The neocon fury sparked by the recent debt-ceiling deal – a deal that, to hear neocons tell the story, will force Pentagon Generals and Admirals out of their offices and onto Constitution Ave. to beg for spare change from passing motorists – is maddening.  Neocons, after all, are to spending on defense the military what “Progressives” are to spending on education: no amount is ever enough, and any cuts – even any proposed reductions in the projected growth rate of spending – are alleged to foolishly sacrifice this nation’s security and future on the altar of some misguided notion that government should be strictly limited in all realms.

I was going to blog on this matter more, but I can do no better than to link to this essay by Reason’s exquisitely insightful Shikha Dalmia.

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{ 154 comments }

MWG August 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Neocons: Spending 7-8 times the Chinese (The country with the second largest military budget) will never be enough.

EG August 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

And they are right. The reason being that you’re looking at something totally irrelevant: China’s spending. Even if it were relevant, the aim of the game is not to be “about as good” as the other guy. The aim of the game is overwhelm the other guy.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Are you suggesting we couldn’t overwhelm our enemies spending half of what we spend?

If 7-8 isn’t enough, how about 10-20?

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm

If the ability of an airplane not to get shot down by a missile has a linear relationship to the cost of the airplane…I might agree with you. It is not, however. Hence, again, you are looking at the wrong thing.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I wonder if you would make the same argument regarding other big govt. programs (ie medicare).

Fearsome Tycoon August 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

The bulk of military spending is personnel, not R&D. Close the military bases in Western Europe and let them defend themselves. Sell them missile defense systems and actually make a little money.

Of course, military spending is more influenced by politics than actual strategic need, just like all government spending.

kyle8 August 9, 2011 at 1:14 am

While I agree totally with the sentiments expressed. I have to caution Don and everyone else against throwing the word neocon around like it was some evil talisman.

Not everyone concerned with national security is a neocon, in fact a lot of them would be paleocons. Besides which, neocon refers to a very very small group of formerly left wing intellectuals who became conservative.

There were never more than about five or six of them. Podhoretz, Kristol, Abrams, Wolfowitz, Decter. AND they all happened to be Jewish, so sometimes that term is used by the left as a not too subtle slur.

Chucklehead August 9, 2011 at 1:35 am

we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

John Sullivan August 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Don,

As a wsj junkie, their positions on this tend to depress me. I might hold the record for most letters published there, over 20 in the last 2 1/2 years, but they never print the ones I write against the neo’s, which have been many. On that subject, they’re a little like the Times, which won’t print anything that they don’t like. How many letters do you read that criticize Bret Stephens’s articles, for example? Not many.

I respect you for the opinions you hold relative to this than I do regarding your economics, because it takes more courage. We can’t rely soley on the left to make these arguments. So keep it up. You have the platform to make a difference!

It was regarding our foreign policy where I chose Rothbard over Buckley. Rothbard might have been a tad too unrealistic, but it was only late in life, extremely late, that Buckley began to grasp that he had contributed to the very rise in a statism that he had launched his career in eloquent protest against.

Paul August 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Let’s cut the econ department at GMU. Then you to can try to find a job in the free market.

Jake S. August 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm

LOL. I’d imagine that wouldn’t be very difficult… I mean, he probably wouldn’t be on the Harvard faculty, but it’s also funny that implicit in your statement seems to be a consideration that “the rest” of academia /is/ a free market… since you chose to single out GWU for closure and not all of academia.

J. W. August 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

…because the market of economists will be “free” after an economics department at a single university is cut.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Congratulations. You brought nothing to the table.

Invisible Backhand August 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Pointing out hypocrisy?

MWG August 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm

This ‘point’ has been discussed extensively and has been addressed by Prof. Boudreaux on multiple occasions, though I recognize that you’re somewhat new here.

Prof. Boudreaux is against public funding for education and it’s not something he hides.

Ken August 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

What hypocrisy? Since the job market for economists, particularly in academia, is NOT a free market, then a free market economist is NOT allowed to work in academia?

Really?

Regards,
Ken

Invisible Backhand August 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm

No, not really. As always, a non sequitur. MWG can get it, why can’t you?

Ken August 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm

As I stated before, you apparently don’t know what “non-sequitur” means.

Also, what does MWG get that I don’t?

Regards,
Ken

Pom-Pom August 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I prefer a free market in roadways. So I guess I better walk everywhere to maintain ideological purity.

Maybe I can find a remote cabin in the wilderness where I can remain pure. Why shouldn’t I deny myself all conveniences and advantages of modern civilization, since the government has its tentacles in every aspect of modern life.

Or put another way, “Paul” and “Invisible Backhand” are idiots.

Ken August 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

Paul,

The econ department at GMU can easily operate without government funding. Unlike, say art historians, there is actual demand for well trained economists from GMU.

Regards,
Ken

Fearsome Tycoon August 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

I’m guessing you believe socialized medicine is a good thing. So to be consistent, you should refuse to seek treatment at any privately-owned hospital, use any privately-developed pharmaceutical, buy drugs at any privately owned retailer, or go to any independent doctor.

Martin Brock August 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Today, I read (again) that markets are falling in reaction to a downgrade of Treasury securities, but when I look beneath the headlines (or beside the headline at money.cnn.com), I see the ten year Treasury yield falling, so people “fearing” the downgrade of Treasury securities are selling everything else to buy Treasury securities.

So what’s really happening?

John Sullivan August 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Europe.

Jake S. August 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Pretty much. Which is a way of saying “We aren’t fucked after all… at least not relative to Europe.”

Richard Stands August 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Tallest pygmy.

vikingvista August 9, 2011 at 1:23 am

Belief that whoever manages to survive the upcoming peril, the government will find them and loot them to help pay government debt.

juan carlos vera August 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

Yes…In Argentina we know that very well. Each 10 0 15 years occurs a crisis and the government steals everything in one stroke…

muirgeo August 10, 2011 at 1:35 am

There are no free market libertarians in a market collapse… they all run to the security of the US government.

PrometheeFeu August 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

There is a case to be made for having such awe-inspiring and overpowering military that no likely coalition would ever dream of attacking you. However, right now, the US military budget is greater than the next 18 biggest spenders. Of these 18, 13 are allies of the United States or are strongly aligned with the US when it comes to foreign policy. When you add to that the fact that the US possesses enough nuclear power to wipe out the human race multiple times, you can see plainly that if the goal is defense, the US is spending WAY too much. Congress could probably cut the defense budget in half without materially endangering the safety of the country. In fact, if the US stopped its military operations in the Middle East, the safety of the average American would probably increase.

kyle8 August 9, 2011 at 1:17 am

You can have a big defense budget, and get a lot of bang for your buck without being involved in three shooting wars, and having soldiers stationed in over ninety countries.

Cthorm August 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Bloomberg’s editorial staff are pulling this card today. Infuriating.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-08/don-t-hold-defense-budget-hostage-to-political-dysfunction-view.html

BintheD August 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Because, after all, defense is a Federal function prescribed by the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps the Federal government should limit its unconstitutional largesse before it starts pruning those functions for which it was created for.

PrometheeFeu August 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Yes, obviously, the US government was created to go kind of/sort of support uprisings in Libya. Was it perhaps also created to go support quasi-theocracies in Afghanistan?

BintheD August 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Look, I am no proponent of mindless incursions like Libya, or bloated bureaucracies like the Defense Department can be argued being. That being said, I am a firm believer in the value of American hegemony. Being able to project massive force in order to keep global trade routes and trading partners stable has immense value. Unfortunately, having the ability to project such force costs a ton of money. I think that cost is constitutional, versus some of the other uses of the Federal purse.

Economiser August 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

“project massive force in order to keep global trade routes and trading partners stable…”

How many global trade routes are not stable? The only one I can think of offhand is around the coast of Somalia, and the US Navy isn’t doing such a great job policing that area.

BintheD August 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

The job securing the Gulf of Aden has been dismal for sure (though to be honest, I am not sure how much effort we are putting into it). Part of that is due to the overall instability in Somalia caused by its internal dynamics.

But to anwser your question: yes, global trade routes are stable. Would the counterfactual – stable trade routes without US hegemony – be true? I have no idea. I certainly would hate to find that out the hard way.

PrometheeFeu August 8, 2011 at 7:00 pm

So what you are saying is that we should give a whole bunch of money to the government so it can buy guns and train soldiers and then we’re going to trust that they will never ever abuse that power to help politically-powerful groups.

I_am_a_lead_pencil August 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

Ahhh yes…teaching great white sharks to eat Plankton.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Aside from libertarian views, the Constitution clearly states the job of govt to spend for military. Grants, medical payments, etc.,…. Are not outlined as job of federal govt for expenditures.

Invisible Backhand August 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

“…and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; ”

so the general Welfare doesn’t count according to you?

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

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

When you rob some citizens on the pretext of “helping” others, you are destroying the general welfare. You libtards have redefined “welfare” to mean “from each according to whatever I think his ability should be to each according to what I think I can get away with selling to the general public as their ‘need’”.

Invisible Backhand August 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm

It’s not a zero sum game. Imagine two hospital patients in extreme pain. One has no morphine, the other has three time what he needs and is comfortable. He can’t use any more morphine, he would overdose.

Take morphine from the patient with more, give it to the one in pain. You’ve just relieved one patients suffering without adding any.

Libertarians and Hayekians tend not to understand this argument, because they lack empathy for other people. My theory is they are further along the autistic spectrum than normal libtards.

Libertarians

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Oh….I see. If you’re exceptionally simple-minded and your definition of “empathy” is theft, it all works out. I’m just not stupid enough to understand your lojick.

Ken August 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

“It’s not a zero sum game. ”

That’s right, the welfare state is a NEGATIVE sum game. It adds enormous inefficiencies into an economy.

“One has no morphine, the other has three time what he needs”

So now YOU know what OTHERS need and when OTHERS have too much?

“Take morphine from the patient with more, give it to the one in pain.”

So just ignore the evils of the entire 20th century, where governments all over the world implemented this very (childish) idea and brought hell to earth? Nice.

“Libertarians and Hayekians tend not to understand this argument, because they lack empathy for other people.”

Libertarians and Hayekisans understand this argument all too well. We have enormous empathy for others, which is why we advocate for limited government. The cancerously large government for which you advocate are the single largest source of misery on earth.

Regards,
Ken

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Imagine two people…. One who works and the other does not. The non-productive claims all kinds of excuses for doing nothing and claims the person who does work should pay for the non-productive persons living expenses to the point of the non-productive having a cell phone, car, video game machine, flat screen tv, etc.,… And still says he/she should get more.
GETYOUR OWN YOU LAZY BASTARD!

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm

You guys are wasting your time with this nitwit.

He thinks wealth is laying around unevenly all over the place by accident and he just needs to smear it around like cream cheese on a bagel.

I’ll happily confiscate and smear around whatever he’s managed to work for since he seems to love it so much, but usually these people consider me a lunatic for the mere suggestion that they should practice what they preach.

SMV August 8, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Or you as a caring individual can purchase the morphine from the patient that has more and give it to the one without. You have the satisfaction of helping others. Everyone benefits and no ones rights are abused.

cmprostreet August 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

What he’s trying to say is that it’s just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus: All winter long, the grasshopper ran around gathering acorns for winter while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. Then when winter came, the grasshopper died, and the octopus got all his stuff. And also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through?

Extra credit for identifying the source (quoting from memory, so it’s probably a bit off).

Richard Stands August 8, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Libertarians do indeed tend lack the empathy to demand enforcers steal from other people in order to assuage their own view of who deserves to keep the fruits of his own labor and who does not.

We’re calling that “empathy” are we?

Seems kinda low for high ground.

vikingvista August 10, 2011 at 1:35 am

And if the patient steadfastly refuses to give up any of his morphine that he as acquired, at an expense unknown to you, what are you prepared to do to him?

Greg Webb August 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Invisible B, the Taxing and Spending Clause is simply a general description of the specifically-enumerated powers granted to Congress in the Constitution. It did not grant Congress any new powers. The United Supreme Court, in the Butler decision in 1936, intentionally misinterpreted this Clause to give the progressive movement what it wanted in order to preserve the Supreme Court as an independent branch of the government. But, just like the Dred Scott decision was reversed so too will this idiotic decision because it is inconsistent with the principles of a federal government limited by the Constitution.

Invisible Backhand August 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

You know what they say about the Supreme Court: They’re not final because they are right, they are right because they are final. I’m still pissed at them because of Bush v Gore.

cmprostreet August 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Why? Because some [county's] ballots are more equal than others?

Greg Webb August 9, 2011 at 12:14 am

The Supreme Court reverses itself in accordance with political movements. And, a political movement has arisen that is tired of “progressive” overspending and interference in their lives. Change is coming…slowly but surely just like the last political movement.

Ken August 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm

“I’m still pissed at them because of Bush v Gore.”

Because the person who actually got the most electoral votes won?

Regards,
Ken

Pom-Pom August 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Ah, yes. There is never so grand an idea of “self-government” that takes the word of black robed gods as unquestionably correct… when convenient, of course.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm

General welfare had been perverted in the same sense of me declaring I have a right to the limbs of a grizzly bear in ‘right to beR arms’.
Socialism by proxy of ‘general welfare’ is what we got from charlatan bastardization of Constitution.

J. W. August 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

According to James Madison:

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions. It is to be remarked that the phrase out of which this doctrine is elaborated is copied from the old Articles of Confederation, where it was always understood as nothing more than a general caption to the specified powers, and it is a fact that it was preferred in the new instrument for that very reason, as less liable than any other to misconstruction.

(From a letter to Edmund Pendleton, Jan. 21, 1792.)

Greg Webb August 9, 2011 at 12:17 am

Excellent!

Ken August 8, 2011 at 6:33 pm

“so the general Welfare doesn’t count according to you?”

Welfare when it was written at the time does NOT mean the welfare state, but I don’t expect you to understand just how corrupt and Orwellian the left is when it comes to using the English language.

Regards,
Ken

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 12:05 am

Indeed! What about my general welfare? Should my welfare be infringed upon for the supposed need of another?

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Fine, Dan J, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. government is free to spend as much as it bloody well wants. There’s defending the realm and then there’s just waste.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I cannot disagree, Methnks and MWG, I only state that a military is within the enumerated powers and that subsidizing ethanol or any other product is not. Giving money to corrupt and racist orgs like ACORN is not an enumerated power.

Greg Webb August 9, 2011 at 12:18 am

Exactly so, Dan J!

Ryan vann August 9, 2011 at 1:18 am

“I only state that a military is within the enumerated powers”

So? Whether something is enumerated is inconsequential to whether it is economically sound.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm

In the absence of Man’s ambitions and acknowledgement or acceptance of use of force to achieve said ambitions, then and only then shall a military be uneconomical.

Did that sound enlightened?

Ha! I think therefore I am. Me smart.

Anywhoo, in the unlikely event that men no longer seek to use compulsory measures for their own pleasure or gains, then I can see how a military is not needed.

vikingvista August 10, 2011 at 1:45 am

You realize that those in the government generally do not want the limitations of enumerated powers?
You realize that those in the government decide whether or not they will limit themselves thus?
You realize that those in the government are the arbiters of whether or not the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds?

Getting offended because the government violates the Constitution is like getting offended because a cat doesn’t come when you call it.

The whole idea of a constitution was just not a very good one.

Dan J August 10, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I am in full recognition of all that you post. All members of the society are culpable. All of us have a duty. The duty to defend our own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. At times, our duty will be to defend ourselves from govt.
I do not disagree, only recognize that we have this current system and must knock govt down from it’s perch.

Greg Webb August 10, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Vik, a Constitution gives the individual a fighting chance and a basis for arguing for less government control. And, given all the options, the founders made the best choice by providing a written Constitution. Without it, individual liberty would be much less and probably would not even exist today.

Dan J August 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

And it was better than the option they had. Their options were of a constitutional republic or fall back into the hands of The monarchy who would surely impose severe retribution upon the people as a lesson. Now, like the need to continuously build a better vault from the evolving criminal, we needed to update our limitations on govt. Taxation has been thee biggest loophole thru which the criminals have exploited us.

vikingvista August 11, 2011 at 3:15 am

You both forget your history. Remember, there was a country before the Constitution. There was also a debate, and many founders and patriots opposed the Constitution. But the victors write the history, and that is why you reply as you do.

The CotUS didn’t give the individual a fighting chance. The CotUS *created* the most dangerous enemy the individual Americans faced since the Revolution.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Do you really think the current massive military budget, coupled with multiple foreign wars and overseas bases is what the founders had in mind when they wrote that?

Ryan vann August 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

Who cares what those effete overlords had in mind?

J Cortez August 8, 2011 at 4:14 pm

The neo-cons are the most perverse gang of liars, lunatics, and hacks in recent memory. It’s a shame they still figure somewhat in public affairs, especially when their policy prescriptions have been so damaging. War, police state, and more war with some fascism on the side. I can only gather that these people hate humanity.

vidyohs August 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm

No J Cortez, they are the second most perverse gang of liars, lunatics, and hacks, and in no way can compete with the evil brought to the table by the looney left.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I agree. They are the 2nd. Obama and the idiotic left is thee first most despicable group of liars, lunatics, and hacks and a hatred for humanity as they look to limit populations and put all people under the authority of a govt panel.

Automatic August 8, 2011 at 8:29 pm

In some ways they are more dangerous. When right-wing statists are in power the right ceases to demand limited government or reduced spending. This follows a similar format for the left except their double-standard revolves around war.
On their own the left is much more dangerous to liberty, but they are often able to take advantage of expanded powers won by neocons from complacent conservatives.

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Who else besides me is tired of subsidizing Europe’s diseased socialist system by subsidizing Europe’s defense? I’m as sick of that as I am of subsidizing people in this too lazy to raise a finger to feed themselves (politically incorrect but true) and the political cronies of politicians.

The Other Tim August 8, 2011 at 4:24 pm

That’ll be me and probably every other libertarian here.

Greg Webb August 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I agree Methinks1776!

Frank33328 August 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Please add Japan, South Korea, etc. to the list of subsidized defense.

vidyohs August 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Um, m’lady, you might have had the courtesy to say “who besides me and vidyohs” I haven’t died or changed.

brotio August 9, 2011 at 12:42 am

HeeHee,

It probably should have read, “Who besides Vidyohs, LCJ, Sam Grove, VikingVista, ToT, Justin, Martin Brock, Don, Russ, Brotio, Yasafi (when a Republican authorizes it), Daniel Kuehn (except when Krugman endorses it), and me are tired of subsidizing Europe’s diseased socialist system by subsidizing Europe’s defense?”

:D

Apologies to the other regulars I left out. I don’t know if the bandwidth could withstand enumerating all of us! :)

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 12:52 am

Agreed!

Henri Hein August 9, 2011 at 12:55 am

Apology accepted.

Methinks1776 August 9, 2011 at 8:09 am

Yes, exactly.

Watch what’s happening now. The socialization of losses (and the consequences of said action) is intensifying around the world. Turns out, you really can’t use smoke and mirrors and punishment for the prudent and productive to create anything but an illusion of prosperity. But, that won’t stop them from intensifying their efforts. This is going to end very badly.

Today I just have a modest hope – the Obamessiah keeps his mouth shut. I don’t think the equity market can withstand another one of his speeches.

Ken August 8, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I’m not. I like to see my money go to countries who waste it, then resent me for them having to rely on me to have a decent country. Isn’t that what we all want? To support people who hate and resent you?

Regards,
Ken

Tom August 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I agree that imperialistic ambitions should be set aside for actual defense priorities. However the belief that the US “has an offense budget to maintain far-flung bases and military alliances whose original rationale became defunct decades ago” is a bit naive. Force projection requires bases to be maintained world-wide, unless you believe the US can protect its interests solely by transporting troops from the continental US? Or if you believe US interests are solely regulated to the US landmass. Take, for instance, free-trade: how are NATO’s blue water navies’ efforts to stop those pirates working out? (And the imagery of “keeping colonized people pliant to maintain an empire” is highly misleading: Japan, Germany, and South Korea are hardly “colonized people”). And if the US radically cut spending, do you believe those next 13 countries in line (with which we have alliances) would actually pick up the slack? The welfare states leave little room to spend for defense and it is unclear how to practically limit the free-rider problem. If the responsibility of global stability could be more equitably shared then I would be all for reductions.

Miles Stevenson August 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I’m a bit confused, Tom. First you say that you “agree that imperialistic ambitions should be set aside for actual defense”, but then you talk about having a “responsibility of global stability”. How do you mesh these two points of view. I find these to be conflicting. If you think you are responsible for “global stability”, I don’t see how a nation could achieve such a goal without also being “imperialistic”.

BintheD August 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm

It’s easy!

1. In a perfect world, there would be no conflict to require having a military.

2. In an ideal world, all those with a stake in the global economy for their own economic growth would provide for its stability.

3. In the current world, the U.S. has been the only country willing to provide for the stability necessary for broader economic growth.

If it can be shown that other nations would be willing to step up and help out, then I think reductions would be warranted. I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

Miles Stevenson August 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Okay, that wasn’t an answer to my question. You basically just re-stated everything Tom said. There are a few assumptions implicit in all this that I don’t find the least bit credible.

First, you guys paint this picture as if the world would be this huge bloodbath and everyone would be at war if we weren’t “keeping the peace”. This is non-sense. It’s the same tactic the Democrats use when it comes to government spending: “if we don’t keep spending, the world will explode! You wouldn’t want THAT now would you?”

Second, where are you getting this idea that economic growth would not take place unless we have troops all over the world? You say this as if military might were somehow the cause of economic growth, which is absolutely absurd. Are China and Hong Kong growing so incredibly fast….because America is keeping the peace for them? Nonsense.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Apparently, w/o the our military might, no one would have any incentive to trade with each other.

MWG August 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm

That’s right MS. Without massive US military involvement around the world, no one would have any incentive to trade with on another.

Tom August 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm

From wikipedia:
“Imperialism, as defined by The Dictionary of Human Geography, is ‘the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.’ ”

Having military bases in Germany, Japan, and South Korea does not do any of these things. I don’t think we either dominate or subordinate any of these countries. Similarly global stability does not require either domination or subordination of our allies. If you think we should neither dominate nor subdue pirates off the coast of Africa…well I guess you’re entitled.

If you think our military makes our allies dependent on us and that is an unequal relationship, then I agree. I hope that they are able to defend themselves and we can reduce our spending.

Also, a decline in military spending will not unleash a bloodbath (no causation) but if a bloodbath were to occur then we would be powerless (depending on the size of the cuts). War is not a probability zero event. Neither is genocide (e.g. Rwanda, Balkans) but you are entitled to your opinion that we shouldn’t intervene in these conflicts either, they certainly are not in our economic/self-defense interest. Nor should we support the advancement of democracy (Libya perhaps), although democratic nations are arguably in our economic interest.

BintheD August 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I have not been making the assumption that without massive military spending, the world would be a bloodbath (despite the centuries of proof that it might). The fact is that today, despite the usual BS in the middle east and other areas of instability, the earth is a pretty quiet place.

Would that still be the case without the US hegemony? I have no idea. It’s kind of hard to prove because of its sucess. The United States has taken some of the most militarized nations in the world (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan), and made them so docile that they now rely on us for our defense! Sometimes I wonder what Bismarck and Tojo would think if they saw their nations today? What would the world look like had the US never started its global interventionist streak with WWI?

Also, being able to project force doesn’t require troops and bases around the globe. That is the beauty of the CVGs and SLBM submarine fleets. Mobile deterrent and air supperiority has many advantages

The reason why China is growing so fast has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with the fact that it started at a dirt-poor level. As for Hong Kong – absolutely. First the British protected it from pirates and that Chinese (that is how they got it in the first place). The U.S. merely continued that after WWII.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Without massive US military might the dictators and authoritarians would have no disincentive to their own imperialism. They would have no disincentive to plunder.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

How would the products of US safely make their way to nation B if not, at this present time, for stationed military to protect or to cause enuf of a deterrent thru fear of use of force?

MWG August 8, 2011 at 9:46 pm

This is a bit like arguing that we can’t get rid of SS or medicare. After all, how will people cover the cost of healthcare and retirement when they get old.

Just because you can’t imagine alternatives to the current US military situation doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 12:17 am

Eh? Not really! Without the social safety net, people would be more apt to have concern and prepare for their conditions later in life. Now, as for trading by moving products thru the high seas, I can see merchant ships paying for escorts. But, I think it would be safe to assume protection would be needed. For, I do think that state sponsored military in the US is or has been the incentive for other nations to invest in military or for dictators to behave aggressively. I think it is just the opposite. US military has allowed for protected nations to redirect money from military and for dictators, aggressive or not, to keep their ambitions in check.
But, indeed, we would learn of the true costs of products, market distortions would be eliminated, and men could act rationally by truer market costs. And, govt powers would be reduced. Of Which, I am in favor. But, I cannot, at this time let go of the fact that bad men exist and lack of a bigger stick in our favor would result in a power vacuum.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 12:19 am

Edit: for, I do not think that state sponsored military in US……………

kyle8 August 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

Tom, we have over 2000 American soldiers stationed in Portugal. PORTUGAL! A nation that has not fought in an actual war in over a century. What possible use could that be to us?

Multiply that by about ninety, that is the number of nations we have some sort of presence in.

brotio August 9, 2011 at 3:29 am

Actually, Portugal, Spain, or Italy make the most sense for a European base (to allow access to the Med). It would only take one base in one of those countries to provide a rapid deployment option to the Middle East. All other European bases are welfare payments to the host countries and could be closed with very limited negative effect on the US military, and should be closed because of the drain on our economy (as well as because we’re tired of propping up Euro-socialism).

Greg Webb August 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Excellent article by Shikha Dalmia! Thanks for posting it, Don.

rbd August 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm

DOD spends about $50 billion a year just on healthcare. We have over 2,500 fighter aircraft in our arsenal. We have a dozen battle carrier groups, complimented with a multitude of other surface ships. (Not counting our submarine fleet) We have untold numbers of HUMVs, tanks, Strikers, Bradley’s, and other wheeled and tracked vehicles. We have two land Armies (Marines and Army).

Na! There’s no pork here.

EG August 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm

And you say this based on your expertize and specialization as a military tactician? Or…am I missing something?

Do you go around to doctor’s offices too and tell them they have too many…I don’t know…needles?

rbd August 8, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Actually, I do have some knowledge of DOD affairs. I audit them regularly.

And, yes I do go around to Fort’s and installations telling them they have too much (or sometimes too little) stuff. Tis me job.

I’ve seen (and do see) fiefdoms spring up across the Army for years. As a commander (or manager), you gain standing by your peers when your department grows. Doesn’t matter if growth is warranted – you simply don’t want it to shrink.

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:44 pm

You may audit them, and I may build equipment for them. Neither of us, however, know what the optimal armor thickness of the mantle of a tank, constraint by the number of tanks in a battalion, training and ammo composition…enemy strength and technology etc…should be. And yet Ron Paul does! :P

rbd August 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

My knowledge of armor is lacking, but I know healthcare expenses are eating the DOD alive – to the tune of nearly $50 billion last year. And that is set to skyrocket.

Retired military members and their families receive TRICARE for life. The annual premium, which hasn’t been raised since 1995, stands at $450 per annum. I’m all for supporting the troops, but this is welfare.

EG August 8, 2011 at 7:04 pm

And I agree with you!! Lets have THAT discussion. All I want is for “libertarians” of the little-l persuasion (the Big-L types are hopeless by now), to put forth an intelligent argument to convince the people they need to convince. I have yet to see that…since the days of Milton Friedman.

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I’m not a doctor, but I second guess my doctors all the time – it’s the reason I’m still alive and still have all my teeth.

It’s not as if you have any military expertise either, yet you were certain military intervention was necessary to save lives in Libya. Say, btw, how’s that working out?

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I don’t know Methinks…ask the thousands of people in Benghazi who would be under the ground today, were it not for NATO bombs.

Methinks1776 August 8, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I had no idea you were a comedian!

Richard Stands August 9, 2011 at 12:18 am

And why hasn’t the U. S. Government established endless “no fly” zones in any of these places yet?

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 12:30 am

Don’t forget the longstanding conflict of ‘the People’s Front in Judea’ with that of ‘the Judean People’s Front’.

Richard Stands August 9, 2011 at 12:47 am
EG August 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm

I must respectfully disagree. You are building up a straw-man argument. There are no “neocons” out there claiming that no cuts can ever be made to the military etc etc. The argument they make is that in a time of conflict, the military’s judgment of what it needs should not be subject to political whim.

And they are both right and wrong on that. But they are making a totally different argument than what you’re making. Reagan after all reduced military spending considerably in his last years in office (as a % of GDP). I also don’t want politicians making the argument of WHAT the military should be getting or doing. Let the professionals decide that…and let our willingness to pay them be the constraint

The “neocons” just sound that way when superimposed on the whining of the Left that the FIRST thing that should always be cut is the military. These are not equivalent arguments with equal merit, or equal benefit. The Military, bloated and overstretched as it may be, is a legitimate function of the state. This is not the equivalent of stealing from Paul to pay John and all other Leftist causes.

The left says cut the military because it is not leaving enough money for them to steal. The “neocons” are saying stop stealing money because you are jeopardizing the military of this country (along with everything else). For “Libertarians” not to recognize the important difference here, and not to acknowledge that one position IS better than another, even if flawed…is why “Libertarians” will always remain on the side.

PS: And “Libertarians” also make the same terrible mistake as politicians when they pretend to know what the military needs, or how it should be organized etc etc. We have to recognize that we know jack about how the military should do its mission. They are specialized in this. OUR job is to constrain it through spending….not to be a jacka*s like Ron Paul on TV, lecturing on where the military should have bases or what equipment it needs or how it should function (on a totally fictitious factual basis)

Jim August 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm

I believe you are making a mistaken assumption as well; that the military makes its own decisions about how it is designed, where it is stationed, and how it spends its money.

Miles Stevenson August 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm

EG, you are making an argument of authority. To say “you are not a military specialist, therefore, you have no business advocating for how our military should be run”, is likely to fall on deaf ears in libertarian circles. We don’t like being told “you do not have an impressive title, therefore, your arguments can’t be right.” You of course don’t like this either. You don’t like it when Democrats say “you don’t have enough expertise to pick your own insurance, and therefore need to leave it to us ‘experts’ who know much more than you do.” I’m sure you will find a way to claim that “military is different”, but a military should ultimately answer to the people, not “the experts”. Otherwise, we may as well just live in a totalitarian society.

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Quite the opposite. I’m making the argument of economic specialization. We have a professional military for a reason. That reason being that we want people to specialize only in this subject. if we want them to specialize in this subject…we ought to let them make the decisions of how to run their organization. This does not mean, of course, that we don’t constrain it. But I’m not going to be like the Sec of defense and tell the military it doesn’t need the F-22, or be like Ron Paul and tell the military it doesn’t need bases in Germany (of course, Ron Paul just ISN’T smart enough to comprehend that US bases in Germany are logistics bases. He thinks we are ‘defending” Germany)

MWG August 8, 2011 at 9:51 pm

We also shouldn’t question other ‘complex things’ like say… Obamacare, medicare, or social security. It’s best to leave these things to the professionals.

Steve C. August 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

EG:

I like the general thrust of your comments. A few additional thoughts.

1. We don’t have a national military strategy. Yes, we have tons of position papers and reams of defense reviews but a national military strategy requires decisions. Since the end of the Cold War we’ve talked about but never really grappled with this problem. Since then we’ve been involved in 4 wars and no telling how many other contingency operations. You don’t budget for wars. You spend what is necessary to win.

2. One thing we have historically pursued is freedom of the seas. As much as I’d like to share that burden with the rest of the world, the US appears to be the only nation capable and willing to provide the world with that social good. That translates into a large Navy and overseas naval bases to support deployments.

3. We provide our people with some of the most effective advanced equipment in the world. That choice is not cheap. As a nation, we made a conscious decision after WWII to always provide our personnel with the best that money can buy. Our equipment is expensive, costs lots to maintain and operate. It also costs lots of money to train personnel and maintain their readiness.

4. We pay our people well and provide them with good benefits. We made a conscious decision as a nation to operate our forces with volunteers. You have to pay up for good volunteers. We could save billions if we went back to a draft. Well, save billions on pay. The cost of drafting and running a large training establishment to service tens of thousands of draftees every year (not to mention the cost of moving them around the world plus the disruption of turnover at the unit level) is one of those seen and unseen things people ignore.

5. Can we do better? Of course we can. There are lots of opportunities for burden sharing, if we have the diplomatic muscle to make them happen. Does anyone realize that the footprint of US forces in Europe is about 10% of what it was 20 years ago. Since 1989 we have disbanded 8 Army divisions and lord knows how many air wings. Our naval fleet numbers are equal to what they were in 1914. Does this sound like a bloated military establishment?

6. It’s the job of the civilian leadership to set priorities and provide funding. Generals and Admirals may like shiny new pieces of equipment, but Congress provides the funding. Every year we read about how Congress has appropriated XX billion to purchase system ZZ in excess of what the Pentagon has requested. It’s an inescapable fact of military life that armored vests, boots, uniforms, radios, small arms and spare parts are essential but not sexy. The companies that produce those items will never have the same political influence as the large plants where ships and planes are manufactured. Not too many years ago the Army’s request for camouflage nets was nearly zeroed out from the budget. It was saved because the company that won the contract to make them was Native American. We could do lots to improve procurement, but I’m not sure that’s really a priority for your average Congressman.

7. Just like any other entitlement program, the government funds military retirement out of current revenue.

That’s all for now.

Henri Hein August 8, 2011 at 6:49 pm

“Since 1989 we have disbanded 8 Army divisions and lord knows how many air wings”

You picked a peace-time high-point. Foreign troop deployments are slightly less than they were in 1989, but still twice as massive as they were in its 1999 low-point. They were reduced under Clinton and then grew again rapidly under Bush II (even before Afghanistan).

EG August 8, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Pot and kettle argument. He picked a peace-time high…and you picked a war-time high. Way to go. And yet its still a pointless metric.

Henri Hein August 8, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Do you realize you are not making any sense?
1. I did not pick a high, I picked a low.
2. I did not pick the metric.

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

100% with you here.

“Does anyone realize that the footprint of US forces in Europe is about 10% of what it was 20 years ago”

Ron Paul doesn’t. He just doesn’t. Doesn’t matter how many times you tell him that he is making up numbers out of thin air, or that he simply doesn’t comprehend the concept of logistics.

He doesn’t get it.

yet another Dave August 8, 2011 at 6:20 pm

A little hyperbole does not a strawman make.

We have to recognize that we know jack about how the military should do its mission.

The disagreement is about what the mission is, not how it should be done. Perhaps you should understand that simple basic truth before you resort to insults.

EG August 8, 2011 at 6:51 pm

We’re talking costs here. Not mission.

yet another Dave August 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm

facepalm!

EG August 8, 2011 at 7:10 pm

We’re not talking mission here…even if you may be talking about it. Of course, when talking to “Libertarians” of the Big-L type, even commonplace words have different meaning. “Defense” to Libertarians means one and only one thing: react to someone attacking you.

Somehow in the rest of the world, defense can also mean preparing and preventing an enemy from attacking you. So ultimately, having THAT argument with “Libertarians” is as useless as, well, arguing with a Libertarian.

yet another Dave August 9, 2011 at 11:01 am

How convenient for you EG – you get to decide what the disagreement is about so you can easily slay the opponent (there’s your straw man). Two basic facts:
- (1) The proper size and scope of the US military mission IS what the disagreement is about.
- (2) The costs are a result of (1) and therefore just a symptom.

It looks to me like you want to limit the discussion to cost so you can avoid any challenge to your religious faith about the proper scope of US military action. The tactics you use in this effort include: (1) misrepresenting the arguments against your position, (2) citing anecdotes of the seen while ignoring the unseen, and (3) ridiculing/insulting anyone who disagrees with you.

But by all means, feel free to continue with your religious zealotry for all manner of military adventurism. After all, anybody who disagrees is just too stupid to see the self-evident truth of the prophet EG. It’s simply impossible that reasonable people might disagree with your almighty wisdom and insight. There’s just no way any intelligent person could think a less expensive and more restrained military could provide an effective defense of the US.

Henri Hein August 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

‘why “Libertarians” will always remain on the side’

Your other arguments are weak, and this is completely false. There are reasons libertarians are marginalized, but opposition to war and military spending is not one of them. Currently most Americans are against the wars, and even when majorities were in favor, when I talk to people they are not generally in favor of war *and* keeping bases from Japan to Germany.

EG August 8, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Actually your argument is false. Because you frame the argument in terms of “pro war” and “anti war”; “pro military” and “anti military”, “pro spending” and “anti spending”. The point is quite simple: “libertarians” have a pathological obsession with the military. Even though they “believe” that the military and defense is a legitimate responsibility of the state…they have yet met a war they haven’t liked. Of course, far be it for a “libertarian” to recognize the BENEFITS of a military action or of a strong military…such as for example having a FREE Germany and a FREE Japan…for Ron Paul to b*** about. (or like France intervening on the side of the US, for the US to exist for Ron Paul to b**** about)

(ie, if you don’t recognize that the argument is not pro or against war, but is an argument of unique and individual assessment of each situation based on its own unique circumstances. Pro and anti…is best left for some other blog to discuss)

Of course, some “libertarians” with a small-l, will swallow their pride and say ‘well yes we should have gotten involved in WW2, because it was necessary”. But they only say that because saying otherwise…would be insane. Had the USSR survived to this day, we’d STILL be hearing “Libertarians” with a big-L complaining that its none of our business to get rid of communism and that military pressure ain’t gonna do it. Hind sight is a precious thing.

Henri Hein August 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm

For somebody who started generalizing, and then continues to generalize, it’s a little tall to accuse me of generalizing. I don’t know what you mean, “they have yet met a war they haven’t liked.” You project a view unto libertarians, represent it falsely, and still failed to address the point in question: most Americans are against bloated military spending and an aggressive foreign policy.

vidyohs August 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I won’t bother to take that long dissertation apart and refute it point by point, I’ll just say that as a military vet, politically aware, I see your ideas and opinions as incredibly naive.

Just one point. Among the participants here are many ex-military, do you know who they are and how many of them there are?

If you don’t, then it is inadvisable to say “We have to recognize that we know jack about how the military should do its mission.”

Actually it appears from your comment that you have no real military experience.

Dan J August 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Demoncrats would not cut actual spending should DOD make cuts, they would just redirect the money toward another welfare project proclaiming it’s unfair that working people go on vacation to theme park or visit a tropical island. Democrats would simply have a vacation program form the lazy bastards on welfare. Yeah, I am pissed today. I found out I pay $75 a week for a service that is given away to ‘poor’ people. My price subsidizes others. I am ending my participation in another month. It is crap.

Jim August 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Do we really need 900+ military installations around the world? Why are we still in Germany?

Our military is still strategically armed to fight a WWII style conflict. Some upper echelons of the military say if we took out the politics we could remain as effective with at least a third less military spending. Rand Simberg said of NASA that “What we are doing in space is too important to leave to a single monopoly system, developed and run by a government agency.” That must be true of our military as well.

Since the government is so large that it is now totally dysfunctional, perhaps it is time for an anonymous forum for insiders to make public suggestions. Then Obama could join in on Twitter to give his opinion.

EG August 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

“Why are we still in Germany?”

Because Germany serves as a logistics base to allow for long trip movements. Don’t tell Ron Paul. Don’t want to ruin his impression that we’re there to defend Germany.

vidyohs August 8, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Put simply, you’re wrong again.

We have at least two air bases Italy, two in Spain, several in Germany, and several in England. All of which were created to defend the NATO nations against invasion by the Warsaw pact nations. That was the sole reason for their creation. Now that the danger of an invasion by the Warsaw pact nations is history, the bases should become so as well.

You might, possibly, maybe, kinda, sorta, make a case for the need for one base to handle long distance troop movements and subsequent supply, but you’ll have a hard time making the case for the multiple bases we have in Europe as all necessary for troop movements and logistics.

Sorry, but your naivety is showing again.

Richard Stands August 9, 2011 at 12:37 am

As of 2009. 21 bases in Germany and 81,000 troops in Europe. Yep, if they had 20 bases in Germany, America would burn in chaos. Cutting is out of the question.

vidyohs August 9, 2011 at 6:10 am

Just for the sake of argument, I do wonder about one thing. That being, in that count of places the USA has a “military presence”, is it possible that Marine Guards at embassies could be counted as a “military presence” just to boost the total count for propaganda purposes?

For instance do we really have a military presence in Luxemburg if we discount the guards at the embassy?

rbd August 8, 2011 at 6:32 pm

What we need is a national security budget – not a separate Dept of Defense budget and a separate Dept of State budget and a separate Dept of Homeland Security budget – all with their respective cabinet secretaries and cabinet officials, with conflicting areas of overlapping authority and responsibility.

Krishnan August 8, 2011 at 7:06 pm

It is possible that neocons are indeed like liberals – one about defense and the other about education. I cannot see how talking about defense and education are the same though. One is indeed concerned with potential external threats and the other is purely domestic and not a threat to our existence (yes, I know an argument can be advanced for that also).

Dalmia argues that there is a difference between “defense” and “offense” – that what we are spending most of our money is “offense” – perhaps some and perhaps we SHOULD examine how we spend our money. There is much we spend overseas that does seem designed to demonstrate overwhelming presence/force that will dissuade anyone from attacking us – our shores. And yes, we do protect other countries/allies who seem to be perfectly happy to let us spend our money to help them – perhaps it is time we ask what portion of our money goes to defense of others and how we can demand that they help pay for such – OR – retrench – and let them take over – and watch what happens.

I do believe that till recently, the overwhelming superiority of the US Armed Forces acted as a deterrent to many wanna be tyrants – and yes while the cold war is indeed over, the world is not safe for us to retreat into our shells and let the world do what the world wants to do to whoever it wants. And oh yes, I am indeed breaking some libertarian rule or whatever. I do not see the parallel that Dalmia seems to draw between what Britain did with it’s Navy and what the US may be doing with having bases all over the world. Yes, let us examine where our forces are around the world and figure out where we need to be and from where we can leave – but let’s not retrench into our borders – sometimes we need to go on the offense, as defense.

PacRim Jim August 9, 2011 at 6:47 am

Anybody foolish enough to believe Chinese figures on military spending is an idiot, born and bred.

The percentage of GNP spent on the military is lowest since before WWII. That fact alone would persuade anyone capable of rational thought that military spending is not out of control.

Billions could be saved annually by discontinuing the spending U.S. taxpayer money on the defense of countries unwilling to defend themselves, like Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, inter alia.

MWG August 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm

“Anybody foolish enough to believe Chinese figures on military spending is an idiot, born and bred.”

So dispute the figures then. If we’re not spending 7-8x the Chinese, are we merely spending 4-5x?

“The percentage of GNP spent on the military is lowest since before WWII. That fact alone would persuade anyone capable of rational thought that military spending is not out of control.”

No it wouldn’t. What % of GNP (or GDP) we spend on ‘defense’ is utterly irrelevant. The real question is: are we spending enough on LEGITIMATE defense for the government to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide for a common defense. I’d love to hear you defend how our involvement overseas in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and a number of other places fits into that constitutional mandate.

“Billions could be saved annually by discontinuing the spending U.S. taxpayer money on the defense of countries unwilling to defend themselves, like Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, inter alia.”

Anyone who thinks we’re in Germany to defend Germany is an idiot, born and bred.

Chucklehead August 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

“Defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence.” What we have is a opulent defense/offense.

Hobson August 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

Don post posits that “Neocons, after all, are to spending on defense the military what “Progressives” are to spending on education: no amount is ever enough. . . [alleging that any cuts in military spending] foolishly sacrifice this nation’s security.” This observation is useful if it helps one decide whether more or less should be spent on the military? While Don does not state the lesson he would have us learn from this observation, he do refer us to Shikha Dalmia’s article as the definitive word on whatever point he would make were he to make on.
Dalmia, however, rails against neocon’s invocation of Adam Smith’s assertion “the first duty of the sovereign” is “protecting the society from the violence and invasion.” Dalmia assumes, without refuting the neocon’s argument to the contrary, that much (most? all?) foreign US military activity is offensive, and therefore not protected by Smith’s (correct) observation that defense is governments first sovereign duty.
If Smith is correct, then a sovereign has a duty to spend whatever it takes to defend the nation. This is true despite the fact that whenever a sovereign spends money on anything, there will be tremendous waste, logrolling, favoritism and corruption. According to Smith extracting funds from the governed for defense is not, in and of itself, immoral [one might hope that the sovereign would not use the most corrupt and inefficient means of raising funds, but that is beside the point].
So the real question seems to be: Are the neocon’s correct when they assert that much (most, all?) of the foreign US military activity is the best way to defend the nation in this day in age, and that not enough is being done? While I don’t know the answer to that, I do believe Don is incorrect in two respects: (1) the US may be spending so much less than is necessary to fulfill “the first duty of the sovereign” that whether “no amount is ever enough” is a moot point; and (2) demands for federal spending on defense (a federal responsibility) and demands for spending on education (a quest for a little piece of utopia) are not at all comparable.

Chucklehead August 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Good points, but I think that Adam Smith, being a Scott, would say that “a sovereign has a duty to spend as little as possible to defend the nation.” At some point, military spending itself is a threat to the nation.

Hobson August 9, 2011 at 5:12 pm

If that is what Smith would say, I couldn’t agree with the Scott more – but the key part of the sentence is “too defend.” If too little is spent on defense, there will be no US – it has too many adversaries. The idea that government can do anything efficiently, without corruption, etc. (which is the primary reason government should take on as few tasks as possible) is utopian.

I’m not at all sure that Smith would not also say something like, “The US should spend every every last dime if necessary to enable the US (the primary protector of liberty) to survive,” except he would say it more eloquently.

That being said, I too want to spend “as little as possible to defend” and agree that if the country’s last dime is spent in defense there will be no US then either.

Dan J August 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm

My sophomoric mind can only agree with that line of reasoning, not that it should amount o an open checkbook for military expenditures.

Eisenhower August 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Its a very old question of just how much defense spending is enough. And I think most of us can agree that we shouldn’t be spending more than necessary as maintaining a large army and weapons program is quite expensive. The only thing more expensive is not spending enough!

Jack W August 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Don, I agree with you that Republicans are too compliant with out-of-control military spending. Of course, the Democrats want it both ways: they will argue that we spend too much on military matters, but then criticize Republicans when soldiers do not have every conceivable protection on the battle field. The real problem here is that Democrats generally do not assign a cost to anything: thus, we can provide free healthcare, free housing, and free education. Moreover, while our military spending has developed the greatest military in the world (a significant improvement over our military standing before, say, World War II), our spending in education has not likewise increased its standing in the world.

Nevertheless, I think the recent events will spark enough outrage over spending that the pendulum will swing back on both domestic and military spending.

jorod August 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I’ve listened to the demonization of the Pentagon for 40 years. It is the latest red herring. Every time some Secretary of Defense tries to cut military spending, Congress gets up and squeals that they can’t close any bases in their districts, they can’t stop buying guns. It’s the most hypocritical dialogue in Congress.

ArrowSmith August 9, 2011 at 11:20 pm

I agree, it’s time society shunned the evil neocons.

Jaye Bass August 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Take out the recent wars, something that is going to happen, and the baseline military budget is fairly constant in current dollars since the sixties. The spending will wind down then we will be back to a pre 9/11 budget. Really though, its the only part of the budget that does actually go down occasionally.

Spending more than other countries is a good thing regardless of bogus slippery slope arguments wondering if 10-20 times the spending would be enough. A baseline budget in the neighborhood of 4-5 percent of GDP would be sustainable and give us a force that would do what we need it to do.

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