[FoRK] The Decline of Empires..

J.Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Tue Jan 4 00:16:49 PST 2005


On Jan 3, 2005, at 3:56 PM, Mark Day wrote:
> "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."
>
> 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.


Nitpick:  These are misleading numbers.  The States raise *far* more 
taxes for education than the Federal government, as it is primarily the 
domain of the States.  At the same time, the Federal government is 
solely responsible for military and defense.  Total revenue raised for 
education at the Federal, State, and local levels in 2000 was $373B, or 
at least that is the first number that popped out of Google.  Which 
sounds about right when extrapolate what I know about a few State 
budgets.  So there is rough parity between military and education 
spending.

About military spending:

We spend as much as we do on the military because our policies require 
a footprint that large -- efficiency does not have much to do with it.  
While the efficiency could be improved, the US military is relatively 
efficient as such things go.  Or at least, I cannot think of an 
obviously more efficient military given the capabilities that our 
government desires, though I can think of large ones that are worse.  I 
will add that I one of the things I do applaud Rumsfeld for is that he 
is slashing tons of Cold War leftovers and pork from the US DoD. It is 
asinine that ten years after the Soviet Union collapsed, our military 
and procurement was still set up in a very expensive Cold War 
configuration.  We'll probably save tens of billions a year just on 
that re-organizaton alone.  The thing about the US education system is 
that there are a lot of counter-examples that are obviously more 
efficient, which makes it a little different.  The US military is not 
obviously grossly inefficient, and they invest very heavily in advanced 
technology to reduce overall operational and capital costs for a given 
military scenario that have proven to have good ROI.

Ignoring Iraq and looking at the broad military posture of the US, one 
can take a number of perspectives on this.  While I personally have 
serious reservations about the global footprint of the US military, I 
also can easily see why it can be viewed as a rational and reasonable 
investment from a more traditional geopolitical standpoint.  One could 
make a good argument that the massive presence and relatively 
unchallenged global superiority of the US military that has emerged in 
the last two decades has actively suppressed a lot of conflagrations in 
many parts of the world.  There are a number of regions in the world 
that have stayed quiet far longer than they probably would have if the 
US military was not looming large on their horizon.  It did take us a 
few decades to obtain proper dominance in this regard.

It is insanely expensive to do this, but it is not invalid to assert 
that the numbers work out.  We spend a few percent of GDP on a massive 
ultra-modern military, sending it across the globe.  The added 
stability and expanded GDP output of the rest of world focusing on 
commerce rather than war (and buying weapons from the US when they do 
buy weapons), probably gives that expenditure back in economic terms.  
Of course, the reason the US has the military that it has is that 
governments generally love military power when they can afford it (and 
in the US, after many disastrous experiences when we ignored it), but 
the expenditure can probably be hypothetically justified in economic 
terms despite this fact.  Most other countries would swap places in a 
heartbeat, for largely the same reasons.


I would say that the US military is appropriate and moderately 
efficient for US policy.  If US policy changed in fact, then I would 
hope that the US military would be changed accordingly, both in size 
and scope.

cheers,

j. andrew rogers



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