The US Military Catch-All Thread


“He knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts anyway.”


I just wish the folks who have got it into their heads that the GOP is a boon to members of the military would realize that, nope, that ain’t the case, and never has been. They’ve always been a boon to the military industrial complex, just as the Democrats have. The difference is that the Dems actually, at times, try to treat service personnel as human beings, not as symbols and tools to be used and discarded.


What do you mean? The GOP would never use veterans as a tool to rake in more $$$. Trump totally cares about veterans! Look, he’s going to sign a bill named after his favorite veteran today:

It’s simply unreal what we could do with that money as a country if sanity ever comes back into style.


And this is why I keep saying that we need to find a way to use “military” spending to implement domestic and social programs. Military spending is a ridiculous amount of money, but cuts are politically impossible as things stand. But if you could get a nice big infrastructure project going under the umbrella of “military preparation”, well, that would be money well spent and it would hard for either side to vote against. Been done before, why not again?


Because we don’t have an Eisenhower or anyone else of similar stature, I suppose.


If we ever manage to cut military spending by any substantial amount, we will absolutely have to use the savings for domestic programs. Military spending is basically a jobs program. Either we’re paying service members or we’re buying stuff, which funds jobs in the defense industry. Cut back on that, and it will cost jobs, either through force reduction or downsizing at suppliers. That’s why calls to cut military spending in order to reduce the deficit leave me cold; cut it, but use the money to build infrastructure or help people instead.


Cutting finding for high paying, high skill jobs in the defense R&D sector in exchange for jobs building infrastructure and the government giving money to folks, is probably not a winning proposition for long term growth in the country.

As you say, defense spending funds a bunch of jobs for warfighters themselves, and industrial jobs at producers of military hardware, but it also funds a ton of cutting edge technology research and development.


Why not? Money that goes to lower-income people gets spent, whereas money that goes to higher-income people usually doesn’t get spent at the same rate. There is plenty of research on the multiplier effect, and no reasonable economist disputes it.

That aside, why treat my comment as an all-or-nothing proposition? I didn’t say cut all spending for the military.


A few things here.

The main reason would be that the the high paying, high skilled jobs are better. Having more of our workforce get those skills and jobs is better for the country. We want to grow that sector of our economy, in terms of creating more of a high skilled workforce, because that’s where the future lies.

Related to that, these jobs aren’t millionaires. Certainly, upper income brackets don’t have the same return on investment for things like tax breaks as lower and middle class. But most DOD contractors are just middle-class folks. They spend money.

Finally, investment in things like DOD SBIR programs tend to have a pretty good return on investment, as they result in the creation of new businesses which create more good jobs

That’s cool. I just wanted to point out that a big chunk of that DOD spending was also funding additional stuff beyond soldiers and their hardware.


One thing to consider though is the long-term. Would we get more for our money funding the same level of research and development for civilian programs? Yes, some military development pays dividends in the civilian sector, but a lot of it is very highly focused on things that don’t really transfer well. And you have to take into account the intangibles. Is it really a solid basis for an economy to build on a foundation of a military-industrial complex? As Eisenhower noted in 1961, the tendency there is to have the tail wag the dog, something we’ve seen come true in the past half-century.

There’s also the math of which paradigm, the same amount of money concentrated in fewer or more hands–with commensurate greater or lesser concentration–is best. I don’t know, but you can probably make a case for either.

In the long run, resting your society on a foundation of warfare is probably not a recipe for success.


Infrastructure investment has long-term societal benefits; the same investment in military hardware does not. We have 7 billion dollar warships with no usable guns or conceivable mission. Sure that 7 billion dollars went back into the economy, some with highly-paid technical jobs, but there is no value generated. If we spent the same billions on well-chosen infrastructure projects, for example, the money would still be in the economy and we’d have infrastructure improvements boosting everyone’s productivity for decades into the future. Military spending is a horribly inefficient way to enhance the economy.


So money spent on DOD contractors is better because those are (your words) high-paying jobs, whereas money going to infrastructure workers isn’t going to high-paying jobs; but we shouldn’t worry about multiplier effects because DOD contractor jobs aren’t high-paying jobs, they’re really just (your words) middle-class jobs. Like, well, infrastructure jobs.


Well, a key component here is the difference between high skilled jobs, and low skilled jobs. Investing in jobs which are doing highly skilled technical work, rather than just construction, is probably better for long term positioning of the US.

That being said, I’m certainly in favor of doing infrastructure development. But it’s more of a short term thing, I think. We need to do it, because our infrastructure is crumbling. And we currently have a bunch of lower skilled workers, who can benefit from that kind of job.

But longer term, I suspect that more and more of that kind of work is going to become automated, and you won’t need as much manual labor to do it. You’re already seeing it in building sectors, where more and more prefabrication can take place, a lot of which is highly automated.

For the future, we need the US workforce to be migrating to thinking jobs, rather than manual labor jobs, because all manual labor is going to be automated.

You’re right though, in that infrastructure jobs would not necessarily be lower paying, so I was mistaken to make that distinction.

Again, I’m not talking about military hardware.
(minor tangential point, the zumalt actually does have ammo now, they refitted it to fire other dramatically cheaper rounds that were already being used)

That’s kind of my point here, in that a lot of DOD spending is not going to bullets and guns, or paying the guys who shoot them. It’s funding cutting edge technology development, which then has other, broader applicability. It’s generally a good use of funds in many cases, because it often tackles something which is too big for private industry to lay the groundwork for, or which isn’t profitable in the short term, but has huge benefits long term. GPS, for instance… only the military would have funded that initially, but now that it exists it has transformed our lives, and created a huge private industry built around the capability.


Fully 85% of DOD spending pays for the bullets and the guns, the guys who shoot them, the vehicles they ride in, and the bases where the guys and equipment are deployed from and to.

R&D is something like $90 billion in a $600B budget.

Why can’t we have a $300B military, devote $300B to infrastructure and safety net programs, and still have $90B for research?


Scott, do you not support our military?! clutches pearls Only $300B on military?? The horror!


Well, I guess I’ve seen how the sausage is made. $300B is still more than any other country. It’s 5 times what Russia spends, for example.


The worst thing about all discussions of our military budget, at least the discussions that politicians have, is that no one really bothers to try to figure out what we actually need, and then work out what that will cost. Instead, there’s the often explicit assumption that too much is not enough, that there is in effect a virtually unlimited need that we have to attempt to meet by pouring more than we can actually afford into the breach.

The numbers don’t bug me, as much as the fact that few if any of the people arguing for the current military budget seem to be able to detail just what, exactly, all this money is supposed to do. Not how much or what it will buy, but how does it fit into our overall national defense posture and strategy? Because taking every possible threat from every possible adversary and then trying to field a force that can do it all is not a strategy. It’s not even a policy.

I’d be perfectly ok (not happy perhaps, but ok) if there was a really strong argument that, yes, not only do we need these hundreds of billions, but what we’re getting for that money is absolutely essential for our national security. It’s a dangerous world, in many ways, I get that. But the only thing we have that justifies the amount of our spending, and our priorities, is, well, nothing, really, except what the beneficiaries of this largess say is the justification. Each service naturally makes a strong (if very narrow and limited) case for each and every program it wants. Various stakeholders from political, economic, and policy realms do the same. But for many years I’ve felt there is no one really minding the store. No one or group is actually formulating a broad, sensible, and robust strategy and then figuring out how much it might cost. Instead, we just spend, and then figure out how the crap we just bought might, and I do mean might, actually add to our security.


Well, we’re more or less immune to amphibious invasion. We border exactly two countries, with militaries that are respectively the 14th and 32nd largest in the world, and that between them about $27B.

There’s an argument that we need a nuclear deterrent, and that we need to defend the country, but pretty much everything else beyond that exists for security arrangements and force projection; which is to say, so we can help defend others, and also bomb and invade other countries should we feel the need.


There’s certainly room for cuts, but as we’ve said before, we need to bear in mind that a big reason that we spend way more than everyone else is that we are the only military that operates with the reach that we do. If you were to, for instance, halve the operational budget of the military, you are going to be significantly reducing that ability. Russia only spends a fraction of what we do, but they also have only a fraction of the ability to project force.

That may be acceptable, but it needs to be fully considered.


Yes, of course. And we should bear in mind that we don’t always project force to good purpose, and people hate us for it. So it’s about making a conscious choice: Do we need to be able to bomb X into the Stone Age?