Would Cuts in Defense Spending Be a Bad Thing?
August 8, 2012
Editorial / The Richmond Times-Dispatch | The Daily Progress
The total cost of the US military is about $1.2 trillion per year, many times what any other nation spends, more than all other nations combined, and more than half of federal discretionary spending. How wasteful is the Pentagon? We don't know, since it's the only department that is never audited. But we know that it routinely misplaces billions.
RICHMOND, VA (August 7, 2012) -- "Gov. Bob McDonnell suggested President Obama hold Congress in session until it hammers out a deal to avert what is known as sequestration -- whose effects on Virginia could be profound."
Note that this editorial is about to challenge the claims of the state's Transvaginal Governor who is also trying to get himself nominated for US Veep on the Romney ticket. Not only that, but a gang of US Senators including the previous Republican presidential nominee John McCain recently stopped in Virginia on a tour of swing states hyping the danger to the US economy of any cuts to the military budget. This editorial does not name those senators but does handily reject their bogus claims.
"Sequestration is the term applied to automatic budget cuts that will take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts now to prevent them. They are the result of last year’s Budget Control Act. That law tasked a special committee with finding $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. If it failed, automatic cuts -- half of them in defense spending, half in domestic discretionary spending -- would kick in. The committee failed."
Of course "defense" is code for military, even while few would pretend that attacking Libya or Syria or continuing in Afghanistan or drone bombing Pakistan or Yemen, etc., is defensive. The code is well understood and virtually unavoidable in a corporate newspaper. You'll recall that there was huge public pushback against the Super Congress, that the public told pollsters we favored taxing the rich and cutting the military.
The Super Congress failed to push through a deal to enlarge the military and continue tax cuts on the wealthy. And rightly so. But Congress is intent on accomplishing post-2012-election what the Super Congress couldn't do.
"Without action soon, the first of $600 billion in defense spending cuts will start to bite. That could mean the loss of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of jobs here in the commonwealth -- which is the No. 2 recipient of federal defense outlays. That is a frightening prospect indeed."
Note, however, that dollars don't translate simply and predictably into jobs. When the military had less money several years ago, it also produced more jobs. Also, the $600 billion is "over 10 years," and might as well be called $1200 billion "over 20 years" for all such monkeying with the numbers enlightens us.
It's $60 billion "over one year," but reduced from that in order to put more of the cutting later in the 10-year period. $50 billion or less, cut from $1.2 trillion or so in total military spending can only frighten people who are truly intent on being frightened. Of course, fear is what allows military spending on this kind of scale to begin with.
"But it is not in itself a sufficient reason to oppose the cuts. National defense is not a jobs program. Many of the very arguments conservative Republicans have made with regard to government spending over the years -- about inefficiency, about the displacement of private investment, about gargantuan bureaucracies doling out contracts to the politically connected -- might apply just as well to the Pentagon as to any other government agency."
This is a stunning bit of honest sanity. Reflect on the earthshattering, "debate" crashing, impoliteness of introducing this bit of truth to the public. Of course it's also the understatement of the year. Spending on the military produces fewer jobs than spending on education, energy, infrastructure, or even tax cuts for working people, because it is so incredibly wasteful.
How wasteful? We don't know, since it's the only department that is never audited. But we know that it routinely misplaces billions -- with a b -- of dollars, something no other department is allowed to do. We also know that in much of the world spending money on killing in order to generate jobs would be viewed as sociopathic.
"What’s more, the alarms being rung about the hollowing out of the military sound considerably less grim when put in context. For example, ask yourself this: Was the US military on the brink of collapse in 2007? Few people would answer yes. Yet if sequestration occurs, then military spending would revert to -- you guessed it -- 2007 levels. That doesn’t sound quite so horrible."
Again, this is simple and obvious but staggeringly new. It renders ludicrous countless "news" reports that have been published by these papers.
"Even after adjusting for inflation, Pentagon spending is now almost double what it was in 2000. And that leaves out the billions lavished on Homeland Security. And the further billions spent on ongoing military operations abroad, which add more than another hundred billion to the tab."
This too is new and different, pointing out that the "Homeland Security" budget is added on top of the Pentagon's. But let's not forget State, Energy, CIA, and all the other departments that include military spending, plus the expense of caring for the veterans our wars keep producing.
The total cost of the military is about $1.2 trillion per year, many times what any other nation spends, more than all other nations combined, and more than half of federal discretionary spending.
"True, federal defense outlays are smaller as a share of the federal budget than they have been in many years,"
Oops. That's not true, not when all military ("defense") expenses are counted.
"and they are smaller as a percentage of gross domestic product than at any time since World War II. But this is not a very useful comparison. It implies that whenever Washington creates a hugely expensive new entitlement program, or whenever the economy booms, Pentagon spending should be jacked up just to keep the proportions steady."
Wow. This is amazingly decent and dismissive of an entire genre of public "discourse." The Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly stressed to Congress that military spending is low as a percentage of GDP.
Even though it's high and has been rising each of the past 15 years as a dollar amount adjusted for inflation, as a percentage of the federal discretionary budget, and as a percentage of global military spending, the theory indeed seems to be that if we have more money we should buy more weapons because we can. This requires a psychiatrist, not an economist.
"The real question is how much the US needs to spend to maintain military dominance. To help answer it, consider a more useful comparison: For every dollar the world spends on military outlays, America accounts for 46 cents. China, a distant second, comes in at about 7 cents."
Hmm. Is that the real question? Isn't the real question how the United States can best keep its nation safe? Isn't it at the very least an open question whether striving to dominate the globe is making us safer or putting us at risk? The answer above to the wrong question is dramatically understated, and yet hugely important and worldview shattering for many potential readers. I hope they read it.
"Gov. McDonnell is right to worry about the effect of defense spending cuts here in Virginia. Congress should pass legislation to stave off the sequestration meat ax. However, it needs to make judicious cuts to the defense budget.
Overseas bases, redundant weapons systems, even force structures should all be on the table. The nation currently borrows 43 cents of every dollar it spends. And there is simply no way to fix that problem without including military cuts as part of the solution."
Wouldn't you know they'd reach the wrong conclusion after so much good rhetoric. The sequestration meat ax would cut that $1.2 trillion budget by about $50 billion. It should be cut by much more. Cutting back to merely three times the size of China would allow us not only to pay off debt but to make college free, eliminate student loans, develop a massive green energy program, and update our infrastructure.
Those are the tradeoffs that should have been mentioned. The mass murder of non-Americans that is generated by the war momentum that Eisenhower warned us war spending would create might also merit consideration. Nonetheless, I doubt I shall ever see this good an editorial in my local paper again.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.