What to Cut

It is often said that if a proposal draws ire from both sides of the political aisle, it must be good. By that metric, Obama’s 2011 budget proposal is a winner.

The White House proposal comes a few days after House Republicans proposed a $100 billion reduction, not from 2010 levels, but from proposed 2011 levels. Why does this matter? Because the 2011 proposal calls for a total increase of $90 billion over 2010. So the GOP proposal calls for merely $10 billion in less spending, compared to 2010. There’s a lot to look over in their proposal. Read it and comment here on what you see.

But let’s look at the GOP Pledge from last fall, which is the basis for the $100 billion number. The text said: “Cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels saving at least $100 billion in the first year alone.” Pre-stimulus, pre-bailout is the 2008 budget, which was $2.9 trillion. That’s $790 billion less than the Obama budget proposal. This sleight of hand is important.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: most of the federal government’s annual expenditures consist of “mandatory spending,” things like Social Security, Medicare, basic emergency safety net programs (e.g., unemployment insurance, food stamps), and interest on the debt.

Social Security is logistically an easy program to fix, but politically extremely difficult. Combinations of means testing, increasing the minimum age for drawing benefits, and raising the caps on contributions would easily make the program fully solvent for all time. But it requires a change in the social contract that underpins the program, and many of those elements of the contract were put in place as a means of compromise to get the program passed in the first place. This is not an easy task, but one I support, even though it would almost certainly mean I would pay more into the program and get less out of it.

But Obama’s proposal is all about discretionary spending, since that’s what goes into the annual budget. The New York Times has an excellent interactive tool to help you see what’s in the proposal.

There are big cuts in small programs, such as disadvantaged school programs, low-income heating bill assistance, and disaster relief. And there are small growths in big programs, such as operation and maintenance of the national defense. By and large, the growth in discretionary spending comes from defense and health care.

So there’s stuff to hate in both Obama’s proposal and the Republicans’ counterproposal. As a Keynesian, I think it’s too early for cuts of this magnitude anyway. Fixing Social Security would be beneficial to both the budget and the economy. Wearing my economist’s hat, that is the low-hanging fruit. It would take some serious political will to accomplish, unfortunately.

How do you feel about the proposals? What would you do differently if you didn’t have to deal with politics? What would you do differently if you did have to deal with politics?


About Michael Weiss

Michael is now located at http://www.logarchism.com, along with Monotreme, filistro, and dcpetterson. Please make note of the new location.
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53 Responses to What to Cut

  1. Mule Rider says:

    Means testing would result in little-to-no savings in the grand scheme of things and as such isn’t worth the administrative burden. Plus, I find it damn near criminal to ask people to fund a program where they see no direct benefit and the only indirect benefit is taking care of people who are unable (or in many cases unwilling) to plan for their own retirement and/or health care expenses in their later years.

    You want to make SS/Medicare solvent again? Bad as I hate to say it, you need to pull in more revenue or cut benefits for everyone. Thinking that a benefit cut would be the more unpopular of the two, I suggest lowering the effective rate of 6.2% (for both employee and employer) on SS and whatever it is for Medicare/Medicaid but raise the income cap significantly – or remove it entirely.

  2. Gator says:

    I may be wrong, but I believe the irony here is breathtaking in scope.

  3. mclever says:

    I agree with Mule Rider (gasp!).

    I don’t think means testing for SS would produce substantial savings in comparison to the bureaucratic hassle required. More substantial would be revenue gains from lifting the income cap. If we want to save SS/Med, that’s probably the way to go.

    I also agree that it’s a “low hanging fruit” if they could corral the votes. It would be a popular win.

  4. Monotreme says:

    I also agree with Mule Rider (double gasp!)

    Eliminate the income cap, and push back the retirement age in a graduated fashion. For example, my cohort collects at 67 years, 4 months but there’s no reason that date can’t be pushed back even further.

    My retirement plans depend much more critically on the availability of affordable health care than they do on a relatively paltry Social Security check, in any case.

  5. Mr. Universe says:

    I’m far enough away from retirement that I’ve given up on ever seeing any benefit from SS. Either rob it completely or figure out how to salvage it. But quit quietly choking it to death while pretending we don’t notice.

  6. Gator,

    I don’t get the irony. Could you elaborate?

  7. Gator says:

    MW

    Nothing in your article. It was a well written piece. I’m a Chicago school man myself.
    I’ll see your Keynes and raise you a Friedman.

    The sense of irony is mine. Just me being cryptic. Have a good evening.

  8. shortchain says:

    Since SS tax receipts (even with the “tax break”) are only a few billion less than the SS outlay, fixing SS, while necessary in the long term, is not a big problem in the short term. Since excess SS receipts would go into the “SS Trust Fund”, increasing SS Tax receipts would not decrease the national debt significantly unless you intend to balance the budget by a SS tax surplus (which I would object to) AND you can guarantee that Congress won’t spend the extra.

    The largest item in the budget is the Defense Department. We really need to get that under control. I think it should be cut by half, personally. I would put half the savings into domestic infrastructure and just not spend the other half. That’s about 130 billion.

    Only 5 line items account for 75 percent of the budget. Excluding SS for the reasons I gave above, you have DoD, “Other mandatory programs”, Medicare, and Medicaid.

    The “Other mandatory spending” is 571 million for what I don’t know. I’ve heard that it’s Food Stamps (although why that is “mandatory” I have no idea), plus a lot of other programs that don’t sound “mandatory” to me.

    That’s an awful lot of money to put into a “do not touch — in fact, don’t even look in there” category.

  9. mostlyilurk says:

    I’m with Mono, as I’m far more concerned about affordable health care during retirement than I am about SS benefits.

  10. I, too, worry more about healthcare at retirement. Actually, I worry about healthcare right now. I’m not covered by an employer plan.

  11. Mule,

    Do you have numbers to back that up? I could probably be convinced to give up the means testing.

  12. Armchair Warlord says:

    I love people glibly talking about gutting the Department of Defense… you know, the organization that guarantees global stability and thus keeps the global economy working among other things. The reason military spending is cut-resistant is because it essentially is a mandatory spending item – we do not spend enough on defense as is and we should spend more to ensure our security into the 21st century.

    In any event entitlement reform – not cuts, reform – would save enough money for more discretionary spending than the non-military parts of the government are capable of handling all at once. I fail to understand why nobody wants to tackle it, unless the President is looking for fairer political winds post-2012.

  13. NotImpressed says:

    It is simply dishonest for the Republicans to pretend you can balance the budget on spending cuts alone. If you take off the table entitlements, Social Security, defense, and interest on the federal debt, what you’re left with (discretionary spending) is about $400 billion. The annual deficit currently is well over $1 trillion. Eliminating all discretionary spending brings you about 1/3 of the annual deficit. You cannot do it on spending cuts alone.

    Social Security contributes nothing to the current annual deficit. The long-term fixes are easy. So the Republicans need to stop demonizing Social Security. Eliminate the ceiling on contributions and then take of off the table already. Everyone (even Mr. U) gets full benefits, and we don’t even have to raise the retirement age.

    The 800-pound gorilla is military spending. About 47% of the world’s military spending is the United States alone. That is absurd, and even more absurd to call it “defense” spending. What threat anywhere in the world do we have to “defend” against that justifies having us spend nearly 10 times as much as the next-largest spender? Who is going to attack us using conventional ground forces? How do bombers defend against a terrorist with a suitcase bomb? This isn’t “defense” spending. It is “intimidation” spending. We need to cut it in half, at least. Then we’ll only be spending about 4 or 5 times as much as the next largest spender. And it would save us close to $400 billion each year.

    The rest of the deficit is caused by loss of revenue due to the Bush tax cuts, $100 billion per year on the Bush wars, stimulus spending to combat the Bush recession, and interest payments on all those things from prior years. Repeal the Bush tax cuts, end the Bush wars, that’ll pay for a great deal of the remaining deficit. The stimulus spending (and we need to spend more there in the short term, not less) will go away once the nation has pulled out of the Bush recession. Tax revenues will increase as the economy improves, and that will take care of the rest of the deficit.

    Returning to Eisenhower / Kennedy – era tax structure would help a lot too. That’s how we got rid of the WW2 debt, and it also grew the economy by leaps and bounds.

    Gutting the social safety net of the nation’s most vulnerable, and cutting medical care, is precisely the wrong way to go. That would throw more people into expensive emergency services, and we cannot afford that in either a financial or humanitarian sense.

  14. dcpetterson says:

    The problem with cutting military spending is that it eliminates jobs in the form of defense contracts that go to corporations. This is the reason military spending cuts never happen — it would throw people out of work in Congresspeople’s home districts. The Pentagon is an enormous Federal jobs program, and that is why it consumes so much money. What we can do is make it illegal to contract or sub-contract to foreign countries, or to manufacture any of the purchased items using foreign workers, so at least the jobs stay here.

    But the main goal of the Republicans, I suspect, has little to do with the deficit. It has to do with advancing a conservative social agenda. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR are such tiny grains of sand that they make no difference to the mountain of the federal deficit. They’ve simply been targeted, the Republicans have never liked them, and this is their excuse.

    The same goes for Social Security, which, as has been pointed out, is not responsible for any of our current deficit and can be easily fixed in the long term. The Republicans have never liked Social Security, and by using it as a scapegoat, they can do their best to privatize it. That’s why we keep hearing about it in this conversation.

  15. dcpetterson says:

    Read this on social security. Many easy ways to fix it. My favorite:

    Modify the Social Security tax cap. Workers pay into the Social Security system on earnings up to $106,800 in 2010. About 83 percent of worker earnings were subject to Social Security payroll taxes in 2008. If all earned income above $106,800 annually were subject to Social Security contributions but did not count toward benefits, Social Security’s projected deficit would be completely eliminated.

  16. shortchain says:

    Armchair Warlord,

    The DoD: “the organization that guarantees global stability and thus keeps the global economy working among other things.”

    I’m not impressed with the job they’re doing.

  17. Mule Rider says:

    “Do you have numbers to back that up? I could probably be convinced to give up the means testing.”

    I was reading a little about it on Krugman’s blog – one of the few things I agree with him on – so while I don’t have anything else to cite at the present time, I’ll quote a paragraph from one of his recent posts that summarizes the reason:

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

    But while there’s some money to be gotten by taxing the top 2 percent — they have more than 20 percent of the income — they account for roughly their pro-rata share of benefit costs — that is, the richest 2 percent account for around 2 percent of Medicare expenses. (Maybe a bit less because they’re healthier than the average American, maybe a bit more because they live longer.) Social Security is more complicated, but bear in mind that high earners get bigger benefits, but also get taxed on those benefits; so again, we’re talking about savings not very different from their share of the population.

    The basic premise is that even if you completely cut off benefits to the top 2% – and even going a step further and cut/reduce benefits to the next tier of wealthy individuals (although you have to stop at some point because you’ll eventually reach a point where you’re hitting a group that needs those benefits – plus, the more people that are means-tested, the higher the administrative cost) you’re really not saving much because what they receive isn’t that far out of line with their proportion of the population. And those added administrative costs would offset some (most?) potential savings. Seems like the best thing would be to not add an administrative hurdle (tecnhically, wouldn’t everyone have to prove, then, that they are eligible?) but just take in the portion of those people’s salary that isn’t presently being taxed.

  18. Mainer says:

    My wife was reading an interesting piece this morning that was looking back at the days when harvesting ice was a major part of our states economic foot print. One of the stand out comments was that the bulk of the labor that performed this task was provided by vagrants. Nowif one wandered through the dictionary their first thought would be that this work was being done by really awful people. I offer the 2 following definitions as a starting point:

    a : one who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support
    b : one (as a prostitute or drunkard) whose conduct constitutes statutory vagrancy

    Another would be:

    Vagrancy (people) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    A vagrant is a person in poverty, who wanders from place to place without a home or regular employment or income.

    I believe that Wiki has it better but that the 2 first is where most had their conceptualization of who and what these folks were. In a day and age when such increadibly dangerous and harsh labour was provided with no safe guards, little pay and no respect and the only days they did not work was when it was too cold for the horses it was just easier to denigrate these migrant workers of the times to justify how they were used.

    How is it that we are again approaching those times? How can one of the major political parties in this land seem to be holding people in such low regard?

    This isn’t a budget proposal it is instead a desire to return to a day of near serfdom for any one not of a privleged class. Far from a considered budget proposal it is an in your face I dare you to block this or we will shut down the government effort by economic anarchists to finish off what remains of the worker class in this country.

  19. Armchair,
    I have yet to hear anyone say “yeah, cutting the area in which I work is a good thing.” I can’t say I’m surprised that you support growth in defense and cuts elsewhere.

    The thing is, DoD doesn’t have much real oversight, officially due to security concerns. And yet, that secrecy provides ample opportunity for waste without oversight. I have little doubt that the military can address the needs of our nation for significantly less than we are paying. But, then again, I’m an armchair economist, not an armchair warlord. 8)

  20. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    Are you suggesting that the areas I work in (education and scientific consulting) aren’t the most important segment of the economy?

    Well, if we’re measuring the importance by the amount of money spent, that’s a proven fact, of course.

  21. Mainer says:

    You know it will be interesting to see how some of those new cut the budget to the bone Republican govenors are going to react to the news out of Washington. I’m guessing that as soon as they can crawl out from under the bus that some of them may have a few WTF moments with their congress critters.

    Lets take Christie just as an example. In a state already with mundane issues such as how to keep enough cops and firemen on the streets the answer is? Well you can just cut more because we do not see the need to help you. I figure that if it is a hot enough summer the riots should start oh about July and burn through the cooling of fall.

    Boy Bobby Jingle Jingle and Boss Hog had best hope those big wind bags stay away this year and that includes those hurrycanes. You think FEMA and disaster relief has had issues in the past? See what they can dowith out funds, or money to practice response or stockpile supplies. Oh and cutting NASA and NOAA should allow us to get blindsided……what was it Jingles wanted to see cut? Oh volcano and earth quake monitoring………careful what you wish for I always say becaue some one might actually hear you and not know the difference between disasters. Freaking marooooons.

  22. shortchain,
    I realize this was meant to be tongue in cheek:

    Are you suggesting that the areas I work in (education and scientific consulting) aren’t the most important segment of the economy?

    …but that’s exactly how everyone reacts. It’s easy to see how wherever we work is underfunded, but it’s hard for any of us to see the degree to which other areas are similarly underfunded.

  23. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    My tongue was in some cheek, sure. But we are told on a daily, if not hourly, basis by all kinds of people, both Democrats and Republicans, that we are facing a shortage of highly-trained people in the sciences and engineering. It’s hard to keep a straight face in the face of that continuing theme while noticing (can’t help but notice — it’s probably a defect in my training) that it doesn’t translate into anything that would, you know, improve the chances that someone would go into these fields — and get a job afterwards.

    Of course, the Republican types making the argument are generally making it only for the purposes of lowering the barrier still further for importing talent — not creating it here — so there’s that to consider.

    Just an anecdotal datum: for about 6 years now, all the best students produced by my department are leaving to go into law, business, or medicine. We’re talking dozens of very capable people. Not that there’s anything wrong with business or medicine, necessarily, but still, doesn’t it make you wonder?

  24. Mainer says:

    Michael I’m not sure every one feels their end of the economic boat is understaffed, unappreciated and under funded but I suspect that for those in the trenches it is always going to seem that way. Those at the top maybe not as much but the deeper one gets down into the organization the less that will be seen of the good and the bad will seem to get there first and stay longer.

  25. shortchain,

    we are told on a daily, if not hourly, basis by all kinds of people, both Democrats and Republicans, that we are facing a shortage of highly-trained people in the sciences and engineering. It’s hard to keep a straight face in the face of that continuing theme while noticing (can’t help but notice — it’s probably a defect in my training) that it doesn’t translate into anything that would, you know, improve the chances that someone would go into these fields — and get a job afterwards.

    So all we need to do is provide more money, and the problem is solved? And nothing short of more money would do it? And, even if both of those previous questions would be correctly answered in the affirmative, there is no other shortage elsewhere that could provide greater benefit for the same dollars?

  26. Mainer,

    Those at the top maybe not as much but the deeper one gets down into the organization the less that will be seen of the good and the bad will seem to get there first and stay longer.

    I can’t speak for CEOs, since I don’t know enough of them to feel confident in the significance of the results, but I have plenty of regular, direct interaction with people who report to CEOs, and every level down from there. I haven’t known enough to count on one hand who haven’t felt that they were understaffed, underappreciated, and underfunded, regardless of the level they were at.

  27. Mainer says:

    You are probably right Michael but the few CEO’s I do know always have seemed to feel things were better than they were but for them it usually is. Hard question I guess.

    On another concept. If one looks at the budget concepts of the Republicans I would say they don’t see a need for any scientists, engineers, or advanced technologists. They sure as hell don’t want to waste much money educating a new crop.

  28. Mainer,
    Look at the difference between Obama’s proposal and the Republicans’ proposal. I don’t see the two are that far apart. Sure, it’s talked up like a huge chasm between the two, but the numbers don’t seem to bear that out.

  29. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    You aren’t taking into account who the speakers are. These are the representatives, the CEO’s, the President.

    So obviously, if they’re saying that we need more scientists and engineers, wouldn’t it logically follow that they are talking somehow about government action to increase the number? Otherwise, what sense in their comments is there?

    May I gently point out that, when a similar situation presented itself, back in the 60’s, the response was to throw a lot of money into government-subsidized research and development — which subsequently repaid society with the computer as we know it, the internet, plus a lot of other things. We can look at similar historical events going all the way back to Napoleon, in which government spending (back then, for military purposes) produced advances in technology with impacts on everyday life.

    I’ve heard libertarians claim that, if we had just let private industry do it, we’d have everything plus a lot less debt. Unfortunately, that argument rests on events in some alternate universe. In this one, the space program paid for the research and development of integrated circuits small enough to make payloads practical, and the ICBM program paid for the factories’ outputs for the first several years. This is historical fact.

    I know that, in the late sixties, there was a bloom of scientists and engineers, either inspired by the space program or motivated by the fact that jobs with aerospace companies abounded (and came with draft deferments and high salaries). I wanted one of those jobs myself, but, alas, I was born exactly one year too late. Changes to the draft meant that I didn’t get a deferment, and, by the time I got out of the military, Nixon had slashed the R&D budget, beginning the death spiral of American science.

    So please don’t tell me that government cannot, without much more spending than they currently waste on the military, inspire and motivate people to go into science and engineering.

    But if you are happy with the current trend, in which the USA is going to be a third-rate center for fundamental research in most areas of science and second-rate in a few, first-rate only in military technology — just be honest about it is all I ask. Just don’t expect young people to be motivated by that prospect.

  30. shortchain,
    Actually, I do consider who the speakers are. The speakers who ask for more of something are typically those who would benefit from more of it. That’s not a surprise; it’s human nature. The things that you are intimately aware of and connected with tend to be the same things that you value more. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s important to recognize that in yourself and others when you and they are communicating.

    There is no doubt in my mind that government can do things to encourage more research and education. Some of them are financial, some regulatory. What is at issue here is not whether or not there is value in spending money at all. Rather, the question is, given a limited amount of resources, where the best places are to spend that money.

    Given that our inflation rate has been near-zero for a few years now, I think it is quite reasonable to ask why government spending (aside from the automatic safety-net stuff) has been rising at a rate significantly greater than the inflation rate. And I think it is quite reasonable to suggest that we look at levels comparable to that of recent years past. This doesn’t mean going back to an 1869 level of spending, but why should we consider 1996 to be a bad level (inflation-adjusted, naturally)?

    And, while we’re at it, why isn’t our government spending more of our money on X-Prize-type endeavors, where large prizes are awarded to private industry that achieves some significant goal? Such a model should encourage the best of private industry (rapid evolution), coupled with the best of government (setting rules and goals that pure capitalism, for various reasons, would avoid, even though the goals benefit the broader society). Savings from this approach would then be better used in improving education.

  31. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    I think there’s a place for X-type prizes, where the goal is the development of a particular thing or concept. Harnessing market forces is a great thing, when it can be done. However, there is also a need for fundamental research, and that is not going to by amenable to this approach.

    We are simply not doing the fundamental research in this country that we need to do.

  32. Mainer says:

    It is probable that the USA is already approaching the line of being a third rate power in terms of its abilities to have cutting edge science and engineering. For too long we have allowed the monetary masters of the universe define to define the parameters for success and for them ithas been make the big bucks now oryou have no value. So instead of producing top end scientists and engineers with our best and brightest we have driven them all to become MBA’s and hedge fund managers.

    A society either appreciates their people of intelect and basks in the glow of their accomplishment or they live in fear of those brighter than they are and denigrates them and forces them into pursuits not only less nobel but generally more harmful to the society. I would offer up Germany in a particular time period or maybe the Soviet Union as examples. They both squandered the brain power of their best and brightest for failed dreams of empire and were not even capable of snatching the triumphs that were acheived from the jaws of the events they had set in motion.

    We unfortuantely are not far behind. We have set in motion a denigration of science and eduction and have openly anounced that all that counts is how much money one makes not what they can make with it or what they might design or build just how much money and wealth can they amass. Our best days are most likely behind us in terms of inovation and technology. For the dollar is my god I shall not doubt it, though inspiration and visions may fill my head I shall ignore them for the dollar is my god and my counternance and I shall dwell in the house of the money changes for ever more.

  33. Armchair Warlord says:

    We can’t keep financial crises from happening, but we can keep, say, the Russians from burning and looting Europe, which would take a little while longer to recover from. 😉

    People tend to forget that the stability the world enjoys is built on the US military. Our ability to stomp anyone else and our support for the current system keeps naked aggression and intimidation from being working political strategies. It wasn’t this way in the past and it’s naive to think it would continue to be this way without us.

    Note the amount of effort and funding the Chinese are putting into their military – every cent of it aimed at their peaceful neighbors – and tell me we need a smaller military. Read a little about the 2008 war in Georgia, consider Russian tanks rolling into Warsaw and Kiev, and tell me we need a smaller military. Take a look at the pure nihilistic evil of jihadism and tell me we need a smaller military.

    I also note that military spending is a mere 20% of the federal budget and represents just around 4% of GDP. These are historically low levels. People tend to forget that the US economy is very, very large and that increased taxation and entitlement reform would fix any budget woes we will have for the foreseeable future rather than going after peanuts in the discretionary budget.

  34. Armchair,

    We can’t keep financial crises from happening, but we can keep, say, the Russians from burning and looting Europe, which would take a little while longer to recover from.

    Given the number of beneficiaries from such an endeavor, why is it appropriate for the United States to bear nearly the entire cost of it? Shouldn’t part of the design of organizations such as NATO include a more equitable distribution of the bearing of cost?

    In other words, why should I be taxed more (in money spent on military) than a German citizen to protect Germany from unwanted aggression?

  35. Armchair Warlord says:

    Mike,

    Given the number of beneficiaries from such an endeavor, why is it appropriate for the United States to bear nearly the entire cost of it? Shouldn’t part of the design of organizations such as NATO include a more equitable distribution of the bearing of cost?

    God, yes. I note that many of our allies in Asia (a group which contains most everyone who isn’t China, North Korea or Burma – quite a testament to American diplomacy) are quite strong and have taken their own moves to counter the Chinese.

    While we’d all wish that EU countries would stand up and take more responsibility, the loss to the US of seeing the Russians put the iron curtain back up would be a lot more than what we spend on defense right now, so we’re kind of stuck with prodding the Europeans to throw us a proverbial bone for fear of them not pulling their heads out of the sand in time should we leave them on their own.

  36. Armchair Warlord says:

    To expand on my earlier comment, and go into some economics,

    The big threats that define how we structure the US military right now are China on the air/sea side and the many bad guys we face in the Mideast on the land side. The Russians don’t really drive stuff like procurement and manning, so the opportunity cost of keeping up NATO is pretty low compared to the benefit of not seeing the Russians and the EU trying to fight each other somewhere in the middle of Poland and the many bad things that would come out of that.

  37. shortchain says:

    I’ll just make the point that, given that the Chinese are huge beneficiaries of the existing financial and business system in the world, they are not much of a threat to it. Therefore, spending hugely on military options for countering them on that basis is runaway paranoia.

    Russia pretty much the same.

    The US military obviously didn’t protect my assets from devaluation due to the financial crash of 2009. They do help stabilize the price of oil by keeping the Straits of Hormuz open, I am told — but do they really need 700 billion dollars to do that?

  38. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    AW,

    Rome thought the same way 2000 years ago. Where are they now?

    The British Empire thought the same way a hundred years ago. Where are they now?

    For instance,Somali pirates, against the Indian Ocean forces of SEVERAL nations, with the most basic of resources, are a BIG problem.

    History proves your theory as weak, or temporary at best.

    At a time when our military expenditures are larger than the next 20 potential rivals COMBINED, significant reduction may be made. Even on the order of a 50% reduction, done properly over time, can be effected without great reduction in protection. Proper force application, strategy and tactics, are of more importance with modern technology. (See the Soviets in Afghanistan, US in Afghanistan, etc)

    Th BIGGEST beneficiaries of defense spending here are the corporation and jobs created by the federal stimulus program.

  39. shortchain,

    given that the Chinese are huge beneficiaries of the existing financial and business system in the world, they are not much of a threat to it.

    In this, you are mistaken. The Chinese are far more patient than their American counterparts, and are therefore playing entirely different games.

  40. Armchair Warlord says:

    Shortchain,

    If the Chinese intended to play by the rules they would not be spending hundreds of billions of dollars yearly on weaponry intended to break them. Their intentions are nothing short of domination of all of East Asia – for starters. Same thing with the Russians – they intend to put the Iron Curtain back up and we are really the only thing standing in their way. The world is peaceful because of American strength, not because the politics of naked power have gone away in our “enlightened” age.

    And trust me, a major war would make the 2008 financial crisis look like a mild run on the stocks in comparison.

    Max,

    For instance,Somali pirates, against the Indian Ocean forces of SEVERAL nations, with the most basic of resources, are a BIG problem.

    Irregular warfare and failed states in general is a big problem. I guarantee that whatever solution is found to the current problems in Somalia, the US military will lead the way on the issue.

    At a time when our military expenditures are larger than the next 20 potential rivals COMBINED, significant reduction may be made. Even on the order of a 50% reduction, done properly over time, can be effected without great reduction in protection. Proper force application, strategy and tactics, are of more importance with modern technology. (See the Soviets in Afghanistan, US in Afghanistan, etc)

    That’s awfully glib. The next 20 potential rivals do not have the ability to overthrow any government on the planet – and it’s a well known fact that the Chinese only report a fraction of their real defense spending. In general cutting military funding at any level involves cutting capabilities or personnel and weakening the force.

    The modern technology, force application and strategy go away with funding cuts. Want an example – examine the European parts of NATO, who spend about half as much as we do on defense, and tell me you think that’s where our military should be.

    The fact that people think they can cut off half of the military budget and EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE (it’s SO LARGE right?) is really a testament to public affairs people not doing their jobs and engaging with the greater American public about what the military is, what is does and why we need buckets of cash when the economy sucks.

  41. Bartbuster says:

    If the Chinese intended to play by the rules they would not be spending hundreds of billions of dollars yearly on weaponry intended to break them.

    As opposed to why we’re spending all that money?

  42. Armchair Warlord says:

    BB,

    We play by the rules. There’s no problem with spending when accompanied by transparency and benign intentions.

  43. Bartbuster says:

    We play by the rules.

    We weren’t playing by the rules when we invaded Iraq.

  44. Their [the Chinese] intentions are nothing short of domination of all of East Asia – for starters.

    In no different a way than the intentions of the US have, for most of the years since the Civil War, been nothing short of domination of the Americas. Look at China through the lens of the United States of about 1900, and the view becomes clearer.

    The story with Russia is more complicated than you make it seem. It’s not Stalin running the show anymore, and while there are some parallels, the situation there is not what it was in the 1950s.

    I guarantee that whatever solution is found to the current problems in Somalia, the US military will lead the way on the issue.

    But why should this be the case? Do no other nations benefit from shipping through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf? I don’t mind paying a portion of it, but the US pays waaaay too much of it.

    The next 20 potential rivals do not have the ability to overthrow any government on the planet

    Nor does the US. And, more to the point, the ability to overthrow a government is not directly proportional to the amount of money spent on the military.

    In general cutting military funding at any level involves cutting capabilities or personnel and weakening the force.

    Because the United States military is the only large organization in the world without any waste. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

  45. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    The plans of the Chinese power structure may indeed be very long-term — but the pace of change in technology, in social structure, and in all areas of life today means that their plans are nothing but the wishful thinking of old men hoping they can guide their posterity from beyond the grave — and as such nothing we need to be overwhelmingly concerned with today.

    The proper response to such a long-term threat is to invest in those things which will make our country more productive and more creative, and then grow our way into the future. The advantage we have is that, although the Chinese have 3 times our population, person for person our population has had far more opportunity to achieve and to innovate.

  46. shortchain,

    The plans of the Chinese power structure may indeed be very long-term — but the pace of change in technology, in social structure, and in all areas of life today means that their plans are nothing but the wishful thinking of old men hoping they can guide their posterity from beyond the grave — and as such nothing we need to be overwhelmingly concerned with today.

    The plans to which you refer are very different from the plans to which I refer. You are badly misinformed about Chinese ingenuity with respect to technology, and I don’t think you understand just how valuable the Chinese social structure will be in making that nation the powerhouse of this century.

    The proper response to such a long-term threat is to invest in those things which will make our country more productive and more creative, and then grow our way into the future.

    American culture works counter to such a strategy, while Chinese culture works in favor of such a strategy.

  47. Armchair Warlord says:

    BB,

    We weren’t playing by the rules when we invaded Iraq.

    Save me your liberal outrage. We overthrew a dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps not at the right time, but the moral case for the Iraq war is beyond bulletproof.

    In no different a way than the intentions of the US have, for most of the years since the Civil War, been nothing short of domination of the Americas. Look at China through the lens of the United States of about 1900, and the view becomes clearer.

    So if a country repeats wrongful actions that the United States took in the past, it makes it right? This is a logical fallacy on its face.

    The story with Russia is more complicated than you make it seem. It’s not Stalin running the show anymore, and while there are some parallels, the situation there is not what it was in the 1950s.

    No, communists aren’t running the show in Russia any more. Fascists are, people who are obsessed with the power and strength of the Soviet Union and deeply entrenched with moneyed interests. Fascism is all the more toxic because it doesn’t threaten capitalism, just freedom.

    But why should this be the case? Do no other nations benefit from shipping through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf? I don’t mind paying a portion of it, but the US pays waaaay too much of it.

    Then we should prod our allies to do more – but until then that is no excuse to lay down on the job.

    Nor does the US. And, more to the point, the ability to overthrow a government is not directly proportional to the amount of money spent on the military.

    You’d be surprised. I think we could end the Chinese Communist Party if we really set our minds to it – I’d love to vandalize Mao’s portrait in Tianamen Square.

    Because the United States military is the only large organization in the world without any waste. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    You’d also be surprised at how little money the military wastes. In order to get $100 billion in savings over a five years ($20 billion/year, a small fraction of the budget) as directed by the Secretary of Defense some weapons systems had to be cancelled. If you want to see the low-hanging fruit, it’s right there and we cut it already.

    Regarding the Chinese having some kind of long-term plan, I doubt that they do. If they were seriously concerned with the long term they would be seriously attacking the dual time bombs of one-child demographics and massive environmental degradation, both problems that will rot their civilization from within by the middle of this century.

    People give the Chinese a lot of credit for having an ancient civilization. The United States has stood for longer than many Chinese dynasties. Give us another seventy years and we’ll have stood longer than any Chinese state since King Zhao led the Shang to ruin in 1046 BC.

  48. Bartbuster says:

    Save me your liberal outrage. We overthrew a dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps not at the right time, but the moral case for the Iraq war is beyond bulletproof.

    What a load of crap. We have plenty of murderous dictator friends. Heck, we helped that particular dictator get WMD technology. Don’t try to pretend there was any moral case for what we did in Iraq.

  49. Armchair Warlord says:

    BB,

    What a load of crap. We have plenty of murderous dictator friends. Heck, we helped that particular dictator get WMD technology. Don’t try to pretend there was any moral case for what we did in Iraq.

    So we set right what once was wrong? “What we did in Iraq,” is free thirty million people from a tyrant and protected the formation of a peaceful, democratic Iraqi state. We should have done a better job at first but that’s neither here nor there.

    Your argument defies both logic and your own liberal ideology. For many on the Left it seems like the war is a bizarre no-go land for rational thought, where otherwise sensible people time after time reveal Tea Party-esque ignorance and brainstem-level anger.

  50. Bartbuster says:

    So we set right what once was wrong? “What we did in Iraq,” is free thirty million people from a tyrant and protected the formation of a peaceful, democratic Iraqi state. We should have done a better job at first but that’s neither here nor there.

    We did nothing of the sort. We went hundreds of billions of dollars into debt for nothing. Trying to pretend that you’re freeing Iraqis while at the same time you play kissy-face with the House of Saud is obscene. Not to mention that right wingers (aka the people who wanted this war) go ballistic when Muslims (aka the people we “freed”) try to build a mosque in NYC. It’s tough to claim that you care about their rights in Iraq when you don’t even care about their rights when they live right here.

    Your argument defies both logic and your own liberal ideology. For many on the Left it seems like the war is a bizarre no-go land for rational thought, where otherwise sensible people time after time reveal Tea Party-esque ignorance and brainstem-level anger.

    Right. Speaking of defying logic and rational thought, how’s that WMD search coming along? Face it, you warmongering scumbags started a war for nothing. You’re not really in a position to criticize China right now. After all, it was the Chinese who gave you the money to pay for your war.

    The people who wanted this war don’t give a crap about the people they “freed”, so don’t try to pretend that’s why we invaded. And don’t talk to me about “defying logic” or “ignorance” until you warmongering a-holes find that WMD.

  51. Armchair Warlord says:

    BB,

    Regarding Tea Party-esque ignorance and brainstem-level anger.

    I rest my case.

  52. Bartbuster says:

    Yeah, you’re made quite the case. So far you’ve got no WMD and we’re still playing kissy-face with the House of Saud. That sure is one airtight case.

    How do you find the nerve to call me ignorant?

  53. Armchair,
    Sorry I’ve ignored this. It dropped off my radar, and I’ve been remiss.

    So if a country repeats wrongful actions that the United States took in the past, it makes it right?

    Not at all. But you were arguing the moral superiority of the United States. Since clearly you don’t include 1900 in that timeline, tell me when you believe that the US became that morally superior country. It’ll save me from shadow boxing with you on this topic.

    Then we should prod our allies to do more – but until then that is no excuse to lay down on the job.

    They won’t do more as long as we continue to be willing to do it for them. A clearly publicized timeline for a drawdown would give them an opportunity to pick it up. Regardless, we can’t afford to spend that much forever, so this has to happen sooner or later. Sooner is better.

    I think we could end the Chinese Communist Party if we really set our minds to it – I’d love to vandalize Mao’s portrait in Tianamen Square.

    Knowing what I do about them, the Chinese could do far more damage right now to the United States than the US could do to China.
    But the idea that you’d personally want to vandalize Mao’s portrait says something particularly unpleasant about you. What’s your personal beef with him?

    Regarding the Chinese having some kind of long-term plan, I doubt that they do. If they were seriously concerned with the long term they would be seriously attacking the dual time bombs of one-child demographics and massive environmental degradation, both problems that will rot their civilization from within by the middle of this century.

    And, in fact, they are seriously attacking both. The issue with the former is a need to keep population growth under control (which the program effectively did), while maintaining a good balance of genders (which the program did not do). To address the gender issue, they’re working on ways to ensure that women become inheritors of property, which was the primary motivator of parents to, if they get only one child, have a son.

    The environmental damage has been viewed as a short-term cost that they are rapidly working to get away from, by shifting off of fossil fuels. While they recognize that they can’t do it overnight, they’re also not trying to pretend that it’s not an issue to be addressed. And they’re not insisting that the solution be one that can be implemented within six months.

    People give the Chinese a lot of credit for having an ancient civilization.

    Sure, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s true that the ancientness (?) of their civilization makes it easier for them to take a long view on solutions. But that’s the only credit I’d give to that point.

    You’d also be surprised at how little money the military wastes. In order to get $100 billion in savings over a five years ($20 billion/year, a small fraction of the budget) as directed by the Secretary of Defense some weapons systems had to be cancelled.

    “Waste” can be defined in many ways. Cancelling weapons systems may or may not be elimination of waste, depending on how those weapons would have been used, and in what scenarios. Things are better in many ways than they were during the Vietnam War, but worse in a few others. Consolidation is helpful in cost reduction.

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