Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE DEFENSE BUDGET....Lorelei Kelly wants to make sure we all know just how massive the post-9/11 defense budget has gotten — even when you don't count the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy....The amount of Cold War lard is truly astonishing, especially given the fact that the military itself is hollering from the hilltops that it can't be responsible for all of our national security needs and that today's problems just don't have military (read "Cold War weapons systems") answers.

....Keep in mind, today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era" buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average

In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget — not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001.

Now you know.

Kevin Drum 12:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

I feel safer already...

Posted by: evermore on December 18, 2007 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

Is that in constant dollars?

Not saying it invalidates Lorelei's argument if they aren't, but I would have liked it if someone had taken inflation into account.

Posted by: mmy on December 18, 2007 at 12:59 AM | PERMALINK

It's a little surprising, but certainly understandable. People are inordinately scared of terrorism, and yet there's no easy solution to the problem. So no one wants to be blamed for cutting defense if there's another attack, even though the money we're spending isn't really doing any good. It's a risk avoidance problem, kind of like overly conservative use of punting in football.

Or, I guess another way of putting it, nobody loses elections by overspending on defense.

Posted by: Royko on December 18, 2007 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't it be cheaper just to draft a few million teenagers and let them get killed for democracy instead of pouring so much money into expensive equipment?

Posted by: Ross Best on December 18, 2007 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

For what god-forsaken reason do we need to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world put together? Don't we count any of them as friends. Yes, and that's before adding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That's just a mere $1,500,000,000,000 cost over time on the side. None of it funded so far. Just thrown on the nation's plastic and out of our pockets while we run deficits already.

Bush fiscally responsible? I'd laugh but it's too painful.

It's sheer, bloddy-minded madness. Noone is allowed to say "enough". It's not patriotic.

As an example, we have 11 carrier task forces, originally justified by cold war needs, each representing an immense force projection. And the rest of the world have?...Not one. Nuclear warheads? No shortage there despite supposed drawdowns over the last 20 years. We can still make the world uninhabitable several times over.

And you wonder why the rest of the world sees us as a destabilizing force?

And the Army wants to add 2 more divisions while having to pay retention bonuses to NCOs and officers of up to $35,000 of our money!

Tell me where the madness ends.

Posted by: notthere on December 18, 2007 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK

Notthere, we're ultimately a self-destabilizing force.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 18, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

What insanity. Please stop. Please.

This is truly frightening. The Roman empire is here... and it's U.S.

Posted by: Jay in Oregon on December 18, 2007 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

notthere For what god-forsaken reason do we need to spend as much on our military as the rest of the world put together? Don't we count any of them as friends. Yes, and that's before adding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ranting to the choir but yes, yes and yes... You're like a family in a small community of 200 homes who's sitting there with a private arsenal equal to that of the rest of the village put together, and with a whole bunch of hardware that they don't have. You force any other villagers who drop round to undergo eyescans and finger prints each visit. On the other hand, it's okay for you to go over and raze the house of anyone you suspect may be trying to arm themselves against you. And if any members of your family suggest that you're being just a tad over the top they're screamed as not realizing just what a dangerous world it is out there, hothouse flowers in a cold and windy world. Meantime, some members of the family have to go without medicine because well, you know, guns ain't free.

This is just nuts. Absolute fucking nuts.

(yeah, it can be a dangerous world out there but there's no absolutely insulating yourself from this. You live like a man and trust where you can and use force only when absolutely necessary).

Posted by: snicker-snack on December 18, 2007 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

"today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average"

Adjusted for inflation:
1950 $1.00 = 2007 $8.56
1970 $1.00 = 2007 $5.52
1984 $1.00 = 2007 $1.99

(picking 1950 for Korean War, 1970 for Vietnam, 1984 for Reagan, and have no idea what the "average Cold war" date would be)

http://minneapolisfed.org/research/data/us/calc/

So 14% above $1.00 in 1950 is $1.14 today, but parity would be $8.56. Adjusted for inflation, defense spending is 87% less than what it was during the Korean War.

Or GDP:
1950 = $01,696.8 Billion
2007 = $11,659.3 Billion

Anyway, let's use comparable numbers rather than "today's spending is higher than yesterday's". Because if I had a choice I'd buy real estate at 1950's (or 1970's or 1984's) prices, too.

Posted by: anonymous on December 18, 2007 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Don't be daft, anon -- they were citing diffs using real dollars.

In 1950 US defense spending was $330B (in FY2000$), whereas in 2007 it is $380B (which is down from $414B in 2004).

Check it out for yourself:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2005/pdf/hist.pdf

Posted by: Disputo on December 18, 2007 at 3:12 AM | PERMALINK

Nukes are bad, but.... I really really want orbiting space energy cannons.

Just too freakin' cool to oppose.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 18, 2007 at 3:17 AM | PERMALINK

I just hope they keep it up and spend even more next year. The sooner the US spends itself into the ground, the better off we'll all be.

Posted by: Mike on December 18, 2007 at 3:23 AM | PERMALINK

From the DOD Greenbook FY 2007:

Defense Outlays in constant 2000 billion dollars:
year: $$$: % of 2007

2007: 427: 100
2005: 420: 98
2000: 295: 69
1995: 306: 72
1990: 383: 90
1985: 357: 84
1980: 267: 63
1975: 263: 62
1970: 375: 88
1965: 292: 68
1960: 300: 70
1955: 320: 75
1950: 130: 30
1945: 775: 181


Posted by: mcdruid on December 18, 2007 at 3:57 AM | PERMALINK

Though it got up to $420B in 1968.

Posted by: mcdruid on December 18, 2007 at 4:03 AM | PERMALINK

R.Best: Wouldn't it be cheaper just to draft a few million teenagers and let them get killed for democracy instead of pouring so much money into expensive equipment?

That's not what the armed forces are all about. It's all about big, expensive toys that look really kewel on the drawing board, probably won't work anything like they were expected to, and end up costing at least twice as much as expected. The real way to get ahead in the armed services is to be in charge of procurement/weapons development. Not leading soldiers in the field.


Posted by: natural cynic on December 18, 2007 at 5:17 AM | PERMALINK

All those billion dollar nuclear submarines will sure help prevent airline hijackings using $1.98 boxcutters!

How fucking stupid are the American people???

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 18, 2007 at 5:55 AM | PERMALINK

Compensation of defense industry CEOs has also risen handsomely, all thanks to Osama and his guys with boxcutters.

We'll need all this spending and gear when we make China public enemy #1.

Posted by: bob h on December 18, 2007 at 6:05 AM | PERMALINK

I am glad that others have introduced the relevant data in constant dollars. The other essential number to consider is the cost of our defense budget as a percentage of GDP.

The only way to understand what we can afford is to conside what we spend as a percentage of what we produce on an annual basis. From that perspective our current spending remains lower than it was during Korea, Vietnam, the Reagan build-up and the First Gulf War.

Would the wonks out there care to comment?

For DoD numbers on defense spending as a percentage of GDP, see: http://www.heritage.org/Research/features/issues/issuearea/Defense.cfm

Posted by: David Adesnik on December 18, 2007 at 6:17 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus Christ! What the fuck was up with 1945?

Posted by: jerry on December 18, 2007 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

1942,43,44,45 were like Christmas for the military-industrial complex.

Now, every day is Christmas, because we are in "WWIII".

It took less time to win WWII than it has been from 9/11.

It doesn't help to fight the wrong wars and the wrong enemies with bad tactics and superfluous hardware.

Posted by: Neal on December 18, 2007 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

Children in the United States are dying for lack of credibly funded vaccination programs. They're dying for lack of insurance. They're sitting in crumbling schools that they get to in rickety busses. These citizens are our future. They're every bit as important to the national security of our nation as the protection afforded by a few more nuclear weapons or fighter jets or long range bombers. Yet Bush wants to be miserly with funds for these children and buy those nukes, those jets and those bombers instead. He, and we, are sick, sick people for having the proirities we have.

Posted by: steve duncan on December 18, 2007 at 8:01 AM | PERMALINK

I live in a town of welfare kings. Because they're well-off defense contractors who get paid to find ways to spend their budget so they can have a bigger budget next year, they're very respectable welfare kings. But don't ever let anyone tell you Republicans don't like welfare, social programs, or Keynesianism.

Our town is booming while the rest of the US economy goes down the crapper.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on December 18, 2007 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

If we spend $100 billion this year, we would still have the biggest war budget in the world.

Posted by: freelunch on December 18, 2007 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

mmy raised a good question to which there has been some back and forth. The only way to make sense of these percentage increases is to concede the author did use some sort of real dollars rather than nominal dollars. But if one took defense as a percent of GDP (real or nominal, it makes no difference) - the share of income that went to defense spending during the early 1950's was simply enormous.

Posted by: pgl on December 18, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

What was your defense spending in relation to the rest of the world in the 1950s? As your wealth increases, the % you spend on different items will change as well... Why should the % you spend on defense remain any more constant than the % you spend on toothpaste? Surely, you figure out how much you realistically need for defense and base your defense budget on this calculation.

Posted by: snicker-snack on December 18, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad a few people mentioned that the only sane way to compare military spending from year to year is as a percentage of GDP. Anything else just doesn't make sense, but it makes a convenient political point, I guess.

Posted by: Mario on December 18, 2007 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Fred Kaplan on Slate always does a good job with the military budget, showing just how huge it all gets when you add in the funds for black ops, supplemental bills for Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.

Whenever I hear a conservative whining about taxes, I remind tham that we're spending better than two grand on defense each year for every man, woman and child here in the U S of A. Blech.

Posted by: Steve on December 18, 2007 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad a few people mentioned that the only sane way to compare military spending from year to year is as a percentage of GDP.

Yeah, just like the only sane way to compare food expenditures for households is by percentage of household income, by which one can demonstrate that the poor eat much better than the rich....

Look, jackass, there are apples, and then there are oranges. If you are interested in looking at military size (in terms of expenditures) from year to year, you look at it in real dollars. If you are interested in looking at the country's ability to afford a particular military size, you look at it as a % of GDP. They are two different measures. One is neither more sane than the other.

Posted by: Disputo on December 18, 2007 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

And this is why 4 of the 10 wealthy counties in the U.S. are in suburban Washington. It's mind boggling the amount of money being thrown around here. And sickening.

Posted by: Inaudible Nonsense on December 18, 2007 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Percentage of GDP is good, but you do have to toss snicker-snack's point in there too, unless you don't mind funding completely wasteful programs.

So yes, as a % of gdp defense spending may not be too bad, but I am curious as to how much of that amount are for things we don't need (and for things we do, Lorelei's article pointed to some very good defense spending to secure nukes in the stans, etc.)

I put food on my table through defense spending, but I would gladly and preferably put food on my table through domestic infrastructure spending or any of the alternatives that might appear when wasteful defense spending is eliminated.

Posted by: jerry on December 18, 2007 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't it be cheaper just to draft a few million teenagers and let them get killed for democracy instead of pouring so much money into expensive equipment?

I dunno, but I suspect it would be cheaper for the US government to hand its economic subsidy money directly to the corporations involved, instead of funneling it through the Pentagon. 'Cause that's what this is really about, people.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on December 18, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

This is why I wish I wasn't earning taxable income. Defensecare spending is a complete waste of public finances. Every politician who supports this waste should go to Hell.

Posted by: Brojo on December 18, 2007 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Defense spending has waxed and waned rather regularly since the 60s. It was up during the Vietnam era, down in the 70s, up with the Reagan expansion, down in the 90s with the peace dividend under Clinton, now back up again.

It's time for a new peace dividend. Shifting the excess defense spending into domestic infrastructure will likely happen under Dem control. Putting more of those scientists and engineers that are currently working on weapons systems into R&D work on alternate energy would be smart spending for a change.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 18, 2007 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Putting more of those scientists and engineers that are currently working on weapons systems into R&D work on alternate energy would be smart spending for a change.

I would like to see congress put a firewall between DoD and DoE so that DoE can actually devote its resources for energy research, instead of being used primarily as a DoD subsidiary.

Posted by: Disputo on December 18, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Percentage of GDP is completely bogus. The number that matters is the risk we incur and how we are meeting it. The United States needs to spend about $50 billion/year to keep itself protected from all governments that might cause problems. Add a few tens of billions to protect the borders against irregular attacks and we have a complete defense department. The rest is waste, welfare for the military's remoras, and destabilizing preparation for war.

Posted by: freelunch on December 18, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.'
--Dwight D. Eisenhower

Posted by: Quotation Man on December 18, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

But on the other hand ...

Why, oh why, do Congressional Republicans -- ostensibly so enamored of these imperialist wars -- have so little regard for those actually obliged to fight them?

Don't they "Support Our Troops"??:

House Roll Call: Afghanistan Funding [AP]

The 206-201 roll call Monday by which the House passed an amendment to the budget bill adding $31 billion for troops in Afghanistan.

A "yes" vote is a vote to pass the amendment.

Voting yes were 201 Democrats and 5 Republicans.

Voting no were 18 Democrats and 183 Republicans. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on December 18, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm glad a few people mentioned that the only sane way to compare military spending from year to year is as a percentage of GDP."

Let me add my voice to those who deride this statement. Percent of GDP is essentially just a random number. It doesn't even measure how much a country can "afford" since it doesn't take into consideration better uses or the size of the rest of the budget.

Posted by: mcdruid on December 19, 2007 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK
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