You call the $13 billion in pork barrel projects wasteful spending? It’s a whimper to the Military’s Bang Mega-Budget!

Taxpayers, many in Congress, and all three presidential hopefuls are all ranting against the stupidity of earmarking in congress – the process AKA porkbarrelling where congress people insert unnecessary projects into spending bills and/or other legislation such that we taxpayers pay for projects that are usually wasteful and sometimes scandalous.    Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” is the current poster child, which was allocating tens of millions to build a bridge that would service a tiny Alaska village of something like a few dozen people.

Yes, of course these projects are stupid, but to focus on them to the exclusion of the _real_ waste in Government spending is nonsense.    It’s like complaining that the president makes $400,000 a year when he would work for less.    This earmark money is *chump change* in a federal budget of trillions, where the things we should focus on are how to reduce the insanity of spending too much on wasteful social services projects (insert pretty much any one here) and most importantly our military budget, which is incomprehensibly large and incomprehensibly foolhardy:

Military $550,000,000,000.     Over half the world’s military spending is ours, and much of it is unnecessary.   Note the current Air Force tanker fleet fiasco where on the one hand Democrats argue this staggering contract should go to more expensive Boeing which as a US company would preserve more jobs, while Republicans argue who knows what about this.    The right answer is scale this back – significantly – because US security no longer depends on massive capitalized military juggernaut.    If there is a *single* lesson we should learn from Iraq it is that the USA cannot use massive military superiority to keep the peace.   In fact Iraq may demonstrate the opposite – our massive superiority is one of the factors that insurgents use against us, and is a major reason that the Iraq government has little incentive to get their own military providing better security for the people of Iraq.    

But even if our trillions bring security to Iraq it has been a fools bargain.    The same spending for infrastructure improvements in USA and around the world would have changed the global landscape in a significant way – certainly more than even the most optimistic scenario for Iraq independence.

Contrary to some of the nonsense spouted by modern “conservatives” and many hawkish Democrats as well, the founders of the USA believed in low military spending, very weak federal control, and in very cautious global dealings.    Until we return to those sensibilities we risk everything with the continued reckless military (and social service) spending spree.     

6 thoughts on “You call the $13 billion in pork barrel projects wasteful spending? It’s a whimper to the Military’s Bang Mega-Budget!

  1. Earmark money may be ‘chump change’ in its dollar amount but it is the motivating force in the Congressman selling his vote so as to have “locally spent federal dollars” to buy his continued popularity and eventual re-election. The ‘chump change’ just means the bribe is small. The politician has been bought cheap, but his votes will have far, far greater impact that just those earmarked pork projects.

  2. FG this is a good point, and actually is part of the process I find so challenging. We have created a system of incentives for the decision makers that is *very different* than what is best for the US as a whole. 100 Senators and about 500 congresspeople allocate *trillions* of dollars in spending. Most are not good with math and most have little reason to bring broad, global solutions to the mix.

    Are we doomed? No. But this can’t go on forever.

  3. Local interests have always played a role in American politics and decisions on spending. Perhaps a return to the post-Colonial era wherein public subscriptions were necessary to fund roads via lotteries. Those opposed simply didn’t fund the project. And if enough people refused to fund it, the road would not get built. Maybe the only way to end the influence of mis-allocated pork is to end pork completely.

  4. “…the founders of the USA believed in low military spending, very weak federal control, and in very cautious global dealings. Until we return to those sensibilities we risk everything with the continued reckless military (and social service) spending spree.”

    I would agree as to the beliefs and professed desires of our Founding Fathers and the various great thinkers of their era, however, I would dispute the facts concerning the actions actually taken by said Founding Fathers.

    While the great European powers laid various claims to the North American riches and engaged in various attempts to shape the development of those resources, colonial settlers took actions that flew in the face of the professed desires. Persistent intrusions into unsettled lands lead to a persistent need for organized military reprisals. The slogan of Taxation Without Representation Is Tyranny may be fine and dandy but one must remember that the taxation was mainly to support military units the adventuresome settlers had made necessary.

    Isolationism, nationalism, a ‘return to the plow’, etc. are all great goals but players whose goal is ‘to use American dollars, American lives and American weapons to make the Middle East safe for Israel’ don’t want to hear about American isolationism or sound fiscal policies.

  5. Over half the world’s military spending is ours, and much of it is unnecessary.

    While I agree the bloated US defense porkbarrel (‘scuzi the obvious, 19th centuryish metaphor–) should alarm us, at least slightly, leftist writers often leave out important factors when discussing the porkbarrel. Writers rarely provide some tangible evidence, or even ye olde Pie Graph to support the claim. When a Holy Pie Graph does appear, it is a bit misleading. For one, the claim/evidence/demographics should indicate what proportion of the US Fed budget goes to defense, and then provide comparison of the US defense budget to those of other leading nations–Russia, China, EU, North Korea, etc.

    Yet a budget does not equal the gear itself. Traditional military historians counted soldiers, as well as materiel: ships, cannons, if not guns and swords. Now materiel obviously includes nimitz-class carriers, loaded up with billions of shekels worth of fighters and missiles. Tank battalions and machine guns also relevant.

    My own readings on this topic lead me to believe that, in terms of materiel, the USA might lead in certain areas (i.e. supercarriers), yet Russia and China are both “contendahs”, as Brando said in On the Waterfront. Regardless of what the budget appears to suggest, an objective assessment would include some comparison of the various forces–air, naval, ground, etc. China, for instance, has easily the largest infantry in the world—probably 5 times that of the USA. Russia now has a very high-powered Air and missile defense, I have read: one reason for the build up of jets.

    I generally oppose the gung-ho Bo Gritz (or McCain) school of RealPolitik–and ah was slightly bothered when the cowboys went into Bajra pistols a-blazing—but you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and you don’t sit down with Kasparov if you don’t know what the Sicilian Defense is. Or somethin’ like that.

  6. Horatiox you are making some good points above, and I agree that there is a type of knee-jerk anti US rhetoric that misses the point. But I’m not making the a pacifism case here. I’m talking if our metrics are strictly *strategies for success* and *Human / Military / Economic ROI*

    I have come to believe that the very common comparison of military to GDP spending is something of a smoke screen for the excesses we have come to think are normal and reasonable spends. By *that* common metric the US appears to be spending reasonably because our economy is huge and thus one can argue our total spend on military must also be huge. This made more sense post WWII where there were real threats of attempts at global military dominance by the Soviet block and regional dominance by China and without heavy arms it was possible for others to “take over” your country. Those threats have been mostly eliminated by globalization, and replaced by the threats of assymetric conflict as what we have now with several fundamentalist groups. The chance that Russia or China would try to take over the USA by force is extremely slim. The assaults now are economic, religious, and cultural.

    you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight

    Exactly correct. But we often (literally) bring billion dollar aircraft to small arms or even stone throwing mob fights. I’m not talking about a fairness issue here – rather the fact that strategically this may lead to greater US casualties by creating the types of conditions we have in some parts of the world where people we are trying desparately to help see the US as the enemy, in part due to this style of warfare. Israel has used this approach for years and it has kept the state intact but at the cost of generations of ongoing hatred and conflict. Even if you argue Isreal needed that to survive, we certainly do not appear to be getting high value results from massive militarization, with some localized exceptions like the surge in Iraq which has had limited success *because* of US’s overwhelming force capability in local areas.

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