Dueling Defense Charts: Cato Wins; Heritage Loses


Over at the Cato Institute, David Boaz handily debunks a Heritage Foundation chart—shown below—allegedly demonstrating that defense spending has dropped to its lowest level in 60 years in our great nation.

heritage defense spending

But Boaz pulls out a Cato chart showing that Pentagon spending in real, inflation-adjusted dollars has roughly doubled since 2000 and is up about 50 percent since 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War—not including the cost of the ongoing wars.


So what's going on? Why the difference in the charts? Boaz explains:

The Heritage chart, of course, focuses on Pentagon spending as a percentage of the federal budget. And what has happened to the federal budget in the past 40 years? Well, as it happens, another Heritage shows that pretty clearly:


Asks Boaz:

Does the Heritage Foundation really want to suggest that when spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rises, military spending should rise commensurately? That when President Bush creates a trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug entitlement, he should also add a trillion dollars to the Pentagon budget to keep "Defense Spending as a Percentage of the Federal Budget" at its previous level?

 What's more:

If total federal spending in 1820 was $19.4 million, and 53 percent of it was for defense, what that tells us is that the federal government was wonderfully small in the early years of the Republic.

Amen!'s video explaining "3 Reasons Why We Should Cut Defense Spending Now" here.

NEXT: Chuck Schumer, Defender of Cheap Coffee, Wants to Ban Breathable Caffeine Shots

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  1. If we cut defense spending 20% and the rest of the government 30%, that will make an uptick on the Heritage chart. They shouldnt have any complaints with that, right?

    1. They shouldnt have any complaints with that, right?

      Aside from you horning-in on their deceptive-chart-ery gig, no.

  2. I saw this chart in a newspaper the other day – and this was exactly my first reaction – it’s BS. It’s only gone down as a ratio because everything else has gone up so much.

  3. Lets play Jeopardy.

    Answer – rabidly anti-fact conservative institutions.

    Question – What are Heritage, Fox News, Discovery Institute, Hillsdale College, redneck AM radio, Conservapedia, and Peter Schiff.

    1. Are you off your medications again? You seem to be extra yourself today.

    2. Can you elaborate on your complaints against Schiff? Doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of your list.

      1. Damn your accurate name.

        1. Schiff is representative of an anti-growth dollar-bear anti-capitalist.

          see also – Rick Santelli, many others.

          1. Schiff is anti-growth?

            Like Santelli?

            Please explain, this should be hilarious.

            1. A capitalistic anti-capitalist. Someone has Schiff and Soros mixed up.

            2. Only if you assume that growth can only be had through government spending, which shrike probably does.

    3. Why include Schiff?

      1. The rest of the list is a distraction. That is his real target. Progies hates them some Schiff for being right. Railing against Heritage, Fox News, Discovery Institute, Hillsdale College, redneck AM radio are just money making ventures to fleece leftist rubes. They essentially agree with the cons on everything. Especially Murdoch controlled establishmentarian cons. Nobody sucks a Wall Street cock quite like shrike.

      2. Big Pharma.

      3. He’s adamantly pro-Fed, anti-austrian.

    4. One of these things is not like the others.

  4. “Does the Heritage Foundation really want to suggest that when spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rises, military spending should rise commensurately?”

    Yes and so does Limburgher, Hannity and Old Riley, Bolton, Romney, Newcular, Rove, Cheeeeney, and so on and so on.

  5. That is some dirty alt-text.

  6. Without us what would all those rich Germans, Koreans, Saudis, Kuwaitis and Taiwanese do to protect themselves?

  7. Did a little math: total federal spending per person* in 1820 – $2.01 per person, and in 2010 – $12,403 per person (assuming 300 million people and total expenditures of 3.721 trillion). Whether you accept my figures or not, I think it is safe to find that the Fed Govt. has grown leaps and bounds since then.

    * Total expenditures $19.4 mil and from 1820 Census,9,638,453 citizens of which 1,538,022 were slaves, so slaves are included but probably shouldn’t be since they were considered property of a citizen.

    1. Even when you account for the fact that $2.00 in 1820 had the buying power of about $40 today.

      1. Actually, What cost $2.00 in 1820 would cost $30.78 in 2010.

        However, “What cost $2.00 in 1820 would cost $1.33 in 1910.”

        Hmm, what happened around 1910 that made the US economy change from one in which goods and services got steadily cheaper to one where goods and services got steadily more expensive?

        1. Totally the free market’s fault

  8. “Class Warfare” and the “Founders”

    Watching/listening to Mitt, various pundits, et al talk about the politics of envy and class warfare being un-American sparked a recollection from my undergraduate days. Though I doubt that the self-proclaimed “historian” in the GOP primary will ever bring this up, I thought perhaps I would.

    The fact is this: Class warfare was a common feature of the American Revolution.

    Back in the mid-70s, I was an undergraduate at UT-Austin. I don’t recall what madness possessed me, whether it was failure to understand what I was getting myself into, that the course description was really interesting or youthful hubris, but rather than taking the typical undergrad requirement for “first half” of US History, I got permission to enroll in a graduate seminar: “Radical Politics and the American Revolution 1765-76.”

    We looked at a lot of original source documents, surviving letters, news accounts, etc. There was (as I recall) a lot of info (probably from someone’s doctoral work) on New York, for example. It has been estimated that a third of the Colonists were rebels, a third were Loyalists, and a third were undecided.

    During this time, particularly in areas like the Hudson and Mohawk river valleys, there were huge estates held by the wealthy (these were Tory and Whig – or Loyalist and Revolutionary, if you prefer) and farmed by tenant, leasehold farmers, frequently under exploitative arrangements. Initially, in the run up to the actual Declaration of Independence, most of these tenants (knowing which side their bread was buttered on, so to speak) tended to support whichever political point of view their landlord sided with. And, typically, this meant that the landlords made no moves to disarm their tenants.

    But, as things heated up and the political debates from the cities made their way to the countryside, things changed. Not only did the tenants become angry at being drafted into the military effort of one side or the other, they also began to see the idea that having title to the land was as great an element of liberty as democracy itself. But, in an interesting twist – which upholds the premise that “class warfare” was a part of the Revolution – tenants began to take the opposite side from that of their landlords, no matter which side the landlord was on! (Foresee-ably, most of these wealthy landowners had been granted lands by the crown or were otherwise connected to nobility and so tended to be Loyalists – which tipped the numbers of tenants toward the Revolutionary cause.)

    Meanwhile, in Virginia, the planter class that included Washington and Jefferson had a different motivation. With slaves instead of tenant farmers, the same sort of “class conflict” is not as obvious. Instead, the planters were in debt, primarily to the British merchant class, after the collapse of tobacco prices. In 1764 American colonists owed British merchants ?6 million and British mercantilist policies drained an additional ?500,000 a year from the tobacco colonies. Virginia’s small landholders and business people – and no doubt, their counterparts in other colonies – realized British commercial, monetary and immigration policies favored the mercantilist-creditors back in London. Thus it was that debtors in Virginia became unrelenting critics of British policy, making them a persistent political force in favor of independence.

    So, “class warfare” is an American value!

    Now . . . if one of those Congresscritters that read the Constitution could just point out to me where “capitalism” is enshrined in that document . . . . .

    1. All that talky, no linky. Thanks for nothing, asshole.

      1. That run of diarrhea of the brain appears to have been originally posted by someone at Daily Kos posting under the handle “foolrex”.

    2. So small land owners revolting against the merchantalistic practices of britain that favored the politically connected is evidence that the founders hated capitalism?

      Somehow i think you dont understand what capitalism is. And I’m sure you are one of those corporate tools who keeps arguing for regulations that just end up enriching wealthy cronies.

    3. These are the same people who will argue “just because it used to be that way doesn’t mean we should still do it the same way! That was a long time ago! Things have changed today! They couldn’t have foreseen…” Blah, blah, blah.

      But if they manage to find something that someone was doing back then that somehow aligns with their desired ends today: “See, it’s a long-standing tradition in the U.S.! We should continue to do what always has been done!”

    4. Was this one of Dr. Philpott’s classes?

  9. The real question is: why is defense the only department of the federal government where it is ever acceptable to cut funding (or at least slow the rate of spending increases)?

    I agree with what John said on the other thread: the problem with enacting massive defense cuts is that the democratic party douchebags can’t be trusted to truly save the money. They’re inevitably going to take that money that would have been spent on defense and simply spend it on their other favorite projects (everything else).

    1. I think the problem with enacting massive defense cuts is that they’ve never been enacted. That’s half the problem solved not a zero-sum TEAM BLUE win.

      1. I’m dumb enough to listen to Hannity every now and then. One of his favorite things to do, aside from interrupt callers who disagree with him, is ask the random liberal to name the specific percent they think the rich should be taxed since they rarely can, they just want the vague more or fairer taxation. Just once, I would love to hear someone turn it around on him and ask for a specific amount the government should be spending on defense.

        1. Just once, I would love to hear someone turn it around on him and ask for a specific amount the government should be spending on defense.

          Your average radio talk show caller probably can’t think that quick on their feet, regardless of political affiliation.

      2. You can clearly see from that second chart that defense spending was cut in real terms both during the ’70s and the ’90s. That has never been true for any other area of the federal government.

        1. Also the 40s.

          Its amazing how defense spending gets cuts after a war ends (cold war for 90s), isnt it?

          1. That all happened before they figured out how to have a war that can never be won or lost.

            1. Nah, they already knew that trick. The Drug War was the beta version of the War on Terror.

              1. See also: war on poverty

          2. Although defense spending was cunt in ghe 90’s it was still higher than int he 60’s (Cuban Missile Crisis, Missile Gap, Vietnam War, tensions in Europe). Defense spending should have been cut to 1930’s levels. After 9/11 the military was bloated and with Afghanistan and Iraq over big cuts are in store.

            1. Freudian slip there?

            2. The costs of Afghanistan and Iraq are not included in the current defense budget so the charts are even more misleading.

              But Boaz pulls out a Cato chart showing that Pentagon spending in real, inflation-adjusted dollars has roughly doubled since 2000 and is up about 50 percent since 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War?not including the cost of the ongoing wars.

              (my emphasis)

              Through creative accounting Congress has managed to include the war spending in off-budget “emergency spending” resolutions.

              Neat trick that both administrations have entuiastically embraced.

    2. Democrats are firmly vested in defense pork, even a tiny state like Vermont has defense contractors and people employed making shit for the Global Defense Force. It keeps liberals like Leahy ( I support cuts but not these cuts) on the plantation.

    3. They’re inevitably going to take that money that would have been spent on defense and simply spend it on their other favorite projects (everything else).

      This is what happened during the BRACs 20 years ago. Left-wing Dems were hot to close down military installations (that weren’t in THEIR districs/states, natch) because they saw a pot of money spent on bases that could be funneled to welfare programs.

    4. The real question is why do *you* care if we spend it on “Defense” instead of some other stupid shit the Democrats want to spend it on? It’s waste now and it’ll be waste then.

      A huge percentage of our military industrial spending doesn’t secure our defenses at all — it’s just huge money give-a-ways to private contractors and pointless agencies with mostly over-paid under-intelligent employees.

      1. The real issue is that government spending needs to cut, period.

        Yes, defense spending can and absolutely should be cut. But it needs to be cut as part of a broader package of overall spending cuts across the board. What the heck is the point of cutting defense if the money saved is just going to all be spent on other stuff? That accomplishes absolutely nothing (see Europe).

  10. Over at the Cato Institute, David Boaz handily debunks a Heritage Foundation chart

    Having not seen the Heritage chart when I started reading this post, I thought this was going to be much more complex and/or nuanced effort then it turned out to be.

    This is a thoroughly embarrassing and transparent attempt to push an agenda from Heritage.

  11. I believe that that a non-trivial percentage of entitlement spending is veteran services. So when a guy comes home from Iraq or Afghanistan and needs a great deal of medical care, that’s an entitlement and not defense spending.

    1. WHat is it when the military “has” to build a hospital in Afghanistan to help all those burned, crippled and blown up Afghanis we created?

      1. Dunno. Done under the State Dept? There are lots of ancillary Defense costs which aren’t included in the Defense budget.

    2. 132 billion for the Veterans admin in 2012, 70 billion is considered part of the mandatory budget and 62 part of the discretionary budget. This is not part of the defense budget

  12. I believe the point of the chart is to try and quiet the Left, whose answer to all budget woes is “raise taxes and cut defense, but leave my precious entitlements alone!”
    I have used that chart to illustrate to them that they could in fact, cut defense to $0 and STILL be in debt. We need to cut entitlements, because as John Dillinger famously said “that’s where the money is.”

    1. This. Continually cutting down on defense to help finance endlessly expanding entitlements is the European leviathan welfare state model. And you sure don’t have to be Einstein to see how well THAT plan is working out for them over there. When the canary is dead, you don’t go down in the coal mine.

    2. No it’s just TEAM RED hackery.

    3. Both parties are equal in their reluctance to cut SS/Medicare.

      And don’t give me any bullshit about Paul Ryan’s plan. His cuts don’t start for 10 years. Why bother?

      Ryan is the POS who voted to add Medicare Part D in 2003.

      1. Oh shutup Shriek. Everyone voted for Part D.

        And name me another plan put forth by a Congressman that even attempts to slow the growth of Entitlements.

        You are just so full of shit it’s coming out your ears.

        1. Everyone voted for Part D.

          Not true. The Republicans own that particular bit of idiocy, though the Dems voted against it because it wasn’t big enough, iirc (the donut hole).

          1. Correct, which makes their complaints about Part D’s budgetary effects comletel bullshit. They wanted to spend much more.

            Also I think Ryan’s cuts are backloaded so that our federal dependents have ample notice of when their benefits will be reduced. he’s weening us off subsidy as opposed to cold turkey. There’s some justification for that. Of course the liberal plan is to double down on subsidy forever.

            1. Also I think Ryan’s cuts are backloaded so that our federal dependents have ample notice of when their benefits will be reduced.

              Or so that they won’t notice the cuts until he’s won a few more elections. Also, Congress can change its mind before the big cuts come in after this fiscal sanity fad has passed.

            2. It’s basically the same as the BO administration’s plan to spend like crazy now and make up for it by running balanced budgets from 2020-2050.

    4. Actually, it was Willie Sutton who is credited with saying “that’s where the money is” (in response to a question about why he robbed banks).

      It’s generally considered an apocryphal quote, however.

  13. Wait, a right-wing foundation tries to gin up misleading data to scare people into thinking we’re not spending enough on national defense?

  14. The Heritage chart is not deceptive at all. It’s labeled as “percentage of the federal budget”, which is what it is.

    Just because you prefer a different metric does not make their chart deceptive.

    1. It’s deceptive because it’s a meaningless and deceiving metric. It presumes that all other spending remains proportionally constant.

      1. It’s like a used car salesman talking about how great the fuel efficiency of a car is while showing you a plot of money spent on gas for this car since 2008.

        I mean, yeah, the information on the plot is fairly meaningless for the purpose of evaluating fuel efficiency, since the price fluctuates, but a marginally intelligent person should be able to pick up on that immediately. So it’s not really deceptive.

        1. …but a marginally intelligent person…

          A what???

          We’re talking about the American voting public here. 🙂

    2. Clarifying Barely’s point, the graphic itself isn’t deceptive, the Heritage Foundation’s use of it is deceptive. Presumably their target audience would agree that the government has lost control of entitlement spending, but would reject the idea that it follows that they should lose control of defense spending as well. It is analogous to posting a graphic of declining defense spending in a country where the government has caused massive deflation. It’s disingenuous and, worse for the Heritage foundation, counterproductive. The metric in a sense begs intelligent readers to suggest the best way to make the chart look how you want is to decrease other government spending, but that isn’t the intent of Heritage.

      1. I doubt that clarified anything.

    3. it’s a stupid metric.

  15. Defense Spending a percentage of GDP would be another better measure.
    Definitely, using percentage of the budget as a mesure is going to be skewed whenever some other part of the budget starts consuming more or less money.

    In point of fact, its equally bad that the increased defense spending during the aughts caused the continuing explosion in entitlement spending to look less severe.

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