U.S. military spending in perspective




  1. It is my understanding that The Young Turks have quoted false statistics before: do you have a source for this? In any event, his failure to count social security and medicare as welfare programs for his welfare statistic boggles the mind.

    The OMB figure from wikipedia is from the Obama years is above.


    This is an up-to-date report from the CBO. The CBO is slightly biased towards underestimating the effect of tax cuts, but on the whole it has staunchly resisted pressure to cook its books. The paper includes a breakdown. See pages 74-84 of the document (92-102 in the PDF).

    Note that the true figures do portray an overfed military that ought to be pared back. I am frankly in amazement at how poorly the military has handled cuts: it put the burden on basic maintenance and training, rather than on expensive equipment.

    1. There are different ideas of what is "welfare". Medicare and social Security are called "welfare" by right wingers, but they are insurance schemes where the recipients pay to get a service.
      Right wingers use an inflated definition of "welfare program" in order to deride such "Great Society" programs (enacted by Democrats) despite their popularity.

      The hollow force syndrome was predictable and normal. Ministries of Defence and top brass are cynical like that.
      The misallocation of resources is systemic, and sadly it gets rewarded again and again.

    2. Im not big on youtube never seen the young turks before, but the video seems to be a standard format. They arent the young turks figures, as the anchor says in the opening the figures are from a report compiled by the National Priorities Project.

      Your point about the social security shows a missunderstanding re discretionary spending on your part.

    3. And TYT quoted this
      right at the beginning.

    4. The figure given above is reasonable. I should have been more careful to question this estimate. That said, my experience with factual errors in TYT has been no better than with traditional cable news.
      To other readers:
      You can make an easy calculation by taking the official defense spending as a minimum estimate and (as a heuristic) double that to get a max estimate. Then we get an estimate of between 2.7 and 5.4 percent of GDP spent on defense. That gives us (approximately) between $1600 and $3200 per person. Adding in interest from Iraq+Afghanistan would give us approximately the figure given by TYT as our upper bound.

    5. @2nd anon:
      My mistake was that SS is a New Deal program, not Great Society program.
      Social Security (in the U.S.) is de facto a social insurance. Your talk about discretionary spending doesn't affect this.
      The word "insurance" is even in the program's official title and in the underlying act's title.

      Americans like to mess around with terminology in politicised topics like SS, but the argument is an utterly one-sided one in regard to economic science view of the program and its laws.

      @3rd anon:
      I think they depend on adding up more than the DoD spending to get the military spending. Such calculations lead to approx. one trillion, which would be divided by about 330 million people and that's about 3,456 $. (The Republicans added another about USD 50 bn to the DOD budget for 2018.)

      Mr. Uygur was a bit inaccurate at 1:18 where he stated that this sum goes to the Defense Dept.. I consider this a forgivable inaccuracy. TYT is opinionated and politically mostly predictable (mostly orthodox progressive), but there's no Faux News-like systemic lying and deception. It's merely one-sided.

      One could calculate different sums, but two grand per capita wouldn't sound much less terrible for a rural middle class family of four.

  2. Now include most of the Department of Energy budget (80% of which is spent decommisioning nuclear weapons and sites contaminated by nuclear weapon manufacture, handford, rocky flats etc...) and the ACWA doing decommisioning of chemical weapons, the pueblo plant, blue grass etc...

    Then try and work out a decimator to apply to productivity metrics accounting for reduced output from ex military workers. Deaf, bad knees, bad backs, GWS, PTSD etc...

    "The cold war was won because the US tricked the USSR into an arms race that caused them to over react and out strip military spending their society could maintain." - oft used argument. Dont think I need to point out the irony there. Nope. Dont need to say it.

  3. Well what about this?

    1. That's a right wing publication and it blames / scaremongers about programs the rich people don't like. I can't read the full thing, but I'm positive they don't mention the simple fixed (such as removing SS cap and reverting Reublican tax cuts for the rich) that left wingers hold in storage for the projected problems.

      Fact is that U.S. military spending vastly exceeds the DoD budget and if cut to 2% GDP or NATO average in 2003 instead of two wars totalling USD 4 trillion additional debt there would be very little of the current budget deficit left, despite tax cuts.

      That kind of spending level would not have endangered Europe. (The vast majority of U.S.armed forces wouldn't be relevant to European defence until after European mobilisation and redeployment of forces would vastly outnumber Russian forces anyway - it's msotly the USAF TacAir that matters to Europe).
      Taiwan, South Korea and Japan might have felt more encouraged to spend more on the military (Japan does expansionary spending on low value infrastructure all the time anyway and could have switched to military power at no extra debt).

      The USN would be aware that it cannot arms race against the PLAN (which it cannot anyway due to the shipyard industry weakness) and U.S. naval strategy would probably have drifted towards land-based airpower and more affordable conventional submarines by now.

    2. It's mortifying, albeit not surprising given the long history of calcified military establishments worldwide for millennia, that the US is investing such vast resources in building a navy that can't reliably blockade China while advertising (until recently) a 'pivot to Asia.'

      While supercarriers may be very difficult to sink outright sans nukes, the development of increasingly powerful land-based conventional missiles makes mission kills extremely feasible.

      The supercarriers might very well wind up like the battleships of old: hopelessly cost-inefficient against anything but an enemy who is reckless enough to try to engage them directly.

      I have a strong inkling that the Coast Guard is going to be making more valuable technological and tactical innovations over the next decade (or more) than the US Navy. They, at least, have to learn how to deal with expendable semi-stealthy units, like the subs and boats used by drug smugglers.

      So long as munitions keep advancing efficiency much faster than platforms, the best bet for the future is probably (drawing on your older writings and my own thoughts) naval supremacy via land-based air and missiles, expendable (in some cases, automated) light craft (ranging from long-ranged low-speed naval drones to low-end destroyers equipped to kill such craft), and the occasional submarine. Carriers would exist primarily to support an amphibious landing against a depleted and disorganized foe and to pin down or attack large enemy naval forces. As such, building a massive supercarrier armada the way the US is would be superfluous, as only several are needed to deter any large fleet movements. Even a superior force might be kept at bay simply by the fact that an enemy who gets the first strike with a carrier or land-based air force will defeat them.

  4. As Sven pointed out the US has an easy path towards a sane fiscal zone. Just unwind the terrible, procyclical tax cuts for the rich and actually raise their taxes somewhat and debt will go down with little negative impact if the rest remains the same. Now the tax stupidty or gift has helped to bring the 10Y to 3% making the burden more expensive.

    The very high military spending has certainly promoted – and rewarded - a great deal of inefficiencies and wasteful behavior. It is hard to come up with an historical example in which so little was not achieved with so much...


  5. The interesting thing is how this high spending is sustained by political culture.

    It appears to be a combination of path dependency, think tank sponsoring, large industry special interests, voting system, perpetual scaremongering, a widespread belief that "war works" that was brought back by ODS, entertainment industry links to the military (which provides consulting and hardware to filmmakers etc.), several idolisation issues (SEALs mostly these days), some belief that the armed services are not as corrupted as politics but instead ethically superior (I recoiled when I read how some believe the military would refuse Trump's orders - look at what generals served him as pols and his physician pet!).

    It's huge if not perfect storm, maybe it would be possible to unwound this fairly easily by removing one or two parts. On the other hand, lots of lessons to be drawn by foreign countries there.

    1. To be fair, the drone assassination program has thus resisted the pressure by Trump to purposely increase civilian casualties (you may recall that Trump wanted to kill the civilian family members of errorists). The most Trumpist generals (Kelly and formerly Flynn) marginalized themselves by going after high political appointments and the remainder seem to be purposely slow-walking Trump's demands. In fact, many of his subordinates, whether political, civil, or military, appear to be increasingly ignoring his demands. Mattis, in particular, appears to have pursued an insubordination-lite policy akin to Nixon's subordinates during Watergate: pretend not to have understood or heard his demands until it is clear that he is not going to be deterred. This is, of course, also bad for civil-military relations and democratic-republican traditions, but it is probably considerably less damaging than giving in to impulsive and blood-thirsty orders which are obvious war crimes; perhaps Mattis and a few others are taking the gruesome lesson of Guantanamo and Abu Gharib to heart.

    2. It's not much when generals delay and ignore blatantly illegal orders (or loudmouthing rhetoric implying there would be such orders) of a president who often changes hit opinion in the midst of a sentence.

      To actually stand against orders to attack Iran would be a different beast of a test.

    3. A determined campaign of internal delay and redirection is not too little either. I don't recall figures like Colin Powell doing this with George W. Bush in the lead up to Iraq. And the very act of delaying implementation of a directive until Trump forgets about it is more or less being used as a veto by his subordinates (again, Mattis is the most important, but not only, example) against Trump's reckless ideas.

      As for orders to attack Iran, Mattis (who is basically the last sane, non-evil cabinet member standing on 'national security') is doing the same thing. He is defending the Iran deal in the Senate and is likely to go for the delay strategy if Trump decides to attack Iran.

      That said, there is a chance that the US will get drawn into a conflict with Iran that is not a war of aggression on our part. The escalating tensions between Iran and Israel of late appear to have been provoked by a violation of Israeli sovereignty (a drone, admittedly; but here of DaF it is recognized that even small violations are important) in the context of a large Iranian military buildup on the Israel-Syria border.

      By far the likeliest start of a US-Iran war in the near future is escalation between Iran and Israel. If Iran makes good on its threats to retaliate against the Israeli retaliation at some point, then the two countries may quickly lose control of escalation and end up in all-out war.

      In the context of Iranian support for errorists in Israel and its long history of violating national sovereignty (shorter record than any of the big powers, but notably worse than Israel's due to the errorist attacks on Jewish centers by Iran).

      While it might be undesirable to get drawn in, it would not be an act of aggression to join Israel if it invokes its right to self-defense in a non-frivolous manner.

      Obviously, it would be a very bad thing if this were to happen. Iran would probably end up as an even less orderly basketcase than Iraq.

    4. Colin Powell himself was a delayer in 2002, but ultimately he went to the UN and lied to the world as a warmonger,. OIF violated every single criterion of the Powell Doctrine.
      He was a general (in a politician's office) who betrayed the nation to support stupid aggressive policy that was about to waste 3 trillion dollars and 4k American lives.

      The Mid east is such a mess that almost anyone has a case to invoke the right to self-defence (by or against Israel), at least to friendly ears. Higher standards need to be applied for the concept to hold water.

      I myself are appalled by the pan-Shiite policies of Iran, by the salafism export and stupid cold war by Saudi-Arabia, the corruption of the Egyptian military and the Israeli-American preference for keeping Israel's neighbours weakened (if need be in chaos or raided), paralysed or corrupt.

      The latter reminds me of the mess that white South Africa maintained around itself.

  6. I just wanted to point out "so little was not achieved with so much" refered mostly to the series of failed programs like the FCS and GCV. It is indeed surprising how little the ground vehicle fleet of the US has changed in the last 15 years despite vast spending...