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Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Economy, Politics, War | 9 comments

The Military Industrial Complex

Who is in control of the budget talks? One thing that hardly anyone from either party talks about is cuts in defense (offense) spending and most of them are talking about cuts to medicare and Social Security. As Matt Yglesias points out that not the way the American people see it.

Defense spending reductions, meanwhile, are much less popular. There’s a nontrivial bloc of congressional Democrats who favors major reductions, but that’s not a stance embraced by party leadership or recent presidential candidates. But as a recentEconomist/YouGov poll confirms—key result replicated above—public opinion is pretty different. An overwhelming 71 percent of the population says it favors spending cuts to reduce the budget deficit, but cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all unpopular. Defense cuts, by contrast, poll pretty well. The modern-day version of the guns or butter choice is guns or grandma’s hospital bills, and the public clearly prefers grandma’s hospital bills.

At The American Conservative Jon Basil Utley thinks that just eliminating waste at the Pentagon could do more to reduce the deficit than doing away with a few tax deductions but even that gets little but lip service from DC politicians.

Compare these with another study that breaks down all national-security costs. Those total some $1.2 trillion—far more than just the Pentagon’s costs, if one includes the CIA, veterans programs, pensions, interest on war debts, etc., but not the Afghan War, which is another hundred billion. The military establishment’s waste is so extraordinary that anyone in Washington who defends it either plans for America to start more wars (e.g., neoconservatives) or is on the take in some way—perhaps subsidized by a think tank getting money from military contractors. A good overall view of defense spending is by budget expert Winslow Wheeler, “The Defense Budget: Ignorance Is Not Bliss.” And this does not include big-ticket items like the F-35—scheduled to reach a trillion dollars for an average five hours of flying time per week over its lifetime—or a 12th aircraft carrier battle group. Would tax-paying Americans really prefer a new fighter plane, when America already dominates the world’s skies and seas, rather than have their home mortgage interest deduction?

The CIA and other intelligence agencies cost some $55 billion that we know about. In 2010 some $27 billion more was spent on military intelligence programs. Waste is incredible. The Washington Post ran a series of articles about waste and duplication of efforts at the many intelligence agencies. It pointed out among other numbers that some 50,000 intelligence reports are issued yearly. No congressman, to my knowledge, demanded an investigation. A recent interesting information tidbit was how Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has Air Force planes fly him home to California every weekend. The news came to light when he transferred to the Pentagon, which publishes such information. Earlier at the CIA he did the same, but it was a secret expense. The exploding cost of homeland security is also somewhat hidden: for example, airline passengers pay for much of the government’s costs in higher fares.

Utley links to The defense budget: Ignorance is not bliss by Winslow Wheeler which is a must read.


Polling from Pew and Gallup reveals major public misconceptions about the defense budget. Fifty-eight percent of Americans know that Pentagon spending is larger than any other nation, but almost none know it is up to seven times that of China. Most had no idea the defense budget is larger than federal spending for education, Medicare or interest on the debt.


The scurrilous in Washington promote the misimpression of an under-funded Pentagon. They imply it is smaller than during the Cold War by saying it was at 8 percent of gross domestic product in the late 1960s, but only 4 percent of GDP now. Therefore, it’s gone down and is now low, right?

Some use hyperventilated rhetoric to pressure for more defense dollars. Sadly, this category now must include Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who termed “catastrophic” the recommendations of the Obama deficit commission to merely maintain defense spending at its post-WWII high, and who deemed a “crisis” the idea of a 1 percent — $5 billion — reduction in the 2011 defense budget compared to 2010.

The defense budget is untouchable because the military industrial complex is a major contributor of reelection money.  This is nothing new.  In the early 70s those in the intelligence community knew the Soviet Union was collapsing – no, Ronald Reagan was not responsible for the collapse.

Tolstoy would look at the assertion that Reagan brought down the Evil Empire and say: no he didn’t. The individual decisions by millions of Russians, Poles, Latvians, Georgians, Germans, etc. brought down the Evil Empire, and the relationship between those individual actions and the action of any one man is obscure – and, moreover, anything Reagan did that was significant was overwhelmingly likely to have been done by someone else in his place at that time, because those actions were forced choices, driven by necessity, even if we don’t fully understand the laws thereof.

The hype of the threat from a rapidly failing Soviet Union allowed defense spending to remain inflated.  We see the same thing today except it is even more absurd this time because the threat is not from a world power but a number of bands of outlaws.


If “everything” is on the table then that must include dramatic cuts to defense spending but don’t hold your breath.

Cross posted at Middle Earth Journal