Neocons’ Con

by Don Boudreaux on April 28, 2011

in Budget Issues, Business as usual, Crony Capitalism, Current Affairs, Other People's Money

Here’s a letter to USA Today:

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) complains that Pres. Obama wants to cut $400 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the course of 12 years; Mr. McKeon calls this sum “jaw-dropping” (“Obama cuts would gut U.S. defense,” April 28).

Perhaps Rep. McKeon will jack his jaw up off the floor when he recognizes that $400 billion in cuts spread over a dozen years amounts to an average annual cut of only $33.33 billion, or 3.7 percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget.

And if that fact doesn’t suffice to keep Rep. McKeon’s jaw from dragging, perhaps this fact will: Pres. Obama’s proposed “cut” amounts to being a proposal only to prevent the Pentagon from getting automatic increases in its baseline budget (although it will still get increases to adjust for inflation).  As Reason.com’s Shikha Dalmia says, “In a sane world this would be considered lame, not radical, especially since the Pentagon’s core budget has doubled since 9/11.”

But politics – as practiced by conservatives no less than by “liberals” – is fundamentally insane.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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{ 90 comments }

JohnK April 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

When you enter the military there is this implicit guarantee that when you exit you will have the opportunity to get a job at a DoD contractor.
You’ve already got the security clearance. You’re trained up on the expensive toys. You’re not a risk like someone off the street.

Cutting defense is cutting job opportunities for the men and women who are exiting the military.

Many are so conditioned to take orders without thinking, or are so conditioned to having their orders taken without question, that they they would flounder in the private sector.

Ken April 28, 2011 at 11:03 pm

JohnK,

Have you ever been in the military? This comment is pure ignorance and anti-military bigotry. The statistics comparing military vs non-military is pretty stark with veterans having higher educational levels, higher salaries, lower rates of crime and just generally more successful that jackasses like yourself.

The military represents around 1% of the population, with veterans totaling less than 7%. The company I worked for (as well as going to school full time, a pretty common experience for ex-military) just after getting out of the navy was at least 40% ex-military with all of the management being ex-military. This was in Austin in the high tech sector, i.e., the private sector, the very sector in which you claim veterans would flounder. What percentage of CEOs, presidents, successful entrepreneurs, etc are veterans? I’m willing to bet that ALL of the most successful groups of people in the country are over represented by veterans.

Lastly, out of the dozens of people I still keep in contact with from the military, only two are DoD contractors. ALL others work for private companies, like Ford, Intel, various software companies, and hospitals. Almost none have degrees, yet all make more than $60K, even in states with low median salaries like Wyoming.

In other words, you arrogant, ignorant fuck, you have no idea what you are talking about. You are just another bigot parroting the standard lefty line.

Regards,
Ken

jjoxman April 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm

I’m going to second Ken regarding the military people I know (esp. Marines) while at the same time saying that the defense budget should be cut in half or more – just enough for self-defense.

Through my teaching and personal relationships, I have found the military people are primarily thinkers. Now, most of those I’ve met have been officers, so maybe that’s a difference; last I checked, officers had to be thoughtful, careful leaders.

Second, the discipline is second to none. Now that could be learned or self-selection, but there’s no denying it; a damn disciplined group.

They are the best students I’ve ever had, and would welcome teaching at a military academy just because of the caliber of people.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:10 am

Ken,

JohnK really isn’t a looney lefty as some time here will lead you to understand, but he was way out in left field on this one, very very ignorant statements he made, not just about the people per se, but the cutting of defense spending.

JohnK’s post was very uncharacteristic of him.

Some of us who have done considerable military time. leave the military pretty much disgusted with the waste and squander that we have seen and want no part of it in any way shape or form.

Mao_Dung April 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

You are the biggest traitor since Benedict Arnold. You deserve to have your pension stopped. You should be doing time at Guantanamo. Waterboarding is too good for you. I’d feed you bit by bit to the crocks.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 9:44 am

Cao Dung, baby!

Glad to see you pop in and confirm that you haven’t picked up even one byte of improvement to your programming since the last display of stupidity.

BTW, got the squirrel that was scoping out my pecan trees, and raiding the bird feeder while he waited. Popped him right off the top of the bird feeder, clean kill. Then I sat on my deck in the backyard and popped a beer, guzzled some and sang a bit of the Hank Williams Jr. song, “A country boy can survive”.

Great life, Cao Dung, you ought to try it sometime.

Ken April 29, 2011 at 10:55 am

vidyohs,

First, I’m not sure why you think I haven’t been on this site for a while. I have been reading this blog for years and am familiar with JohnK’s writing. I never claimed he was a lefty, I claimed he was parroting the standard lefty bigotry against the military.

Second, I have no problem with cutting defense spending. If you spend a little time on this site, you’ll see that I have consistently advocated for across the board government cuts, including for the military. Having spent most of my adult life in the military or directly working for it, I am well aware of the waste in the military, which is the primary reason I support budget cuts for ALL departments.

Regards,
Ken

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Ummm, I didn’t suggest you weren’t in favor of cutting defense spending, how did you come up with that?

My meager memory told me that I had just began seeing your name in the recent past. True you could have been reading the blog, but I just didn’t recall seeing your name until fairly recent.

JohnK April 29, 2011 at 9:06 am

I work for a DoD contractor and know what I see.

Jake S. April 29, 2011 at 10:11 am

Confirmation bias?

Jake S. April 29, 2011 at 10:17 am

FWIW, another possible* explanation for your personal anecdotes masquerading as data is that the DOD contracting industry self-selects for these ‘drones’ whom you disdain so much.

That said, a far more likely explanation is that you’re not quite the judge of character you think you are…

Another [also far more likely] explanation is… well, which DOD contractor do you work for, specifically? It could be an issue with [insert name]‘s corporate culture.

Unless you’ve worked for a lot of DOD contractors and “they’re all like that”…

* though likely not correct

Ken April 29, 2011 at 11:05 am

Jake,

I agree that JohnK is just confirming his bias. However, as for “DOD contracting industry self-selects for these ‘drones’” I don’t think this is true either. I too am a Defense Department contractor and have yet to think that the ex-military I work with are “drones”. Again, ex-military occupy the most sensitive positions in the company for whom I work.

The other ex-military guys I know here are the most resilient and imaginative workers. The military is great at breeding people like that. After all, if you’re not resilient, how are you going to handle being isolated from your old life for at least two months and living in close quarters with people from all over the country? How are you going to handle having to move somewhere you may not have a choice to go? How are you going to handle having to deploy with as little as two weeks notice and be gone for upwards of a year?

If you’re not an imaginative thinker, how are you going to handle immensely stressful situation where people’s lives are literally at stake? You can drill and train on best practices, but the reality is that these situations are fluid to say the least and not being able to think on your feet is something the military selects against.

Even for those that become contractors.

Regards,
Ken

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

Okay let’s take it from the top.

“When you enter the military there is this implicit guarantee that when you exit you will have the opportunity to get a job at a DoD contractor.
You’ve already got the security clearance. You’re trained up on the expensive toys. You’re not a risk like someone off the street.”

I agree with everything you said there except the use of the word guarantee. Highly probable that a job with a DOD contractor could be had, but no guarantee. Your problem here is one of blanket accusation and that is as wrong as blanket accusations usually are. There are some people leaving the military that look forward to moving into a DOD contractor job; but, far and away most of those military men want to be as far away from government control and association as they can get. For instance, I was recruited by the CIA when I took my first discharge in 1963. Because of my security clearance I was also recruited by Sylvania and Dupont when I retired. I wanted nothing to do with them.

“Cutting defense is cutting job opportunities for the men and women who are exiting the military.”

Here again you choose to go with the blanket accusation. Cutting defense spending “can be seen” as cutting job opportunities for people leaving the military; but, as we see above, it is a congressman who is wanting to kill the cut, not a military man. Furthermore, I doubt seriously he is trying to kill the cut to protect jobs for men leaving the military, I’d guess he has one or more major DOD contractors in his district or state and he is just thinking jobs (as well as getting fat on the money that just happens to spill into his pocket).

“Many are so conditioned to take orders without thinking, or are so conditioned to having their orders taken without question, that they they would flounder in the private sector.

People in general all respond differently to identical stimulus. Some find their niche in a bureaucracy and are comfortable with not thinking, there is nothing about the military that creates that, the military only uses it. However, if your statement were known to be true, and certainly in 2011 we would have ample evidence to verify it, then ex-military men (particularly officers and senior Non-Coms) would not be sought and recruited as much as they are. No business consistently seeks people who are known to flounder in dealing with subordinates.

Martin Brock April 30, 2011 at 9:24 am

Your critique of JohnK’s post is accurate enough. Hyperbole is par for the course around here, but JohnK certainly shoots for par.

But John’s point is valid, and if he had made it about “government employees” cashing in through “government contractors”, I doubt that he’d have drawn so much ire. Needless to say, military employees are government employees.

Martin Brock April 30, 2011 at 9:14 am

Ken does not contradict JohnK.

JohnK asserts that ex-military personnel are more likely to work for military contractors.

Ken asserts that military personnel have more education and higher salaries. JohnK never denies these facts.

Ken then asserts that his own employer has far more ex-military personnel than the general population, with an even higher representation of ex-military among the company’s higher paid, management factors. This fact does not contradict JohnK’s assertion either. It supports his assertion.

Ken describes his employer as “high tech” and “private sector”, but he doesn’t name the company, and he doesn’t tell us how much business the company does with the Federal government and other companies doing much business with the Federal government, so he omits the single detail we require to evaluate JohnK’s assertion.

Ken asserts that many ex-military personnel work at Ford and Intel and that these companies are not DoD contractors. In fact, like most large U.S. corporations, both Ford and Intel are major DoD contractors. Neither company earns most of its income directly from the DoD, and Ford has sold major DoD contracting subsidiaries like Ford Aerospace, but both companies are major DoD contractors regardless. Robert McNamara was the CEO of Ford when he became John Kennedy’s Secretary of War.

Neither Bill Gates nor Warren Buffett ever served in the military, but I can easily believe that veterans have better educational credentials and higher salaries than the general population. So do Federal employees generally. Feudal lords also had more education and income than serfs.

Ken ends his reply by calling JohnK an arrogant, ignorant fuck.

Ken April 30, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Martin,

“Ken asserts that military personnel have more education and higher salaries. JohnK never denies these facts.

Ken then asserts that his own employer has far more ex-military personnel than the general population, with an even higher representation of ex-military among the company’s higher paid, management factors. This fact does not contradict JohnK’s assertion either. It supports his assertion.” Martin Brock

“they would flounder in the private sector.” JohnK

“Ken describes his employer as “high tech” and “private sector”, but he doesn’t name the company”

Applied Materials. As mentioned before some went to work at Intel; others to KLA tencor.

” In fact, like most large U.S. corporations, both Ford and Intel are major DoD contractors.”

“Neither company earns most of its income directly from the DoD,”

Example of DoD contractors are Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen, and Raytheon. These companies’ primary way of making money is sales to the government. Anyone that knows anything about government contracting knows that JohnK was referring to these types of companies. I also mentioned these large companies because I’m sure you would have heard of them, whereas most of my ex-navy buddies work for small firms you never would have heard of, primarily software and communications firms in Seattle, WA and its suburbs.

“Robert McNamara was the CEO of Ford when he became John Kennedy’s Secretary of War.”

Last I checked he wasn’t working for Ford when he was secratary of defense. Unless that job was contracted out to Ford, this statement is irrelevant.

“Feudal lords also had more education and income than serfs.”

Now veterans are feudal lords and everyone else is a serf?

“Ken ends his reply by calling JohnK an arrogant, ignorant fuck.” Martin Brock

JohnK’s entire comment is about how veterans are mindless “drones” who can only “take orders”, can only get jobs because of an “implicit gurantee” from the government, since “they they would flounder in the private sector.”

Since this doesn’t fit with reality at all, that most veterans do NOT become contractors, but work in the private sector and are more successful than the average non-veteran, yes his comment does make him “an arrogant, ignorant fuck.”

Regards,
Ken

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 12:10 am

“Many are so conditioned to take orders without thinking, ”

I disagree, that is a simplistic stereotype. Taking orders is one thing, applying them, with proper priority is quite another thing.

On the other hand, if it were true, it would be of great benefit in the private sector (as well as government) where large bureaucracies place great value on saluting inane nonsense such as the following items which are intrinsically autocratic edicts and of dubious value to shareholders (other than fend off bad publicity or legal action)

“Diversity” (I really want to know what a “diverse person” is.
“Green Initiatives”
and my personal favorite:

Giving your “fair share” to whatever group that wants to collect your money for their priorities.

politicaljules April 29, 2011 at 2:16 am

Which military is that? Not ours, and I am glad. If it worked like you proposed the military would be nothing more than creating more government workers. It does sound idiotic, and while I wish Ken did not go the four letter name calling route, I agree with his other assessments.

Justin P April 29, 2011 at 9:45 am

I’ve worked for DOD contractors and with ex-Military. I think ex-Military are actually better equipped to deal with private sector work than most people, from what I’ve experienced. Maybe it’s the field you work in?

I agree that there is enormous amount of waste in DOD contracts, especially the cost plus contracts that I’ve worked on.

JohnK April 29, 2011 at 10:25 am

“Maybe it’s the field you work in?”

Perhaps. Maybe I’m seeing an unrepresentative segment in my work. I sure hope so.
It’s just that the people I see are, well, I dunno. Conditioned or something. They’re like drones, just humming along.
It’s so depressing I’ve been seeking a new employer. One that has as little connection to government as possible.
But you know how the job market is right now.
Whatever. Seems I’ve overstayed my welcome.
Adios!

Justin P April 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

Your fine. I think we all fall prey to that fallacy. I surely hope that the liberals here in Syracuse aren’t representative of the whole, if so were all screwed lol.

Jorge Gonzalez April 29, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I served in Iraq and know quite a few vets. Only one of them is DoD. The rest are in the provate sector and are fairly successful. That ^ is pure garbage.

Chris B April 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I don’t think your assertion that they would flounder in the private sector is accurate at all. Soldiers, while they get orders, are trained to think critically and on the fly. They typically get skills that have crossover ability (communications, mechanics, logistics, medicine etc.) in the private sector, and many, many end up there after service, and many employers prefer to hire former servicemen because of their can do attitude and goal oriented approach.
Also, this is the whole Keynesian “make work” argument. Sure, we could have a million defense contractors in the DoD, but how is that going to improve our economy if it is funded with tax dollars pulled from other, more productive sectors of the economy. (answer:it won’t). Do you think we should fund unproductive activities by taking peoples money and allocating it to organizations and privileged individuals because it creates jobs?
Why don’t we just pay them to dig holes in Nevada’s desert, sure we won’t get anything of value (maybe some cool looking rocks), but its JOBS, right?

tms April 28, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Depressing.

Jacob Oost April 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Part of the reason I bristle at being called a “conservative” is because too many conservatives don’t see the bulk of military spending for what it is–utterly wasteful. There’s as much, if not more, pork and waste and rent-seeking in the military-industrial complex as there is in the welfare state or public works projects.

I could blame it on the left, for hijacking anti-war philosophy and using it as a popular front for socialism (notice they never complain much about the military aggression of non-western, statist countries), driving the right further to the right, but having been a diehard conservative Republican who championed all defense spending as 100% necessary and any criticism of the military as akin to blasphemy, I know how they think because it’s how I used to think. And this is one issue where many conservatives simply turn off their brains.

Kind of like small-government right-wingers in England who still, for some reason, think that the monarchy (a fancy word for over-rated obsolete welfare family) is a very good thing. Conservatives and tea-partiers and whatnot are always complaining about big government but they never came across a military spending bill they didn’t want to pass or an instance of police or teacher brutality they didn’t want to defend.

Ken April 28, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Jacob,

“I could blame it on the left, for hijacking anti-war philosophy…”

Really? Democrats are just as much warmongers as republicans. Just take a look at which party was in power of the history of the nation when wars or major military actions took place: WWI & II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the Balkan Wars were all started by democrats. Not too mention that a LOT of military spending gets spent in many blue states, like Maryland, Massachusetts, California, and New York.

The military, like most government spending, is a jobs program for many. While I think it is necessary to have a strong military, I’m pretty sure we could cut defense spending by at least 20% without affecting our military effectiveness. Republicans AND democrats use the military and “for our troops rhetoric” to boost spending in their own state. How hard do you think that Barbara Mikulski, as blue as it gets democrat, fights for increases in military spending at the dozens, if not hundreds, of military bases and installations in Maryland?

Regards,
Ken

MWG April 29, 2011 at 2:51 am

“Democrats are just as much warmongers as republicans. Just take a look at which party was in power of the history of the nation when wars or major military actions took place: WWI & II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the Balkan Wars were all started by democrats.”

I agree with this assessment to a point. I think there is a distinction between average citizens and those in power. You’ll find few conservative republicans attending anti-war rallies.

Justin P April 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

You’ll find few Democrats attending them now.
http://reason.com/blog/2011/03/21/remember-the-antiwar-movement

I think it’s more that some of those conservatives that don’t attend the anti-war stuff are just being more consistent than the Left. Consistency with ideology is always a big problem for most Lefties.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I’ve seen this video and agree. There is a lot of hypocrisy on the left, but the fact remains that since the Vietnam War, the left has been the major force behind the Anti-War movement.

“Consistency with ideology is always a big problem for most Lefties.”

…and most conservatives.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:18 am

“There’s as much, if not more, pork and waste and rent-seeking in the military-industrial complex as there is in the welfare state or public works projects.”

That is not my experience at all, Jacob. As I said above I left the military disgusted at the waste and squander that I saw over my 21 years active duty; but I was stunned by the way civil servants could make the military look like amateurs at wasting and squandering.

When we in the Navy turned up a rotten apple in the sense that we had someone who was not capable of doing the technical job we did and/or his attitude was so crappy that he was a distraction, we moved him into a non-technical position such as Master-at-Arms in the barracks and when it come time for him to re-enlist he was moved out to civilian life.

Contrast that with NYC teachers who can’t be fired and draw full salary while sitting in the “rubber room” for years or decades.

Just one little teeny example of the difference between the military and civilian life.

SheetWise April 29, 2011 at 10:03 am

Yes — enlisted people cannot unionize and labor laws do not apply to them. The contract that’s accepted in the military would fail (legally) in any private sector enterprise. That’s the governments encroachment on our right to contract. In the private sector job seekers are unable to freely contract their labor (if they want to be employees). The terms of the contract have already been written in stone by third parties — they have been litigated, and represent known risks to the employer. There are way too many arrangements that an employee and employer are legally precluded from agreeing to.

Back to the topic — our representatives have handcuffed themselves in the same way when it comes to budget problems. We find ourselves where we are after a history of passing rules and regulations that limit our ability to agree.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Sheetwise,

“The contract that’s accepted in the military would fail (legally) in any private sector enterprise. That’s the governments encroachment on our right to contract.”

Exactly where in there do you see an encroachment of my right to contract? Especially considering I had the right not to apply and to not sign after reading the proposed contract. Seems perfectly legit to me. If I didn’t like it, I did not have to sign it.

Now, if you are conflating the draft with voluntary enlistment, that is a different subject altogether.

SheetWise April 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

The encroachment on your right to contract is in the civil sector — the government exempts itself from it’s own rules in the military, and embraces the same rules for “civil servants,” to use your phrasing (that phrase makes my skin crawl).

Ken April 29, 2011 at 1:24 pm

vidyohs,

“When we in the Navy turned up a rotten apple in the sense that we had someone who was not capable of doing the technical job we did and/or his attitude was so crappy that he was a distraction, we moved him into a non-technical position such as Master-at-Arms in the barracks and when it come time for him to re-enlist he was moved out to civilian life.”

It was my experience the many went to CRB. If that didn’t work, NJP usually did since restriction and loss of rand and pay all suck. After that, an other than honorable discharge was usually the followup.

Regards,
Ken

Ken April 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm

“It was my experience [that] many went to CRB. If that didn’t work, NJP usually did since restriction and loss of [rank] and pay all suck. After that, an other than honorable discharge was usually the followup.”

Sometimes I can’t spell.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Ken,

I have to confess that my Navy was not your Navy. I was Navy Security Group, not typically sea going Navy at all. My rating was split into 7 different sub-ratings, each with a particular specialty. My particular sub-specialty happened to be the one that required some knowledge of all the others (we had to be able to slip into a position in other areas and at least perform adequately for the interim) with specific knowledge of every particular area of communications, secure and open.

We were not typical Navy in any sense of the word, except that we had foolish people sometimes try and make us fit into the normal Navy world. I did some sea duty, but as a volunteer and in unique circumstances, with unique missions, on unique vessels.

The way our misfits were handled was pretty much like I said, without dealing with a complete renegade, we just moved them out of our op spaces and into a make-do job until their time was up and refused them re-enlistment. No muss, no fuss, clean break.

kyle8 April 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

Yes, I am pretty much a conservative, but do not call myself one because of really just two issues, the idiotic war on drugs, and the cold war mentality of being interventionist in all military conflicts.

I think we need a lean, mean, modern and professional military which is not spread out around the globe in 100 different nations. And not involved in three shooting conflicts at the same time.

It is insane to think we can keep this up, or that it is in our best interest to.

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 9:24 am

“Conservatives and tea-partiers and whatnot are always complaining about big government but they never came across a military spending bill they didn’t want to pass or an instance of police or teacher brutality they didn’t want to defend.”

Being, according to various political assessment tests, a conservative with some libertarian instincts, I find that statement to be the vaccous chant of some knee-jerk leftist.

For every “Rodney King gotcha” tape, where the truth is harder to divine than you think (what happened before the camera started rolling?) there are far more pervasive examples of police excess. Examples: DUI checkpoints-which decimate probable cause, asset forfeiture laws that mock due process,et al. Every day we accept police hiding in order to catch speeders (to of course generate “revenue”) rather than being in the open even while they themselves flount the speed laws.

These are systematic, commonplace assaults on my liberty. I live in the real and imperfect world, and understand anomolous incidents of police brutality will exist. When it happens, we have a process. Do I have to join in some protest filled to be offended? No. I am more concerned about the millions of daily insults against the liberty of an increasingly less free people than the obnoxious but infrequent misuse of a baton.

However, I have no recourse against being detained by police TO PROVE MY INNOCENCE in a DUI checkpoint, thanks to SCOTUS. The interesting thing is that the more outrage that is directed at police because of “police brutality”, the more they harass we the sheeple-because you’ll simply pay the ticket.

I found this out when a simple fender bender caused me to get a “careless driving” citation. Prior to the hearing, which I insisted on, the policeman engaged me in idle chatter and asked me if I had seen him in the neighborhood the prior week. It turned out my neighbors had been burglarized and the policeman said “I hope we get them” with no apparent thought to the opportunity cost of him defending a $100 summary ticket as opposed to doing real police work.

The result? I paid lawyer, and pled to a nonmoving violation with the same fine as “careless driving”.

That’s police brutality.

jorod April 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm

If that’s the case, why is he fighting other cuts?

danphillips April 28, 2011 at 11:18 pm

“But politics – as practiced by conservatives no less than by “liberals” – is fundamentally insane.”

What a great line. The only way to improve it is to remove the part between the hyphens and say “Politics is insane.” After all, what other type of politics is there besides that which is practiced by conservatives and liberals?

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 12:18 am

The only problem with that line is that it ignores a basic reality: environments free of politics tend to be the worst. Military spending may be “wasteful” -but that’s by design: the military must be effective and robust-efficiency always carries with it the possibility of removing or crippling a mission critical function. Hayek’s injunction about hubris in design applies to redesign as well.

Cory Burnell April 28, 2011 at 11:36 pm

McKeon is a MORON and part of the problem… a neo-con piece of trash who should be swept out with the rest of the garbage in 2012!!

Marcus April 28, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Spending is how Congress exercises its power. When a politician says that we need to cut spending, he is in essence saying that politicians need less power. When this simple fact is understood it should immediately become clear why Republicans and Democrats will not cut spending.

Instead, they use the mantra of cutting spending to club each other over the head with.

The strategy works like this. Obama threatens to cut military spending knowing it is a Republican sacred cow. The threat creates, out of thin air, a bargaining chip for him.

Republicans do the same. They threaten a Democrat sacred cow like federal funding for education. Poof! A bargaining chip.

Then they come together with their bargaining chips and all the chips cancel each other out and spending doesn’t get cut.

It’s just a game.

Emerson April 29, 2011 at 1:27 am

^^nThis.

vikingvista April 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

True.

dan April 30, 2011 at 5:20 pm

In aggregrate, yes.

So, when there is a push for limitations to spending, it would be in our interest to support it, no?

vikingvista April 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I guess it depends on the futility of it.

SheetWise April 29, 2011 at 12:05 am

Or maybe — was it Caplan who said it — the difference between democrats and republicans is like the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Tea Party Forever ;)

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

Mr. Caplan doesn’t sound like he has much insight into religion, but then again, he’s an economist, not a theologian. He probably should confine himself to pecuniary, rather ecclesial matters.

Of course, if I were Orthodox, I’d really find his simplistic analogy insulting.

yet another Dave April 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Phil,
I don’t understand your objection. I take the Catholics vs. Protestants comparison to mean dem and repubs are more alike than different. Do you take a different meaning, or do you think dems and repubs are more different? (Or something else I’m missing?)

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm

As a preface : I accept the premise that both major parties operate in much the same way, that in some respects, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them. However, the use of the powers of appropriation and expenditure to give conspicuous benefits and hidden costs is not a modern problem. It always has existed and always will. If you need proof, I refer you to the famous phrase “Panem et cirque”, (bread and circuses) coined by Juvenal millenia ago.

I reject the notion that given the current structures, that any other party would operate differently (and prosper). The problem of politics being unsavory, unethical, inconsistent or immoral -(its not insane -the political class acquires, retains and augments power while Econ professors blog) is institutional.

I say this as a bureaucrat with experience in both the private and public sectors. Capital L Libertarians for example, will either bow to the pressures of the electoral power of the paristic classes or be promptly removed.

However, my objection to the analogy is as follows:

1.) There are marked differences between Catholics and Protestants. Ecclesiology, Eschatology, and the “Economy of Salvation” are just a few areas of profound differences.

2.) There is quite a bit of variation among Protestants about their identity. “High Church Anglicans” and some Lutherans do not consider themselves “Protestant”, with the former calling themselves small c catholic and the latter preferring the term “Reformed”.

3.) Among Catholics, there are something like 20-some odd different “rites” other than Latin (Roman), and while doctrine is uniform, the rubrics are markedly different.

4.) It ignores Orthodoxy. They fit in neither camp.

5.) I don’t think a professor at a University would dream of making such an analogy with say,Orthodox or Reformed Judaism or the far better analogy of Sunni/Shia Islam. It would be met with internal or external opprobrium (ADL, CAIR), and perhaps discipline and the bureacrats that run the University sacrified that professor to the great god “sensitivity”.

In short, if you want to make an analogy about the similarity of the actual operating practices of politicians, you wouldn’t use the analogy “Catholics and Protestants”, unless you wanted to show a wealth of theological ignorance or weaken the assertion of similarity.

yet another Dave April 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for the clarification – I see now you think the analogy makes them out as more different than they are.

As a non-theologian, I took the analogy to be pointing out the similarity of the underlying Christian premise of Catholics and Protestants with the underlying statist premise of both dems and repubs, even though in both cases the differences are what tends to get focused on. I suspect, but cannot prove, that was Caplan’s intent.

Rider I April 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

I wonder if this would be jaw dropping to you. The Communist are spending the equivalent of 2.88 billion dollars if their currency was proper placed outside of their cold war weapons which stop them from helping their rural people and thus cause more Sovereign Wealth funds and SOE’s along with reserves that never get to the rural people thus allow them to keep their currency low in the international community. As they act like a developing country. However, they are more developed and richer than any other country in the world. While the US spends 1.7 which will be cut by a substantial amount. Along with that the Communist Chinese are following exactly in the Soviets foot steps. From everything from creating a Bloc which is now called the Bric, to trying to implement a single world currency, to literally going on a resource domination campaign.

n Nomeni Patri Et Fili Spiritus
http://rideriantieconomicwarfaretrisii.blogspot.com/

Rider I

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 7:04 am

Meaning no disrespect, good sir, but you’d do well by yourself to learn how to write coherently in the English language. I think you had something to say, but I’ll be damned if I can understand it.

Dan April 29, 2011 at 2:10 am

I would agree that a haircut to the military is with merit. But as percentage, the cuts should be far less than what is necessary throughout the rest of federal budget. Tens of thousands should be let go, including the several hundred thousand additions to the federal payroll since the messiah was elected.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 2:38 am

Don,

Thanks for this post. As a libertarian I hate that we are so often associated with conservatives. I come from a conservative family and considered myself one for a number of years. Since I stopped calling myself a conservative I have debated, at length, family members and friends about why conservatives are no better in terms of limited government than their liberal counterparts. The outrageous size of our military budget is a disgrace. In terms of % of GDP, we outspend anyone who could be considered a military threat.

Even worse, we could cut our military budget by HALF and still spend 3.5 times the Chinese who have the 2nd largest budget.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

With the exception of 3… MAYBE 4 ‘conservative’ members of congress, I find very little that would make me optimistic about the future solvency of the federal government. From an ‘ideological’ standpoint, we tend to assume that conservatives are better when it comes to fiscal responsibility, but the fact of the matter is, they deserve much of the blame for our current predicament.

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

:”The outrageous size of our military budget is a disgrace. In terms of % of GDP, we outspend anyone who could be considered a military threat.”

Have you ever thought that its better we OUTSPEND them than outshoot them?

STATISTICULOUS April 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

“Have you ever thought its better we OUTSPEND them than outshoot them?”

Not the only two possibilities. Most developed countries spend far less than us and don’t face this (false) dilemma.

Anyway- It seems we are doing both.

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Most developed countries spend far less than us and don’t face this (false) dilemma.

I don’t think I want to rely on the military might of Germany or Sweden, the way they rely on us. We’d be getting ready to sing the praises of the proletariat for May Day had we relied on other “developed countries”. Reagan turned Kruschev’s “without a shot remark” on its head by escalating military expenditures and exposing the nonproductivity of the evil empire.

For a blog that usually produces a great deal of thoughful commentary, this thread has really dragged out a whole bunch sophisms and nostrums.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm

“I don’t think I want to rely on the military might of Germany or Sweden, the way they rely on us.”

So… we can’t cut military spending, which is around 7x what the Chinese spend (who have the 2nd largest military budget), because then we’d have to rely on Germany and Sweden?

The combined military budgets of Germany and Sweden is around $50 billion. We’d have to do some serious cutting before they would become our protectorates.

Talk about ‘sophisms and nostrums’.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

“Have you ever thought that its better we OUTSPEND them than outshoot them?”

Preposterous. The US is currently involved in 3 wars and other ‘adventures’ around the world. Our track record of ‘outspending’, but not ‘outshooting’ has been piss poor at best.

Or as STATISTICULOUS said… it seems we are doing both.

Anotherphil April 29, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Show me a time when there’s ever been peace in the world. Newsflash: its a damn violent world.

I’m not thrilled with the three current conflicts, especially the latest one. If I were an Obamabot, and honest with myself, I’d really really be peeved, being as he ran an antiwar campaign.

However, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a hell of a lot better than an all-out confrontation with a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. I’m worried about the type of wars that result in the issuance of a fifth star to a general.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm

“However, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a hell of a lot better than an all-out confrontation with a nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.”

Another false dichotomy. Are you suggesting that if it weren’t for a massive military budget of $700 billion, we’d be facing nuclear, biological or chemical warfare?

Again, we could cut our military budget in half, close our bases in Japan, Germany, even Korea, and the world would be no less safe.

Speaking of nuclear confrontation, the Cold War ended 20 years ago, and the US military budget is more bloated than ever.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 8:27 pm

@MWG,

Seems to me to be a lot of speculation from yourself and from those with whom you debate.

No facts, because there simply can not be any facts. With nations as with people (we all nations are people) no one knows for sure what the correct course of action might be.

For myself I’d rather face the rest of the pack as the alfa male, screw that Beta male crap, the view behind the lead dog is always the same.

Dan April 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Exactly!!!!! Somebody will assume the role of top dog and assert their newfound power, might as well be us. Thousands of years of war should tell us that there will always be an aggressor. I tend to think we are one of the mildest superpowers in terms of aggression to assert our dominance. The only ‘plunder’ I am aware of is the settling of western North America. And any ‘plunder’ of today is of mutual contract.

MWG April 30, 2011 at 3:39 am

@vidyohs

We could cut military spending drastically and still be the ‘alpha male’.

Randy April 29, 2011 at 3:40 am

I disagree that politics is insane. Politics is behavior directed towards the exploitation of human beings. It is extraordinarily practical. Historically the returns to successful political behavior are many times greater than the returns to non-political behavior (i.e., productive behavior). So, immoral perhaps – but not insane.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:37 am

Very accurate, Randy.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:59 am

Those who have honored me by reading the comments I have made in this Cafe over the years know that I am consistent in expressing my disgust and downright hatred for the folks who take our tax money and throw it away on insane shit.

That being said:

What most of the folks commenting here do not really understand how much of the waste and squander committed by the military is the results of the procurement and disposal regulations dictated by Congress. I met my share of men in the military who had total disregard for the tax dollar and the people from whom it was taken, but in truth they were in the small minority. Most of my fellow servicemen had great respect for where the money came from and how it was to be used. Most of us would have been glad to do things less expensively, knowing we could still do just as effectively that which we needed to do. We could not.

For instance my older brother was a trained heavy equipment operator as a Seabee, and was not allowed to build anywhere in CONUS, and very little overseas because the Unions in the 1950s bought off Congress and got laws passed to prohibit use of military personnel in construction because it was taking money out of the hands of the unions. The Seabees are quite capable of building better, cheaper, and faster, but they are prohibited by law.

My own rating was prohibited from going out to the open local market to buy parts or service on items when the need rose unexpectedly. If no one had the cash and was willing to donate it to bypass the bullshit, we had to put in requisitions, justify the request, and wait (sometimes months) for approval, purchase by someone unfamiliar with the process and the part, and finally actual delivery…….and all at an expense sometimes of 200% over what we could have bought the item by just walking into a store. Congress is the answer.

In general my command and shipmates showed more respect and concern for the tax dollar, what it bought, and how it was used than any other body of people in government. I saw more initiative taken by the military to intelligently use and conserve what was provided.

But, regarding waste and squander, don’t even get me started on the difference between the military and the attitudes I saw on display by civil servants. A military man could be booted out, or simply be refused re-enlistment; but, God forbid you should try to get rid of a civil servant no matter how egregious his waste and squander might be. To many of the civil servants I observed, the tax dollar was a joke, an amusement.

Ryan Vann April 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

And I’m sure all this concern and respect would manifest itself in say spending data?

Ken April 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Ryan,

Have you looked at the procurement procedures for the military? They are byzantine and hard to follow at best; some are outright contradictory. vidyohs is right; congress writes those rules and is responsible for at least 99% of the waste, fraud and abuse in the military. The biggest incentive for waste is a reduction in budget for year n+1 if you don’t spend your entire budget in year n. That’s right, you are actively punished for being frugal and responsible with money. My ship spent tens of thousands of dollars on all sorts of unnecessary or expensive stuff in August and September. Why spend a couple thousand dollars on a complete Snap-On tool set when all you really need is $50 worth of wrenches in the sizes you don’t have?

Regards,
Ken

Dan April 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm

@ken. Agreed.

Dan April 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Case in point are the SEC workers, amongst others, caught with the tremendous amount of porn on work computers and the admitting of having spent most of the day for months surfing porn, and yet, these workers are still employed by the federal govt.
Fear of US military has kept many a dictator around the world from expanding his/her influence thru violence.
You are All intelligent economists, and intelligent individuals, but any idea of US being meek militarily is foolish (if that is any suggestions being made).

DJF April 29, 2011 at 7:46 am

The first thing that needs to be cut when cutting the military is the worldwide military commitments that the US politicians have signed up for. It is no longer 1945 with the world in ruins so the US should not be subsidizing the defense of rich countries in Europe and Asia. The US spends at least 5% GDP on defense, much of it earmarked to defend Europe (less then 2% GDP defense), Japan (1% GDP defense), South Korea (2% GDP on defense). The money that the Europeans save on defense they use to out compete US business and labor.

The worse thing to do is to keep the world wide military commitments and cut defense spending since that is like writing a check with nothing in the bank. First cut the commitments and then cutting defense spending is much easier since defending just the US is a much smaller task. But if you want the US to be able to defend countries all over the world then get out you checkbook and write a big check to the Treasury since we probably don’t spend enough cover all the commitments that the politicians have already given out.

ohioralph April 29, 2011 at 8:21 am

I always think of Bastiat’s broken window theory when I think of the military.
The military is a broken window. Broken windows do not create economic growth. Just think if we quit breaking windows what economic growth we would have.

John V April 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

Two Thumbs Up. Well Said!

Like I say about spending increases, it’s like prey sliding down a snake’s throat. It’s slides down easily but snags against inward pointing teeth coming out. Thus, it only goes one way with ease.

In that sense, it’s also like a fish hook. Conservatives have a real blind spot about defense. They don’t question its cost or bang for the buck. Kinda like modern liberals on many other boondoggles that sound better than they really are.

Big John April 29, 2011 at 10:14 am

Excellent article and reminds me of the “official” Libertarian Motto – “Clowns on the Left and Jokers on the Right”.

Dan April 29, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Stuck in the middle with u………

Ryan Vann April 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

Funny how frequenters of these threads circle the warwagons when the size and scope of military is questioned, even at the margins. These, of course, are the same folks that go on tirades about the inefficiencies and overreaching of government. Well here is a newsflash for you; Military is the original government.

John V April 29, 2011 at 10:24 am

Amen.

And, it’s worth pointing that most libertarians like me who agree with Don on this are not calling for disbanding the military. But much like with modern liberals when talks of cutting bloated, wasteful and inefficient spending on a variety domestic boondoggles comes up, conservatives tend to lash out at any cuts to defense as if those cuts are going to totally incapacitate the military in its objectives as they stand….let alone its core constitutional objectives.

Ryan Vann April 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Were a universal law remotely enforceable, a zero military policy would be 100% optimal, of course such a thing is not possible, so militaries are necessary under a nation state paradigm. So I agree with you in practice.

What I have difficulty accepting is that US military spending must account for some 45% of total military spending. Why would that be the case? Surely the US isn’t prone to attack from every nation in the world.

DJF April 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

US military spending has little to do with actually defending the US. It is mostly about defending other countries or what is called “US interests” however that is defined. In fact much of the protection of the US has been turned over to DHS, the military in the US is mostly for training, support and deployment of overseas forces.

Just look at the last Airforce tanker project, they wanted hundreds of tankers in just one contract to replace just some of the present US Airforce tankers while all of Europe can barely scrape together 50 tankers. The reason is that the US must spend huge amounts of money to support our overseas military commitments at high levels of readiness . Including providing tankers to NATO so they can bomb Libya since the Europeans refuse to spend the money to support their own war making efforts.

On the other hand US military forces actually in the US are given the lowest levels of support and are short of personnel, money and equipment. It is only when they are getting ready for overseas deployment that their status is upgraded.

So little of that $700 billion has anything to do with actually defending the US from attack.

kyle8 April 29, 2011 at 6:03 pm

My Argument, is that we don’t “Have to ” spend that much, that is simply idiotic.

We can do all sorts of other things, like reduce our commitments, demand more of our allies, stop interfering in every godforsaken hell hole where a revolution breaks out, just to name a few.

vikingvista April 30, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Since a state is at its core an imposition, it truly does need a powerful force to maintain itself against the disobedience of its unwilling victims.

But that being said, the national defense structure outlined in the Articles of Confederation seems much preferable to the Federal standing military we currently have.

MWG April 29, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Thank you RV. It’s hard to justify conservative anger for funding of NPR, PBS, Planned Parenthood, and other small programs (all of which I’m against BTW) in light of the fact that we spend $700,000,000,000 every year on our military… IIRC, that does NOT include spending on our wars.

kyle8 April 29, 2011 at 6:05 pm

actually, although I am just as opposed to excess military spending I don’t see any connection between the two. I can be totally justified in for instance opposing NPR, on the grounds that government funding of only one (pro government) point of view, amounts to little more than a form of fascism.

vidyohs April 29, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I think you need to reread everything written here, especially from those you describe as circling the wagons, look at what is being defended, and rethink your position as stated in your comment.

You’ve missed the point completely.

Anotherphil April 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

“It’s hard to justify conservative anger for funding of NPR, PBS, Planned Parenthood, and other small programs (all of which I’m against BTW) in light of the fact that we spend $700,000,000,000 every year on our military.”

Stipulate for the sake of argument the magnitude of military expenditures is excessive. In that case, we are spending to much on a constitutionally AUTHORIZED expenditure. Since budgets are policy, we have a policy dispute which is to be settled by election.

On the other hand, I see no constitutional authority for expenditures on PBS, NPR and PP, unless one is willing to elasticize the general welfare clause to the point that there are no boundaries (as it is apparently in practice) on federal power, a position which is illogical by virtue of the existence of the tenth amendment and enumerated powers structure of the constitution. That’s abuse of authority, an ultra constitutional act.

In short, the outrage comes from the fact ANY expenditure on all those “small” programs is a violation of the constitution. Unless you reduce every question to a unidimensional matter of magnitude, its easy to understand (not justify, at least for now I still get to form political judgments without need of seeking external permission)

Its not the magnitude, its the lack of authority that enrages people.

vikingvista April 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm

If the Federal government did limit itself to its Constitutional authorities, then I likely would’ve been too content to ever come to the revelation that it CANNOT so limit itself. I thank the government’s ever growing and tangible offences for opening my eyes to the obvious fact that I never gave the Federal government ANY authority over me, not even within its Constitutional limits. Nor in fact, did hardly anyone else in this country, including those who claim to sanction its Constitutional roles. Authority is not something the Federal government ever asks any of us for.

MWG April 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I’d be interested to know why you think a $700 billion budget and endless war around the world is within the confines of the constitution. If you want to make the argument that the federal govt. is set up to provide for a ‘common defense or perhaps to protect us against ‘foreign invasion’, I would assume that you accept the same liberal interpretation used to justify a number of programs under the ‘commerce clause’.

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