Military spending and the lifesaving argument

... What the defense secretary is saying is that if defense sequestration stays on track, U.S. forces could be defeated in future wars, and more warfighters than necessary might die.  Maybe thousands.  Maybe tens of thousands.  Why?  Because the force will not be trained and equipped to the level required to prevail against technologically advanced adversaries.  You know — the kind of adversaries who haven’t been challenging us lately because America’s military has the best training and technology in the world...
"The Bottom Line On Defense Sequestration: Warfighters Will Die" Forbes Op-Ed by Loren Thompson.
Hat Tip SWJ

I remember the U.S. government has guidelines for valuing human life (of its citizen). It's up to about nine million bucks (celebrities and rich people are worth more, of course).
That's how much you spend at most per life you assume to save with your action in the U.S. - be it seawalls, drugs, seatbelt regulation or other policies.

This may sound cynical, but this is a world of scarcity, and paying more than these millions to save one life means to reject saving at least as many lives elsewhere, since all budgets are limited.

Now assume the doomsday claim is true and 10,000 soldiers will die within the next decade if not more is spent on the military (ignoring of course that the military bureaucracy should probably learn to spend cash more efficiently).

10,000 lives - that's 90 billion bucks at most. For a decade. So nine billion bucks annually (ignoring interest rate effects). Assuming a bad case and the upper boundary of valuations. It could also be 4 billion and 0.4 billion using the other extremes.

I am sure Mr. Thompson thought his "(...)thousands.  Maybe tens of thousands" point would be strong enough to justify a bigger spending increase. It doesn't - even if we assume he's correct about the consequences.

Again, this may sound cynical, but it's simply realistic. A common problem in the U.S. is that too much is not being done that should be done while astonishingly many resources are being poured into the military. It's only natural that even the slightest attempt to make a rational calculation about mil spending confirms this.

Here are two cheap, yet very valuable hints about military spending and wartime KIA in the U.S.:
(1) Don't do wars of choice so no soldiers will die in wars of choice.
(2) Focus on the efficiency of spending instead of doing the primitive thing of throwing more resources at the (imaginary) problem.


P.S.: I don't remember anything good about Mr. Thompson. His employer the Lexington Institute has a reputation of cheerleading on demand of paying arms manufacturers and building a facade of credibility by criticising projects of arms manufacturers who don't pay them.


  1. How many must be threatened for the current spending level?
    Seems like the only sense one can make from the US policy is MIC on frenzy.

  2. Don't forget all that shiny equipment that would get banged up given large losses. With billion dollar airplanes and boats, it can add up real fast.

    However, the larger point is correct. Avoiding neo-imperialist adventures is an obvious cost saver.

  3. From a domestic messaging perspective, I also find it odd that the prevailing argument for equipment is that 'it saves lives,' always in the context of crew/user survival and often accompanied with references to families. There's never an argument that it overmatches an enemy which could result either in shorter wars or deterrence. Perhaps that mindset is why your two hints are ignored by so many decision makers (though I'd also argue that US arms manufacturers have rigged the system to prevent your second point from ever coming to pass).