Bacevich's takedown of the military spending craze with Ike's help

Andrew J. Bacevich is apparently a sane conservative and one thing is for sure: He dislikes imperial foreign policy and wars of choice.

Atlantic Magazine
Jan/Feb 2011

Largely overlooked by most commentators was a second theme that Eisenhower had woven into his text. The essence of this theme was simplicity itself: spending on arms and armies is inherently undesirable. Even when seemingly necessary, it constitutes a misappropriation of scarce resources. By diverting social capital from productive to destructive purposes, war and the preparation for war deplete, rather than enhance, a nation’s strength. And while assertions of military necessity might camouflage the costs entailed, they can never negate them altogether.

I took me until a few years ago to recognize that anyone could seriously think otherwise. There are indeed people who believe that military spending boosts the economy overall. That is safely beyond the reach of my imagination - I had to encounter such people to consider the possibility that they may exist.

The whole idea of military spending = boosting the economy is outrageously illogical. Military spending does at the very best crowd out private consumption and reduces ceteris paribus the supply of qualified labour (especially engineers) for civilian products industries.



  1. As long as folks vote governments into power, because they give them "a job", and in combination with the strong lobby presence of corporate defence, this will remain an issue.

    With governors and senators pledging their support to military procurements on the sole reason, that they are being produced in their states (and those gentlemen receive a little cash themselves), the way out wont be an easy one.

    But if the same is being done via civilian construction efforts, everyone quickly shouts "communism". A rather good example of serious American brain damage (case in point the proud construct called "public transport").

    This might very well lead to a most ironic end, where the US copy the Soviet model of spending themselves to death, not facing reality unto the end.

  2. Although somewhat true, Defence is the least of the big evils.
    Even that militarily juggernaught the US spends 4x on healthcare what is spends on defence.
    Hell, Corn subsidies are probably higher.

  3. I do neither subscribe to the view that health care is "evil", nor to the view that waste in health care system is anyhow related to defence spending 8other than the helath care for active and veteran soldiers, of course).

    An efficiency failure elsewhere in a society does not influence the efficiency of a military budget significantly.

    I do also doubt that the U.S. subsidizes corn more than it spends on the military.
    There are two orders of magnitude in between.

    The U.S. military spending level is irresponsible. Major European powers spend less on their military than the U.S. spends on its military black projects alone. A comparison with other countries shows that it's not the European powers who are unusual in their spending, but the U.S..
    A look at foreign policy situations, conflicts and economic data suggests that the U.S. policy pattern is not satisfactory.

  4. To be the worlds sole superpower is such a burden. You go bancrupt and everyone hates you. Thank God a new kid is one the block who thinks that's cool.
    (start at 1:30)


  5. Sven
    I dont believe I said healthcare was evil.

    "An efficiency failure elsewhere in a society does not influence the efficiency of a military budget significantly."
    No it does not, but I must question the motives of one who ignores the Euros and concentrates on the centimes.

    Government spending on healthcare is 4x what the same government spends on Defence.
    And whilst Defence Budgets fall, Health Budgets increase.

    For example.
    The UK spends £30bn on Defence and £120bn on Healthcare.
    80% (£96bn) of healthcare costs are accrued in the final two years of life.

    Almost 3x the defence budget is spent treating people who will die within two years.
    Yet military spending is wasteful and needs to be examined.

  6. Yes. Wastefulness in another sector (if it's waste at all; that's just a point of view at times) has only influence on the relative wastefulness of high military spending, not on the absolute wastefulness of military spending.

    A hundred billion or two spent too much do not become less wasteful just because something else was wasteful as well.

  7. Professor Bacevich is a conservative, as in supporting a set of specific traditional values. What passes under the label of "conservative" in the US today is actually the Radical Right who imo are actually more the nature of nihilists - from a conservative perspective of course.

    That's the first point. The second is that this article is very much in line with his recent book, "Washington Rules". Consider that in this instance "rules" is both a verb and a noun. The book is highly recommended.

  8. Private comment- not for posting. For Mr. Ortman:

    I'm wondering if your posting system ever has trouble accepting Google accounts from Mozilla/
    Windows XP users?

    I tried posting a very large post several times back in several political postings (you'll remember me: James Versluys, we argued about a couple things). When I hit send it didn't say "Your comment will be visible after approval" like times it did when I was able to post with no problem.

    Do you know of any poster problems using Google account/Mozilla/Windows XP user accounts?

  9. I have some log-in problems with google. I need to use IE instead of Firefox in some weeks, for example. There are obviously some software problems in blogger.

    I cannot tell how many reply attempts were unsuccessful for obvious reasons.

    Oh, and James; I couldn't respond without posting this since you included no contact address...

  10. Let's face it, every system has things considered inefficient. The question is rather what consensus can be established on inefficiency in order to better direct our stream of cash.
    I wouldn't call military expenditure waste. It's a state run project of research, applied research, technology adoption and education. It does have economic and social benefits if it is a suitably sized part within the larger framework of a society. The question is, what should be the size?
    This explains it best.