[FoRK] The Decline of Empires..

Gordon Mohr gojomofork at xavvy.com
Mon Jan 3 22:24:58 PST 2005

Mark Day wrote:
>>The US already spends more per student, often very substantially more,
>>than essentially the entire modern world, and with famously mediocre
>>results.  There is nothing "poorly-funded" about the schools and civic
>>infrastructure.  Poorly managed maybe, but not poorly funded.
> Nice phrasing.  Let me try it in a somewhat different mode:
> "The US already spends more on the military, VERY substantially more, than
> anyone else in the entire world, and with famously mediocre results. There
> is nothing "poorly-funded" about the military and defense infrastructure.
> Poorly managed maybe, but not poorly funded."
> (I'm not disputing occasional excellent results by the armed forces, just as
> Mr. Rogers is probably not ruling out occasional excellent educational
> attainment.  But it's hard to see the value for the money.)

I'm sure it could be more efficient, but on a few major criteria, measured
on the scale of decades, the US military is doing pretty well. What I'd
like to see in national defense is:

(1) No more "world wars"
(2) Few military attacks against US people, territory, or property
(3) No emergent militaristic powers with the inclination and resources to
     begin arms races or expansionist regional wars
(4) No foreign power able to militarily coerce the US or its constituents

We've done pretty well on those fronts, albeit at a great financial cost
and human cost in regional conflicts. But against the alternatives?
Someone's got to have the biggest, baddest military capabilities; if it
weren't clearly us, a lot of other far less savory regimes would be grabbing
for that perch, and the dynamic competition and chances of worldwide
conflict that would involve could quickly make the last 50 years of
military expenditures look cheap.

I don't know for sure either way, but I can't accept as a given that the
US military has gotten poor results for the money.

> BTW, to be clear about the relative scale here: the FY 2005 budget request
> for Defense is slightly more than $400B, not including special reserves for
> Iraq budgeted at $19B for 2005.
> In contrast, the entire FY 2005 budget request for Education is $57B.  Also,
> the Defense budget request is increasing at more than twice the rate of the
> Education budget request.

That's just federal spending, and IMHO federal education spending should be
even lower. Federal programs rarely get the best bang for the buck; the money
should all be refunded to needy students as scholarships.

Education is traditionally a state and local matter, and total K-12 education
spending in the US in 2003-2004 is around $500 billion dollars -- more than
national defense. See:


Further, education can be radically decentralized to good effect -- see the
New Zealand example in my previous message -- whereas it's hard to turn over
global defense to a few hundred thousand independent local institutions.

- Gordon

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