- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
When I read letters such as Aleck Loker’s “Remove U.S. troops from Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan”( Nov. 14), I often wonder if other readers of The Enterprise understand just how deceptive his figures are. Mr. Loker notes that “in fiscal year 2000, DoD received less than $300 billion” (to be specific it was $294.4 billion) and that “in 2011, the DoD budget was $687 billion — more than double” (it spent $705.6 billion that year).
At first blush this situation looks egregious, but using Mr. Loker’s or my numbers to exemplify out-of-control Department of Defense spending is like using a comparison of the high temperatures on Jan. 31 and Aug. 31 to support a claim for global warming. Like daily high temperatures, DoD spending is cyclical, with highs during periods of conflict and lows during periods of peace, but over the long term there is a relatively stable mean about which spending fluctuates.
Another factor that Mr. Loker conveniently ignores is inflation. The $294.4 billion spent in 2000 would be worth $395.3 billion in today’s dollars, and the $705.6 billion spent in 2011 would cost $721.3 billion today so, instead of a 140 percent increase from 2000 to 2011, we are looking at 82 percent. In 1945, the peak year of World War II spending, DoD spent $83 billion. Using Mr. Loker’s logic, I might argue that today we are spending almost 10 times what we did in World War II, but after adjusting for inflation, 1945 would have cost us almost $1.1 trillion today.
Mr. Loker also conveniently cherry-picks the years for his comparison. Fiscal year 2000 was in the depths of a nadir in DoD spending not seen since the Carter years, whereas 2011 saw the second-highest inflation-adjusted DoD spending since World War II (the highest was in 2010). A more accurate comparison would have been to compare inflation-adjusted peak spending during the Korean War ($461.6 billion in 1953), Vietnam ($549.5 billion in 1968), and the Reagan “Cold War” ($567.6 billion in 1986). Instead of a 140 percent increase in DoD spending based on Mr. Loker’s apples to oranges comparison, it’s more like 25 to 30 percent when we compare apples to apples.
We certainly need to keep a watchful eye on DoD spending, but America is not going broke because of DoD spending. As noted above, DoD spending is cyclical. Since the end of World War II, DoD spending has cycled up and down on roughly a 22-year cycle. The long-term trend has essentially been flat and it actually trends down when looked at on a per-capita cost basis. During those same years overall federal spending has ballooned tenfold. Total spending rarely decreases and, when it does, it quickly reverses course back to its upward trend. That same watchful eye we turn on DoD needs to be turned on our federal government as a whole.
Mike McGinn, California