Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.
The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so,
Holy shit. Look, I am completely with Ezra that we need to smack down any talk of how the severe economic crisis is goig to obligate us to reduce spending on the major budget priorities. One of the major purposes of government is to be able to act as a countercyclical agency, increasing spending when the economy slows, a condition which generally causes consumer and commercial spending to drop, further slowing the economy and deepening the problem. That’s the nearly-content-free synopsis of Keynesian economics, but the best that I can offer.
So, clearly, right now is absolutely not a time to be talking about complete spending freezes, just one of the many senseless meanderings of the McCain campaign of late. However, it is a good idea to talk about what kinds of spending are “good”, especially in tough economic times.
Although it’s an imperfect analogy, I can say it’s bad for me to borrow money to buy a fancy dinner, or to take a great vacation, because those things don’t improve my net worth. However, it makes good financial sense for me to borrow money to go back to school and get some new training or degrees, since these improve my future earning potential. Similarly, absent any externalities, it’s “bad” spending for the country to buy a new Stealth Bomber, while spending on infrastructure improves the productivity of the economy at large, and is “good”.
Similarly, it’s an ongoing point of debate in the liberal blogosphere that one of the areas really crippling our economic recovery is the rampant, nearly uncontrolled increase in spending on health care, without any concomitant improvements in wait times, health outcomes, or any other metric which says that we’re actually getting something more for our money. Thus, more and more people are being dumped from our employer-based health care system out into the public market, where prices and outcomes are even worse. So, there is a very strong argument to be made that money spent reforming the health care system, which might at least slow the rate of spending growth and help maintain the number of people able to get affordable insurance and health care, would be very “good” spending, indeed.
However, given our current absolute military dominance over the rest of the world, really almost over the rest of the world combined, it’s really indefensible to say that we need to spend an extra $450 billion on the military. That is not infrastructure, not an investment in the future. If you tell me that we need to expand the size of the Army to improve counterinsurgency ops in Iraq and Afghanistan; well, okay, I don’t like it, but I could accept it. But for futuristic weapons systems, to win a war which may, or may not, happen far in the future against a not-yet-existent Chinese Navy? Sorry, that’s just not something I can get behind, and I sincerely hope that Obama calls this for the BS that it is.