The Worst Argument Of All Time

The New York Times, that bastion of liberal media bias, is up with one of the most shockingly ridiculous headlines of all time: “Military Budget Cuts May Harm Innovation”. Under the headline, the actual title of the piece is only slightly less one-sided: “A Shrinking Budget May Take Neighbors With It”. The rationale for the article is simple, tired, and artificial; it is a cousin to the rationale that permeates our national discussion on energy. Simply put; fossil fuels and military spending are job-creators, any alternatives to the above are job-killers.

The article compounds its mendacity by accepting as gospel the notion that cuts in traditional spending must be made, ignoring any changes to revenue, and all fixes to the true drivers of budget deficit. Workers without jobs don’t have income to pay taxes on, and health care costs that are well beyond what all other industrialized nations pay drive budget nightmares at the federal, state, local, and corporate levels. None of that, of course, matters if you are an author whose primary goal is to provide specious arguments supporting the corporate military/fossil fuels complex. A bill spending $400 billion on domestic construction projects and $400 billion on tax credits aimed at the working class was a waste, they claim, but cutting $45 billion per year over ten years will cripple innovation and kill jobs. Those very same arguing that the native home of innovation is the marketplace, are now arguing that innovation will be crippled without government spending of a certain type.

It is, I suppose, an easy argument to make. As a World War II and aviation history buff, the revolutions in airframe, metallurgy, avionics, and propulsion during that conflict are impossible to ignore. But, and this is important, there is no compelling evidence that those innovations would not have happened without the war and its inconvenient little 40 million casualties. Death is a poor justification for full employment, as President Eisenhower once tried to explain. Poor justifications are, with regret, the theme of our time. And arguments that ignore competing rationales are the easiest way to support those poor justifications.

The period between the two world wars was marked by tremendous innovation in flight, innovation driven by private cash rewards. The Thompson, Schneider, Pulitzer, and Bendix awards were all established to encourage technological improvements, and were contested by civilian and military teams alike. And while the article seems to credit the internet (Al Gore must be peeved), jet propulsion, and satellite navigation to the Pentagon, it is strangely silent on the role that NASA has played in technical innovation. NASA, you might recall, has had its funding eviscerated over the last 15 years. It should be noted that while the internet started as a way for university based researchers to communicate securely with each other on defense projects, that the computers it runs on where given a jump start by the Apollo Program.

None of that, of course, makes any difference if you are an author for the Times, and have an agenda. Buried in this article on the innovation loss incurred by defense cuts, is the truth about the real value of military spending on innovation:

Military spending does not compare well economically with many other forms of government spending, some experts say. Professor Pollin calculated in a recent analysisthat $1 billion in spending on health care produced an economic benefit about 14 percent larger than spending on defense. The impact of spending on transportation, education and energy were even larger.

A recent study of federal spending since World War II by Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko, both economists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the economic benefits from nonmilitary spending were at least 50 percent larger than those from defense spending during periods of normal growth.

So, according to the real data, we could do what the GOP wants to do with the Health Care law; we could repeal some defense spending, and replace it with a fraction of civilian technology spending with no loss of innovation. If we wanted to be more straightforward, we could restore the spending cut by the geniuses in the Republican House Caucus from the FAA for next-generation air traffic control, and fully fund research into solar, geothermal, and wind platforms suitable for small commercial and residential applications. We could fully fund the educational grants that students need to, you know, study things (study, I have it on good authority, being a cornerstone for innovation). We could do many things to not only replace the innovation loss due to Pentagon cuts, but innovate even more, and we could do it without innovating better ways to kill people (a skill with which we are more than proficient).

But it isn’t for nothing that this writer has a job with the TImes, because he is able to quickly change arguments when needed to cover logical flaws.

Some economists, however, argue that such studies fail to account for the economic value of security and stability. The crucial benefit is not what defense spending provides but what it prevents, Joshua Aizenman, a professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Reuven Glick, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, wrote in a 2006 paper.

The argument the Times piece advances is not a security argument, it is an economic argument. The piece advances the claim that military cuts cost jobs and innovation, and that since overall cuts are inevitable, they should be made in other areas. The data is clear on the economic front, if cuts need to be made, they will have far less negative effects on the economy if they come from the military. And a Pentagon budget that will still be greater than the next 15 nations combined ought to be large enough to keep our economy safe. If it isn’t, then the folks in charge over there are colossal morons.

I am no dove, never have been. Military spending is necessary, and I believe, for better or worse, that our nation is going to be stuck needing a larger than life force for the foreseeable future. We have just spent too much of the last 100 years irritating the rest of the world, and we have a persistent tendency, as Americans, to want to “fix” things; like other people’s countries. What we don’t need, to use the language of the Times article, are a collection of Pentagon contractors with “fat” margins sitting in the nest tweeting for more regurgitated food. The Lockheed-Martins of the world should try it out in the real marketplace, a place where they will actually have to earn their profits, instead of being given them by grateful Congresspersons in exchange for later favors. They should, in plainer language, learn to innovate like us civilians and stop hiding behind the worst arguments in history.

 

The Rational Middle is listening…