The Agenda

Ramesh Ponnuru on the Short-Sighted Conservative Attack on Defense Cuts

Ramesh’s latest Bloomberg View takes on conservative Republicans who are defending defense expenditures on economic grounds. I agree with Ramesh wholeheartedly, but I will note that this is a classic example of coalition politics: fiscal conservatives who should know better easily fall into the trap of embracing military Keynesianism because, bluntly, defense expenditures tend to benefit “our voters.” It is also true, however, that “our voters” — and the hope is that all voters are potentially our voters — benefit from economic growth, and a widely shared premise on the pro-market right is that spending discipline can enhance our long-run growth potential. 

There are strong arguments for maintaining high levels of defense spending, e.g., the value of defending the global commons far outweighs the cost of maintaining air and naval supremacy. But it is not obvious that an affluent country should embrace a highly labor-intensive warfighting strategy like COIN, as Jonathan Caverley has suggested. The biggest cost drivers in the U.S. military budget are personnel costs, and in particular costs associated with medical care. 

And then of course there are serious questions surrounding he quality of military procurement and weapons development programs, as vividly illustrated by the pathetic failures of the V-22 Osprey, which Rafe Sagarin recounts in Learning from the Octopus.


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