateless terrorist organizations.

      Vladamir Putin does not agree with you. He was in fact so concerned about his perception of our preparations to “Bring Democracy” to Russia that he insisted that we not deploy the European Capability of the GMD ballistic missile defense to Poland and Czech. In consequence, far left liberals like Bill Gates agreed not to deploy the EC.

      I would also like to pose the following problem in logic to the bloggers here and the charming Ms Rugy.

      If we were preparing to “Bring Democracy” to Iran, China, and to Russia, or maybe China and Russia at the same time, how much would that cost?

      1. Russia is about halfway along its evolution from great power to pathetic small state, so it can be kept at bay with a handful of nukes. This is not driving our defense costs.

        To be sure, Vladimir Putin would like to revive the Bear, but the deathbed demographics of Russia make that impossible. The population of Russia has falled from 60% of the US in the 1990s to about 45% of the US now, and could fall to as little as 25% of the US by mid-century. Iran may easily have a larger population by then.

        That means the gross economic resources of Russia, even leaving aside the mercantilist mismanagement of Putinism, have fallen well behind those of the US — and will fall further behind yearly.

        In answer to your last question, the best way to “bring democracy” to any state is probably to simply turn a sympathetic ear (and some discreet funding) to its internal champions of reform. Natan Sharansky has written powerfully of the vital importance to the Russian refuseniks in the late 80s of their steadfast moral support from the United States.

        We could (and should) encourage in rhetoric and with some modest clandestine funding the forces of liberty in all three nations. That will be quite enough, in the long run.

        1. You have given a wrong answer Mr. Pham.

          “Bringing Democracy” is a politically correct euphemism for bombing a country until it has no air defenses, then sending in infantry divisions to occupy it while a U.S. friendly government is installed.

          To find the correct answer consider why our spending is currently at the level that Ms. Ruby thinks is far too much for a War on terror. She is right about that much.

          Pork Barrel spending is also incorrect, so don’t even go there.

          1. Well that’s the ideal version, sure. But generally it’s too expensive and time-consuming.

            Besides, after a while the Marines run out of local virgins to deflower and sacred cultural artifacts to piss on, and they get bored, start bittorrenting warez and games, and then the Milnet bandwidth is shot and the President can’t get his webcam girls in HD and all hell breaks loose.

            So we prefer the cheaper option.

            1. You are evading the question so I will repeat and clarify.

              If the U.S. government were preparing to “Bring Democracy” to Iran, China, and to Russia, or maybe China and Russia at the same time, how much would the Defense budget be?

              Less than now? More than now? Exactly what is spent now?

              1. Exactly 2.2256% less.

      2. I meant Robert Gates, not Bill Gates! lol

  8. There was a recent piece in the U.K. press about cruise missle attacks in Yemen, with cluster bombs, killing a few terrorists, something like 16 women and 21 children.

    The children were the largest group

    The Taliban execute a seven year old for spying, we kill 20 or so more children with our missiles.

    Anyone have an idea of the total cost of making that missile, sticking in the cluster bombs, sending it over there, launching it?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new…..ldren.html

    1. This is why we need smarter bombs. Though one supposes if the bombs were really so smart why they blow themselves up…

      1. Actually, the Pentagon developed very smart bombs that were intended to be deployed in Afghanistan. But they were smart enough to refuse to be dropped on a country that posed no credible threat to anyone.

        1. Except for harboring the guy that killed 3000 people.

          1. Yeah, how’s the search for that guy going?

            Seems to me a war that was all about that fella should have gone a whole lot different than the one we’ve got.

            1. Which brings us back to smart bombs…

            2. when was it ever about one fella it has always been about a terrorist organization. Yes it’s run by one fella but remove him and you still have the organization he created. could someone please tall me of a war that ended with the death of the leader and Hitler doesn’t count because he killed himself at the end.

              1. Our presence in Afghanistan is doing exactly nothing to deter the activities of this terrorist orginization (such a it is).

                If anything it’s providing its recruiters with ever more promotional material.

                1. Right. Because there’ve been how many more 9/11’s while we’ve been screwing around in Afghanistan?

                  Er…zero, you say? Damn. Well, there must be a theory to reconcile this inconvenient fact with your preferred worldview. What is it?

                  1. I haven’t been attacked by a bear since i installed the New Bear-Away Bear Repellent System.

                    1. How many bears attacked you before the Bear-away? I’d say the answer is likely zero, meaning your analogy is completely unrelated to the situation under discussion.

                  2. Are you for real?
                    There haven’t been any pink elephants in my living room since I bought a can of Pink Elephant Spray.
                    It must work.
                    Gawd you’re stupid.

                    1. Uh huh. And there haven’t been any more burglaries of my house since I shot the last one dead. Must be a total coincidence!

                      I have a bit of bad news for you. Sometimes when A happens after B, it really is because B causes A.

                    2. I’d say you’re right, but not necessarily in the way we want it to be true.

                      The US invasion of Afghanistan/Iraq is a lot less like bear repellant and lot more like putting a big pile of honey 200 yards from your campsite. We’ve had more “terrorist” attacks against US citizens than we’ve ever had before, but they’ve been hitting men and women in uniform thousands of miles away so we don’t have to worry about it.

                      Why travel around the world to go kill Americans when you can shoot the ones in your back yard?

                      Whether this form of “defense” is sustainable or desirable long-term is another matter.

                    3. Ah, the old flypaper theory. I don’t find it very persuasive. Terrorists don’t like “hard” targets, and the US Marines are just about the hardest target there is. As a rule, when you try to kill them it’s you and your friends that end up dead while they just end up with another amusing story to tell.

                      A more persuasive argument would seem to me that the shitheads that used to hang out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, planning and plotting, are for the most part hiding in caves and spending all their energy staying alive. Planning terrorists attacks halfway around the world can be done on a shoestring if you’re left alone for a long time, to patiently build up your organization and operation. They’re not being left alone.

                      But I would hazard the guess that the military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan are unrelated to the lack of follow-on to 9/11. I think it’s probably the very aggressive counter-terrorism operations used by the Bush Administration — all those “enhanced” interrogations that allowed the snaffling of senior operatives, the interdiction of money flows, the surveillance of American traitors who provide local info and cover, and so on. Mostly invisible stuff.

                      I don’t think the TSA and immigration Keystone Kops routine has done squat, however. But who knows? This is as shadowy a world as Cold War espionage. We’ll probably only know the truth 50 years from now.

          2. Those guys are now in Pakistan.

      2. Nah … brilliant pebbles.

    2. This:
      “The release of the Amnesty report coincides with the commencement of a major three-day global anti-cluster bomb conference being held in Chile.”
      http://www.csmonitor.com/World…..aeda-fight
      Makes me a bit suspicious.

    3. Don’t ask Congress, or the question will become:

      Anyone have an idea of the total cost of how many jobs go into making that missile, sticking in the cluster bombs, sending it over there, launching it?

    4. Be cheaper just to buy 20 nooses.

  9. Sorry Tim .. . make that 11 carriers. And there are plans for a fleet operable with 10 carriers. But so long as you are in double digits, whose counting?

    1. 11. Fine. And China has? And Russia has? And Iran has?

      1. it is predicted that China’s navy will surpass ours by 2015 and they already have more sub’s

        1. Sounds great! Let THEM secure the shipping lanes from piracy, it’s mostly their goods moving around the world anyway.

          1. I can safely guarantee when they do they won’t dilly around attempting to negotiate with them. My guess is, piracy will become quite rare with the chinko’s policing the seas.

      2. China 1 building 2 more. Russia 1. Iran O.

        Since you’re all about numbers, how many miles is it between China and US security interests in the region Japan, S.Korea, Taiwan? How, how many miles is it between the US and her security interests Japan, S.Korea, Taiwan?

    2. Yeah, the USS Ronald Reagan is visiting here as I post, defending the US from the tea and croissants.

      1. Don’t forget the scourge of poutine.

        1. Just like the US military, they go after a local threat and land on the opposite coast of a huge fucking country.

      2. I have a question. Are Canadians supporting the U.S. team, given the absence of a Canadian option?

        1. What do you mean? Canadians are bitching about spending on their own Navy (which at my last count consisted of six birch bark canoes).

          1. I meant in the World Cup.

            1. What’s that?

              1. Some sort of sex thing.

                1. What I was really wondering is what side they’d be taking tomorrow: England or the U.S.?

                  1. Actually, my experience tells me that in the absence of a Canadian team they’ll support the team of their national origin.

                    ie, Scots-Canadians will support Scotland, Italian-Canadians will support Italy, Serbo-Canadians Serbia (if Serbia qualified, that is*) etc.

                    *And if Serbia didn’t qualify it will be becausethe Croats cheated so he’ll go find a Croatian-Canadian to beat up.

        2. You mean, or course, given the absenece of a credible army, four plane airforce and literally zero navy? We ought to bill those puds 10% of their GDP annually as payment for their continued existence.

          1. Harlot, that army is helping clean up the mess you @ssholes started in Afghaniland, so cram it.
            You can come across the 49th anytime. Bring it on, Yankee fuck.

            1. The “mess” in Afghanistan is largely a consequence of the nation-building enterprise we undertook and that Canada has been on board with, in fact, has been one of the biggest proponents of, from the very beginning.

              Many Americans would have been quite content with a search and destroy punitive mission which would have ended years ago with a chastened Taliban still in power having been given warnig that if they aid and/or harbor our enemies again they will get more of the same.

  10. China is building a carrier, Russia has 2 or 3 (albeit, nothing like our Nimitz class, Iran has zero. But that’s beside the point . . . what we should really be worried about is China’s sub program. They are spitting out high class subs at a terrifying rate.

    1. The most terrifying thing about those subs would be serving on one, given the quality standards of Chinese Industry.
      Anybody can build a sub that submerges. Coming back up, well…

      1. This.

        “high class subs”? C’mon man, they’ll be lucky to stay waterproof for more than 3-5 years.

        1. And if you can afford to build and man a million of them the problem (and your point) is…..?

      2. Chinese manufactured goods can be decent. The quality really depends on the specifications and standards the contracting U.S. company is willing to pay for.

    2. …what we should really be worried about is China’s sub program. They are spitting out high class subs at a terrifying rate.

      Editing service provided gratis.

      1. They are spitting out high class subs prostitutes at a terrifying rate.

        1. Only terrifying when i consider how much it would cost to keep hiring each new one.

      2. Those are some pretty classy lookin’ subs ya got there…

      3. J sub D:

        What’s the noise profile of the Chinese Subs? Nuke powered subs can’t be “spat out”, so I suspect they’re diesel-electric, which would make them detectable to US listening systems over a 500 km radius.

        1. I believe subs are typically diesel /electric (hybrid before it was cool?). So they can probably run silent for a while at least.

    3. Right, China can’t wait to torpedo the country that buys all its shit.

      1. …and owes it billions and billions…

      2. Again, see point upthread about Franco-German trade circa 1936.

    4. Yeah, but China is basing its carrier on a design they reverse engineered when they scrapped HMAS Melbourne in the eighties.

      Melbourne was paid off from RAN service in 1982. A proposal to convert her for use as a floating casino failed, and a 1984 sale was cancelled, before she was sold in 1985 and towed to China for breaking. The scrapping was delayed so Melbourne could be studied by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as part of a secret project to develop a Chinese aircraft carrier and used to train PLAN aviators in carrier flight operations.

      I’m not sure I’m that worried about something copied from WWII technology.

      1. No, China purchased the Varyag, an Admiral Kuznetsov class carrier that was launched in 1988 from Shipyard 444 in Nikolayev (Ukraine auctioned off the ship in 1998, total cost to China $30 million). Also, China is building ice breaking capability in anticipation of the Northern/Northwest Passages opening up.
        The fall of the Soviet Union enabled the Chinese to transfer resources from the army (PLA) to the navy (PLAN), and their modernization efforts are rather impressive.

        1. Yeah, I read that after when I researched the subject a little further.

          That said the Admiral Kuznetsov class carrier is not exactly state of the art either. And in buying Varyag, the Chinese basically got a hull, with no propulsion system or weaponry.

  11. what we should really be worried about is China’s sub program. They are spitting out high class subs at a terrifying rate.

    And the Battle of the Atlantic was won in WWII by carrier-based aircraft (together with long-range land-based aircraft). Just saying.

    I’m sure there’s appalling levels of waste and inefficiency in the DOD. But there has never been a military that was wasteful and inefficient. Going after “fraud, waste, and abuse” is always a worthwhile endeavor, but don’t expect it to save a significant fraction of the budget.

    Nah, the place to start is overseas bases. I don’t see why even our “forward defense” posture needs 700 overseas bases. Start closing those before you do anything else.

    1. I’m sure there’s appalling levels of waste and inefficiency in the DOD. But there has never been a military that was wasteful and inefficient.

      So the DoD is the only government agency without waste and inefficiency? Even though it’s the biggest one. No wonder the Surgeon General exists, if you want to have an efficient government bureaucracy, put a military man in charge.

      1. Mo, I may be assuming too much judging by the context, I’m sure Mr Dean meant “…there has never been a military that was[n’t] wasteful and inefficient.”

        And the Surgeon General is the head of the Public Health Service, which although a “uniformed service” is considered civilian to its core.

        1. True Fact: USPHS is considered one of the 5 ‘sea services’ (the other 4: USN, USMC, USCG, and NOAA)

          1. My understanding is that the USPHS is a “uniformed service” is that its personel may have to operate in war zones.

            And as I said, USPHS and NOAA are still considered civilian agencies. Except for certain ceremonial occasions and in war zones, their personel hardly ever dress up.

    2. And the battle of the Pacific was won by the US submarine force. Just saying.

      (The U-boats were severely hampered by some poor political leadership and the fact that we (the allies) could read their mail. Alter either of these conditions – which were the opposite of what the US boats in the Pac were under, that is after 43 at least – and the Battle of the Atlantic gets a lot closer.)

      1. I was always under the impression that Midway was won because of superior air power.

        1. That certainly helped, but reading their “mail” sure helped too.

        2. As GoNavy said, it was the fact that intel personnel cracked the Japanese codes. That allowed us to know in advance of the attack on Midway and to clandestinely send carriers to intercept the Japanese.

          In the early part of the battle, our “air power” sucked. USAF bombers comically tried to hit the zig-zagging carriers from high altitude and missed on every try. The old torpedo aircraft launched from Midway itself were virtually all shot down before reaching any enemy ships. Finally, dive bombers from our carriers managed to locate the japanese carriers just as a japanese admiral decided to re-arm all the aircraft with torpedos (he had just found out that we had carriers in the area.) So with aircraft cramming the decks of the enemy carriers and with the enemy aircraft fighting our torpedo aircraft at low altitudes, our dive bombers were able to attack unmolested.

          It was intel and good luck that won that battle.

        3. The Zero could outfight almost everything the US had at the time.

          Midway was won by codebreakers, superior US damage control and Nagumo’s indecisiveness.

          1. “The Zero could outfight almost everything the US had at the time.”

            They couldn’t outfight the Flying Tigers in China flying P-40’s.

            That was becuase those pilots were taught how to fight to use their own plane’s characteristics to their advantage and not play into the Japanese pilots hands by trying to dogfight with them.

            1. That is true, it was pilot skill at its best because the P-40 was not a particularly impressive aircraft. Certainly not in the sense that a p-47, f4u corsair and obviously p-51 were. I guess you could add the p-38 to the impressive list as well due to its unique, twin engine design; they were quite effective in the pacific.

      2. Once they got the torpedo problem cleared up, yes. (See Clay Blair’s Silent Victory) And that was partly a leadership failure because the crews on the boats couldn’t convince Naval Operations that the torpedos were a problem. IOW, the brass wouldn’t listen to the guys on the front line.

    3. And you would then launch your sophisticated unmanned drones from….where?

  12. Ok, they are not the Germans. But, they did succeed in interrupting a sea exercise of ours near Japan with a stunning “gotcha”! move on a carrier. The sub surfaced withing 500 yards of the carrier, and then promptly submerged.

    1. Well, I hate to think our grand strategic reason for eleven nuclear aircraft carriers is to assure a ready supply of spares.

      1. No, it’s to project air power all over the world without having to stress allies and neutrals into giving us basing rights.

        The only reason Iran is afraid of American air power is because of carriers in the Gulf. Because from where else are the F-18s going to take off? Turkey? Egypt? Pakistan? Italy with some tricky refueling in the air? Ugh.

        And the reason to like air power is because it’s way faster and much cheaper (in money and lives) than sending in the Marines in boats. If you want to do the latter, you need a lot of Marines, and you have to accept that a lot of them will die. That kind of only works if you’re the Soviet Union and everyone expects the Red Army to win by having more soldiers than the enemy has bullets.

  13. They are spitting out high class subs at a terrifying rate.

    Are they really “high class” subs?

    1. They don’t have to be as good as ours as long as they have enough of them.

      1. Man, I’m having flashbacks to discussions of tank quality and the Fulda Gap. Stop that!

      2. The New “Helen Thomas” Class carriers will cause all enemy subs, missiles and torpedoes to go instantly limp and shrink to nothing, assuring our seapower for a generation. If we can recruit enough blind men to serve on them that is.

        1. It’ll never work.

          The hull will have so many wrinkles in in it, the ship could never navigate in a straight line.

  14. Who’s ready to die for Taiwan? Keep those hands up.

    1. [cricketts]

      1. You could say the same thing about Kuwait.
        Yet there we were (and are)

        1. One difference, Iraq is not China.

          1. Second difference, Taiwan doesn’t have any vital natural resources.

  15. I am worried that Obama won’t spend enougth on the military. We need to increase, not cut spending with all the threats in the world.

    1. Joe the Dumber.

  16. We are not at war with either Afghanistan or Iraq. We’re occupying them.

    1. An odd take. One might assume we’re at war with people who occupy Afghanistan and parts of Iraq. What then should we do? Occupy Canada?

  17. I disagree with her analogy that fixing military spending at a percentage of GDP is like fixing your rent at a percentage of your salary. It’s more like fixing the amount you spend on home security to the value of your home. The bigger the U.S. economy and population, the more there is to “protect”.

    Unlike McCain, though, I’d fix the percentage significantly lower than 4%. If you look at first-world nations, the next highest after the U.S. is the U.K. at 2.5% of GDP (2008). That seems like a reasonable goal. Or if we want to give the U.S. some wiggle room and retain “big dog” status, maybe 3.0% of GDP. Note: this would be for “normal” military expenditures, not costs associated with the Afghanistan & Iraq conflicts.

    Another way to set the value would be to go off our historical “baseline” which you can gather from Figure 1. Seems to be around $400 billion in 2009 dollars. To reach that we’d have to shave $149 billion from Obama’s $549 billion figure, or approximately 30%.

    If you subtract out Afghanistan/Iraq costs, then our current military spending is approximately 3.7% of GDP. Reducing that down to U.K. levels (2.5%) would be a reduction of 32.5%. So there seems to be some pretty strong agreement between these two methods of establishing a baseline.

    So: Get out of Iraq/Afghanistan ($159 billion) and cut the remaining budget by 30% or $150 billion, for a total savings of $309 billion. There goes 1/4 of the deficit.

  18. If only we would quit making enemies because government is serving the economic interests of pampered corporations, the Peoria, Illinois police department could probably handle most any threat we would ever encounter.

    1. You would do well in prison. Because you’d conclude the best way to avoid getting beat up is to learn to suck dick.

    2. Gee I wonder why those “pampered” corporations allow the corporate income tax to exist?

      Or all those pesky government rules and regulations that cover just about everything they do?

      Seems odd for these ostensibly omnipotent entities to inflict such things on themselves.

      1. because those tax and regulatory burdens hurt small businesses much much more than the larger, established ones. It is a way of killing off potential competitors.

  19. If you want to cut “defense” spending you need to cut commitments. As long as the US is committed to defending Europe, much of Asia, South America and Africa then even 4% GDP is not enough. However if we cut commitments to

    Europe which has a larger GDP and population then the USA but averages less then 2% GDP on defense

    Japan which spends less then 1% GDP defense

    South Korea which spends only 2.6% GDP on defense and its major enemy is North Korea which has half the population and less then 1/20th the GDP

    Australia (1.8% GDP defense ) and New Zealand (1.1%) GDP defense

    South American who mostly don’t like the US

    Africa which for some crazy reason the USA now have an “Africa Command”

    Return the US military back to a force to defend the USA and then the US would have more then enough “defense” if it spent half what it does today.

    1. The real question is how to quantify what economic benefits we get from being the “big dog” with our vast empire of military bases. If it pays for the extra military budget it’s sound fiscal policy, sadly enough.

      Being the king is expensive, but there are benefits.

  20. So: Get out of Iraq/Afghanistan ($159 billion) and cut the remaining budget by 30% or $150 billion, for a total savings of $309 billion. There goes 1/4 of the deficit.

    Nah. Cutting defense won’t do a goddam thing to reduce the deficit.

    But, you ask, Mr. Dean, why not?

    Because the idiots running the country will just blow it on entitlements and transfer payments, that’s why.

    We’re fucked. I need a drink.

    1. That’s exactly the problem. All Congress fights about is what to spend money on, not whether to spend it. With insane deficits, that’s just plain stupid, and not a little suicidal.

      1. Which is why it’s madness to even consider a tax increase.

        They’re running deficits that can only be counted if they invent new numbers and they’re collecting revenues at record levels.

        Just imagine what kind of deficits they’d run if they had even more money coming in.

        1. “and they’re collecting revenues at record levels.”

          From what I can tell this is flat out wrong. See this CBO report:

          http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/108…..tables.pdf

          Table F-2 shows revenue as a percentage of GDP. For 2009 revenue was 14.8% of GDP, which is a 40 year low. Generally over the past 40 years it seems to range from 17 to 20% of GDP.

          One large contributing factor to the 2009 deficit was tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy.

          Projecting forward to 2010, expected receipts are $2.381 trillion on a projected (by the IMF) GDP of $14.799 trillion. So revenue for 2010 is expected to be 16.1% of GDP, which is still well below the average for the last 40 years.

          1. You’re absolutely right that tax receipts in 2009 were at a 40 year low, and this has had an enormous and generally underappreciated effect on the deficit.

            But you’re totally full of shit in suggesting this has anything to do with the 2001 tax cuts — what, they took 8 years to have their evil effect??! — or with the tiny and scattered cuts made in 2008 for supposedly stimulatin’ stuff, which are far too small to have such an effect.

            No, the reason for the plunge is perfectly evident: we have a “progressive” tax system, meaning if you make more money you don’t just pay more taxes, you pay a higher percentage of your income in taxes. Your tax bill goes up faster than your income, meaning if you get a 10% raise your tax bill will go up by more than 10%. But conversely, if you get a salary cut of 10%, your tax bill will go down by more than 10%.

            Now think about this from the government’s point of view. During boom times their tax receipts go up faster than the general level of income in the country. But, conversely, during bad times their tax receipts fall faster than the general level of income is falling, leading to the huge plunge you saw last year, and also to the tax receipt plunge in 2002, and also to the tax receipt boom in the 90s that allowed Clinton to balance the budget.

            One other pernicious effect of the highly “progressive” tax structure is that, because it magnifies in this way small fluctuations in national income into large fluctuations in tax revenue, it makes it unusually hard to predict future deficits. You’ve got to get national income predictions super accurate, so the magnification of fluctuations doesn’t screw your predictions of tax receipts.

            Not surprisingly, government predictions of future deficits have been largely fantasy, and will continue to be so as long as we have this silly “fair” tax system.

            1. I wasn’t suggesting it was Bush’s 2001 tax cuts to blame. I thought various credits and such were handed out in 2009 designed to act as a stimulus. Wasn’t sure if these were counted as “spending” or if they were subtracted from the revenue total.

              1. They were miniscule compared to the $450 billion by which tax receipts fell.

                1. Actually, tax cuts in the stimulus package were about $350 billion. Not miniscule.

                  1. No, sorry. You’re totally full of shit. But thanks for playing.

                    1. So did this:

                      http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/0…..2009010518

                      …not come to fruition? It puts the number at $300 billion for 2009.

                      Relative to 2008, the 2009 GDP shrank by either 1.3% in current dollars or 2.4% in chained 2005 dollars. Chart from bea.gov here:

                      https://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=0AqDvDY2BvxUTdEJuYnBFeFpLcl9pRTl6TXlCS1FlSWc&hl=en&output=html

                      If your hypothesis is correct, i.e. that the drop in revenue relative to GDP was a magnification of the GDP decrease caused to a progressive tax system, then we should see a trend of GDP-relative revenue dipping during years where the GDP decreases and spiking when it increases suddenly. The drop years would be 1974, 1982 and 1991, though even in these years the there was still an increase when using “current dollars” (the decreases only appear when “chained 2005 dollars” are used). The spike years would be 1976, 1981, 1983, 1984 and maybe 1992.

                      Just by inspection, your hypo doesn’t seem to bear out. In 1974, revenue as a percentage of GDP actually increased. In 1982 it dropped from 19.6% to 19.2%. In 1991 it dropped from 18.0% to 17.8%.

                      GDP gainer years don’t look any better. In 1976 GDP-relative revenue actually dropped. Same for 1983, 1984 and 1992. Of course I guess there could have been significant tax cuts during those years that muted any potential spike in GDP-relative revenue.

                    2. Christ on a stick.

                      First of all, about the $300 billion in “tax cuts” that Obama said was in his bill: he lied. He does that, you know. All the time.

                      Now, how did he spin that lie? Well, firstly, he did stuff like call a payment from the government of $400 per person a “tax cut.” It’s not a reduction in anyone’s taxes, it’s just a transfer of money from people who make more than $75,000 (and the customer of corporations, and future taxpayers) to those who make less today. It’s welfare, pure and simple. It’s not the government spending less money and therefore taking in less taxes, it’s government taking in just as much (or more taxes) and delivering the money to certain groups of people. Only in Democratic fantasy land, where the meaning of the word “is” is debatable, can you call this kind of wealth-transfer a “tax cut” because, tee hee, it’s a “tax cut” for most people. By that logic Obama could quite easily increase taxes overall, but as long as most people see a reduction — it’s a tax cut! That’s dishonesty on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

                      He also called stuff like extending the AMT fix a “tax cut.” This is just failing to raise taxes in the way the AMT would automatically do. Once again, only in Newspeak does a failure to raise taxes count as a “tax cut.” And on and on. The “stimulus” was as full of bullshit as an egg is of meat.

                      Second, my “hypothesis” isn’t a hypothesis, it’s a simple mathematical fact. Just make yourself any function you like T(I) that relates tax revenue T to national income I, and make sure it’s “progressive”, meaning dT/dI is a monotonically increasing function of I (and not a constant, as it would be for, e.g., a flat tax). Now plot T(I) for various trends in I, and you’ll see the relative fluctuations in T exceeds those in I. This isn’t complicated, it’s just simple math.

                      And finally, where did you come up with the idea that this implies that revenue as a fraction of GDP should drop? I have no idea without thinking carefully about it whether that should be true.

                      The correct and obvious conclusion, which is what I said, is that the percentage change in tax revenue should exceed the percentage change in GDP (after about a 6-month to 1-year delay, of course, to account for the time between earning money and paying taxes on it). Like so:

                      2009: real GDP down 2.4%, tax receipts down 17% (wow!)

                      2001: real GDP up only 1.1%, tax receipts in 2002 down 6.9%.

                      1982: real GDP down 1.9%, tax receipts in 1983 down 2.8%.

                      Now look at some boom years:

                      2004: real GDP up 3.6%, tax receipts 2005 up 14.5%.

                      1999: real GDP up 4.8%, tax receipts 2000 up 10.8%.

                      1988: real GDP up 4.1%, tax receipts 1989 up 9.0%.

                      You see how it works? This is only quick and dirty analysis, because no account has been taken of changes in the tax code, nor the fact that taxes are computed on nominal, not real, dollars, nor the fact that I’m using nominal tax revenues for lack of time and interest in doing the conversion.

                    3. By the way, notice that the effect gets stronger in more recent years? That’s because with all the recent enthusiasm for wealth-transfer programs that funnel money from higher tax rate payers to lower tax rate payers via the tax code, the tax code has become effectively more progressive than it is even on paper. Hence the size of the fluctuations has grown.

                      For a really extreme example, look at California, which has an even more progressive tax structure, and suffers from almost catastrophic boom ‘n’ bust cycles in government revenue.

                      Amazingly, the general response to this has been to suggest the need for more “millionaire’s” taxes, i.e. still more progressivism. I’m reminded of Schiller’s apt quote: Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.

  21. It’s a strange suggestion: Indexing military spending to GDP makes about as much sense as indexing your rent to your salary.

    That’s a strange analogy. Many people do index the price of their housing to their salary, whether buying or renting.

  22. Don’t talk to me about cutting defense spending until you’re done completely eliminating all the entitlement programs, all the social welfare programs of every type and all the unconstitutional domestic spending on such things as farm price supports, the Dept of Education, HUD, HHS, etc., etc.

    Because there is infinitely more Constitutional justification for every last cent of defense spending than there is for ever spending so much as one cent on any of that other stuff at all.

    1. But “defense” is an entitlement program. Most of the money is spent on defending other countries who don’t spend half what the USA spends. So these other countries get free defense and the US taxpayer gets the bill.

      1. Good answer.

        And even when other countries do pony up some actual troops they rely on the US to provide airlift and/or naval or other logistical support.

        All of the other contingents in Afghanistan rely heavily on the US for support sevices.

      2. Yes we do provide military protection welfare to other countries – and have been for a very long time.

        Although I would not agree with the claim that “most” of our defense budget falls into that category.

        I would also say that it is to an extent in our own interest to defend at least some of the other countries that we do.

        If we had taken the position that we would do noting other than defend our own boders, all the other western democracies would have been swalloed up by the eastern block communists and we would have had to fight them sooner or later.

        We also rely on imported goods from lots of other places that are necessary components of our own defense hardware (as well as our overall economy) so we couldn’t just sit on our own continent and be secure.

        But welfare for other countries included or not, it is all still infinitely more Constitutional than spending one cent on any of that other stuff.

        1. It’s also as much of an entitlement program as farm subsidies are. Instead of shoveling money to ADM and Monsanto, we’re shoveling money to Lockheed, Raytheon and Booz Allen.

          Fighting in a series of undeclared wars is not Constitutional.

          1. That’s absurd. Food subsidies are stupid because they preserve economic inefficiencies in the food market by distorting the prices.

            By contrast there is no private market for large warmaking machinery, tanks and destroyers and atomic bombs and such. The government isn’t “meddling” in this market — the government is the market.

            You can argue that both farm subsidies and military spending are used by Congress to bring home the bacon, and that therefore in the absence of taxpayer pressure against overspending, Congress will gladly allocate infinite amounts of money to both. But that’s as far as the similarity goes.

            1. Military spending is welfare. Its rent seeking. It represents a spectacular misallocation of resources.

              1. Don’t be an ass. “Welfare” is by definition consumption. The taxpayers get zip for it except a nice warm feeling. When they pay the Pentagon, they get a huge badass Army that can beat the hell out of any other country on the planet. That’s a useful tool.

                It’s possible one might want to spend the money buying something else, of course. Highways or airports, say. But you have to be a bonehead to imagine the taxpayers get absolutely nothing for their military dollar.

        2. And one reason why we import foreign goods is that they are cheaper and one reason why they are cheaper is because US business and labor get stuck with the bill for defending the foreign business and labor. The US government is subsidizing the competitors of US business and labor.

          It makes no business sense to subsidize the competition.

        3. By Gilbert’s generous definitions, there is no limit to defence spending because it’s all justifiable.

  23. One unforeseen consequence of cutting Defense programs is that System Analysts for big Aerospace/Defense contractors may, buoyed by the money in their brokerage accounts and 401k’s, be able to go on “mini retirements.” These individuals may find themselves with ample free time and little to do except breed and make confusingly satirical blog posts on Reason.com.

    There is a real danger that one of these renegade System Analysts might sadistically toy with blog posters less articulate than himself.

    Mademoiselle Rugy also falsly assumes that there is anyone in government who wants to cut defense spending, much less any other type of spending, they simply have no vested interest in doing so cherie.

    Sans ah Balanced Budget Amendment no one will reduce spending of any kind.

  24. Certain democrat and republican politicians have been known to use defense spending for the sake of jerbs in their districts. I’m thinking about the extra planes and tanks and shit that the war department has specifically stated they do not need. Military contracts should not be a welfare program. Fuck Long Beach.

    Another waste is the U.S. military bases and presence keeping the German or Japanese empires from aggressing against the world. Lets stop subsidizing the EU socialists.

  25. The Reason T-shirt girl is so much better looking than the Right done Right T-shirt girl… just an observation.

  26. If entitlement spending were plotted on figure 1 it would become painfully obvious that the federal budget problem is not caused by defense spending.
    The Stubborn Welfare State

    In 1956, defense dominated the budget; the Cold War buildup was in full swing. The welfare state, which is what “payments to individuals” signifies, was modest. Now everything is reversed.

    Despite the war in Iraq, defense spending is only a fifth of the budget; so-called entitlement payments to individuals are almost 60 percent — and rising.

  27. saying: “the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent”, is misleading. If somebody obese eats 5 quarts of ice cream, and more, a day, and cuts out, oh, 5 granola bars here and there, there’s still a gross amount going IN.

  28. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  29. Sure, China spends a lot less on their military than we do…but they have an even larger standing force than ourselves. Thats what happens when you don’t have to, you know, pay the soldiers.

    If we can trim spending and still maintain an unquestionably global military supremecy, then all well and good. But if cutting our military budget means allowing other nations to carve out areas of dominance in the world – then we’re talking about something very dangerous to our ideologies and interests. You really would prefer Communist China running Asia?

    As for the things the Pentagon “doesn’t want”…well, be careful here. The pentagon is trying to fight a particular type of war right now, but by getting rid of advanced fighters, long-range bombers, and tankers, it may cripple our ability to fight a large-scale conventional war in the future. The enemies of today are insurgents. The enemies of tomorrow are nations with standing, uniformed armies. China. Russia. Iran. North Korea.

    1. [quote]then we’re talking about something very dangerous to our ideologies and interests. You really would prefer Communist China running Asia?[/quote]
      I don’t have any ideology or interest in running Asia. If you do then you go off and fight for it.

    2. China has about a hundred times as many soldiers. The US military employs something like two million men, and the Chinese force is closer to two hundred million; or at least it was the last time I heard figures.

      More to the point, China has a couple hundred million expendable soldiers, and the US has none. As we learned during the Korean war, China does not mind sending “human wave” attacks of expendable soldiers against entrenched and well-defended enemy positions.

  30. Obama still has tens of thousands of troops committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. His foreign policy of bows, apology, and appeasement is failing miserably around the world. N Korea just committed an act of war and has nuclear weapons. Obama has failed in Iran which will soon have nuclear weapons. Turkey was a Nato ally, but under Obama appears to be going over to extreme Islam. The Chinese and Russians continue to thumb their noses at Obama as they continue to increase their military capabilities. Oh yes…Hugo Chavez has upped his military purchases increasing the threat in our own hemisphere. So how do we cut back the defense budget at the very time that Obama’s foreign policy is failing and the military dangers to the U.S. are growing so quickly?

    1. More Neo-con panic.

      Our President is black — get over it.

  31. THANK YOU for posting this!

    I love your page!!

    Steve
    Common Cents
    http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

  32. THANK YOU for posting this!

    I love your page!!

    Steve
    Common Cents
    http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

  33. I agree with this to an extent. I personally do not buy the statistic that the US accounts ffor 50% of all the world’s military spending. Rather I suspect it is around 30%-40% as I expect China and Russia hide how much they truly spend. That said the author is right, if we are to cut the deficit and the budget we must cut the military. We can easily get our spending down to 4% of GDP if we streamline our military defense contracts and politicans of both sides make it happen. Course that is easier said than done with politicans but there is no doubt that to curb the growing deficit we need to streamline the military spending contract and not throw billions down the rathole of earmarks as well as reforming entitlements.

  34. Sure thing, after we defund FreddyMac, FannyMAy, the federal entitlement programs, and the Department of Education, and a few other BS government agencies.

    The Military is one of the few truly Constitutional Duties that the Federal Government has. It should be funded first and cut last.

    1. It is hard to take any “fiscal conservative” seriously if they don’t wan to talk about gutting SS and Medicare.

      Its like eating out a couple less times a week with a mortgage payment accounting for 70% of your net salary.

  35. It is a time for shared sacrifice – all must be cut so that any will be cut.

  36. President Obama thinks he can make us secure by negotiating with dictators. Pres. Reagan called this philosphy the “Treaty Trap.”

    Force is the only thing the bad guys understand, as history shows: http://historyhalf.com/the-treaty-trap/

  37. I heard Martians are planning to attack. You dumb-ass war=mongering imperialists need to ramp up “defence” spending to fend of an potential attack.
    Good luck with your impending national bankruptcy. What do you plan on serving when China’s eating your lunch?

  38. Indexing military spending to GDP makes about as much sense as indexing your rent to your salary

    What’s strange about this? People more-or-less index their spending on lots of things to their salaries.

  39. Whoa! What was the cost of the “Stimulus”? Where in the constitution does it say we should spend billions frivolously with zero results instead of providing for the defense of the nation? Okay, get the most bang for the defense buck but we don’t get diddly squat from all the reckless spending of this incompetent administration.

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  46. I really wonder if they gonna cut the spending and if it will work or not.

  47. I got laid off because of military budget cuts but I still believe military cuts are for the best of our country.

  48. the cuts will be interesting to see how it effects wall street.

  49. Folks, such a huge budget for government spending? I mean thats such a huge number. We normal people we could live years and lifetimes from that.

  50. more cuts, more taxes, our country is going right down the drain

  51. It’s welfare, pure and simple. It’s not the government spending less money and therefore taking in less taxes, it’s government taking in just as much (or more taxes) and delivering the money to certain groups of people.

  52. OMG, such a huge budget for pentagon? OMG

  53. Regional Spheres of influence are being completely overlooked in our national defense strategy of the last 20 years. Regan was the last to take them seriously and he did so from almost a purely military angle. Just because the nut jobs are not nation states does not mean SoIs are no longer applicable…I would argue they are more so now than ever. To use the termite example below, the MOST effective way is to get the other “good” bugs to kill all the termites. In global defense parlance: If a bunch of Canadians are plotting to blow up the Seneca casino in Niagara I am fairly certain Canada will take care of the problem. Reasons: 1. We(the us) are the ZOC actor, don’t piss off your ZOC actor 2. about 62% of the people who work on the US side of Niagara are Cannuks. 3. Canadians attacking Americans (native or not) would cause Canada to lose valuable social, economic and political capital within the region.

    ???? ????? ??? ??????? ???? ????? ?????? ???????
    HELL, Even if they did everything they could to stop it and we were sympathetic to their efforts, the fact that it succeeded would cause the region to undergo some serious local strife an recession.

  54. Yes, they will happen, but shrugging them off is no longer acceptable. The bottom line is troops are going to have to take increased risks on the battle field in an attempt to avoid innocent casualties.

    So in my view that leaves us a redefinition of our tactics and goals in general. ???? ????? ????? ???????

    I’m of the mind that we don’t need to be so aggressive in fighting a potential termite infestation… which is what we seen to be doing.

  55. Obama still has tens of thousands of troops committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. His foreign policy of bows, apology, and appeasement is failing miserably around the world. N Korea just committed an act of war and has nuclear weapons. Obama has failed in Iran which will soon have nuclear weapons. Turkey was a Nato ally, but under Obama appears to be going over to extreme Islam. The Chinese and Russians continue to thumb their noses at Obama as they continue to increase their military capabilities. Oh yes ???? ????? ??????? ???? ????? ???????…Hugo Chavez has upped his military purchases increasing the threat in our own hemisphere. So how do we cut back the defense budget at the very time that Obama’s foreign policy is failing and the military dangers to the U.S. are growing so quickly?

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