Throwing the military baby out with the public-sector bathwater

In an oversimplified article, Jeremy Lott at the Washington Examiner claims that "[i]f GOP won't cut defense, we'll never cut spending."

There is indeed a government spending problem in the United States, as the following graph shows, but the problem isn't with the contribution from national defense:

Since the demobilization after World War I, general government expenditures in the U.S. have risen rapidly, increasing by more than an order of magnitude as their share of the economy.  In recent years, spending has been so high as to rival the World War II peak, when the nation was fully mobilized for total war on a global scale.

But here is the share of general government spending devoted to defense since 1949:

While general government spending has exploded during the past 70 years, the share of government spending assigned to the military has dropped from nearly 80% in the early 1950s to just 8.7% in 2015.

If you think military expenditures are part of the spending problem, some basic lessons in math and trendlines are required.  The entire U.S. military budget could be eliminated, and the public would hardly notice on their tax bills.

Given how the most important function of the government is national defense, if one were looking for areas of the public sector to start cutting, it would make some sense to start with the 91.2% of spending not on the military.

Yet even though the military makes up less than 10% of total government spending, nearly 30% of the modest decline in general governmental spending as a share of the economy has been absorbed by the defense sector since 2009.

In other words, the military is taking a fiscal beating compared to the rest of the public sector.  This is analogous to throwing away the finest cuts of meat while keeping the fat and gristle.  True fiscal responsibility requires good judgment, and while there are areas where the military could be spending its funding more effectively, that is a separate issue from the misguided argument of spending less.

In an oversimplified article, Jeremy Lott at the Washington Examiner claims that "[i]f GOP won't cut defense, we'll never cut spending."

There is indeed a government spending problem in the United States, as the following graph shows, but the problem isn't with the contribution from national defense:

Since the demobilization after World War I, general government expenditures in the U.S. have risen rapidly, increasing by more than an order of magnitude as their share of the economy.  In recent years, spending has been so high as to rival the World War II peak, when the nation was fully mobilized for total war on a global scale.

But here is the share of general government spending devoted to defense since 1949:

While general government spending has exploded during the past 70 years, the share of government spending assigned to the military has dropped from nearly 80% in the early 1950s to just 8.7% in 2015.

If you think military expenditures are part of the spending problem, some basic lessons in math and trendlines are required.  The entire U.S. military budget could be eliminated, and the public would hardly notice on their tax bills.

Given how the most important function of the government is national defense, if one were looking for areas of the public sector to start cutting, it would make some sense to start with the 91.2% of spending not on the military.

Yet even though the military makes up less than 10% of total government spending, nearly 30% of the modest decline in general governmental spending as a share of the economy has been absorbed by the defense sector since 2009.

In other words, the military is taking a fiscal beating compared to the rest of the public sector.  This is analogous to throwing away the finest cuts of meat while keeping the fat and gristle.  True fiscal responsibility requires good judgment, and while there are areas where the military could be spending its funding more effectively, that is a separate issue from the misguided argument of spending less.