Sunday, January 16, 2011

From the Atlantic: "The Tyranny of Defense Inc."

This is a powerful piece from the January/February 2011 issue of the Atlantic, which begins thusly:
In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower famously identified the military-industrial complex, warning that the growing fusion between corporations and the armed forces posed a threat to democracy. Judged 50 years later, Ike’s frightening prophecy actually understates the scope of our modern system—and the dangers of the perpetual march to war it has put us on.
No matter what you think about defense spending, the entire article is well worth reading. Much of it is composed of quotations from Eisenhower himself:
“Every gun that is made,” Eisenhower told his listeners, “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 are not clothed.” Any nation that pours its treasure into the purchase of armaments is spending more than mere money. “It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” To emphasize the point, Eisenhower offered specifics: "The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities … We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people."
I wonder how good we are as a people at deciding between different priorities, and I wonder how many people would choose 30 schools over one bomber (I'm guessing that you could get a lot more schools than that for one bomber now, as I'm pretty sure the cost of weapons systems have increased faster than building construction costs since the 1960s, though I'd be happy to be corrected).

It may be a sign that U.S. defense spending is too high if none other than Reagan's budget director thinks that U.S. defense spending has spun wildly out of control and needs to be reigned in.

As an exercise in opportunity costs, I dug up this old New York Times article from 2007 on the cost of the Iraq war and on what else the money spent on the war could be used for. Here's the graphic from the article - what do you think we should be spending our money on?

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