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October 18, 2007

Comments

No

I wouldn't call this a pro high spending analysis. More like a high spending explanation. We spend orders of magnitude more money on defense than other countries but seem to have similar (or fewer, comparatively) men under arms or tanks or planes than other countries. Why? We spend billions to develop missiles and systems that will take out one house on a block while leaving the others undisturbed when we could spend one tenth as much and wipe out the whole block. We spend billions on a stealth bomber that for all intents and purposes will not be shot down when we could probably spend less, send more cheaper bombers but risk losing pilots. I believe this is done for political expediency of using military power and creating the illusion (and sometimes reality) of a surgical strike where only the bad guys get killed. See the current trend in military technology of the UAV drones. We won't even risk the pilot anymore.

Not to argue the spending, but terrorism is fundamentally not a military problem. The "return" on spending would be better put elsewhere, into other programs and methods to reduce terrorism.

I have a slightly different perspective. My view is that military spending also constitutes a source of funding for research programs e.g. in engineering. So simply reducing military spending my have other side-effects.

How do we get this message out? We are so strong relative to the likely threats that is a waste to keep spending as much as we do on military. The USSR is gone.

I think dix might be on to something. If we are paranoid about anything it is loss of life, especially our own. It would be interesting to see how much of the spending that goes towards the military is designated for programs and equipment designed to protect our soldiers and civilians. I suspect that we could drastically lower the cost of our military if we took a bomb the hell out of everything and not care about unnecessary casualties sort of strategy. It's unlikely that other nations take that approach (at least I hope they don't), but they as Robin mentioned, most other nations don't have a military presence just about everywhere like we do so their risk of loss of life is far less than ours overall so they might not even need to consider spending money to prevent unnecessary death like we seem to do.

I say that our current level of military power is just fine. It's how efficiently it is used that is likely the problem. Out of the billions of dollars spent it seems like an awful lot is wasted (it's 8 AM and I haven't slept and for the life of me I can't remember, but I know I saw something in the news recently about millions/billions of dollars simply being unaccounted for or wasted that were supposed to go towards the military). Perhaps we could get nearly the same amount of military power for less money if we just cut out things that were wasteful.

Savage, is there some analysis or argument that persuades you that "our current level of military power is just fine"?

SK, we could cut military spending in half while leaving military research spending uncut.

The problem with 'cut by half', is summed up in that old marketing phrase: "half of my marketing expenditures are wasted, I just don't know which half." And so it is with medicine, military. The key to reducing spending in these areas are accepted metrics of performance. You really have to be an insider to opine on the relevance of various programs for the military. For medicine you need not only mortality or quality of life data, but the ability to argue that at some price, more life is not worth it, and this is very unpopular (see Sicko, where a point of government meanness and ineptitude is shown when they don't pay for a bone marrow transplant for a man in the advanced stages of kidney cancer that had spread to his liver, longs, lymph nodes, etc.).

Eric, I was quite explicit to list several crude ways to cut medicine I thought are good enough. With government military agencies it is even easier; just cut their budget in half and let them figure out what specifics to cut.

Of pro-military spending, Robin sez: These arguments seem paranoid and thin.

Why? Please elucidate and give some reasoning.

Rue, "thin" means short and with little detail. I want to see calculations and analysis. Why would "perception of American weakness ... hinder economic growth"? On "paranoid, why wouldn't we be just as safe from "Islamic terrorists" as other nations, if we spend similarly to them? Why would we be at so much more risk from "possible future threats from actively or potentially hostile states" than other nations?

One counterpoint is that when we went into Iraq, we didn't really commit as much as we needed to get the job done, and we still haven't. This almost suggests a case for more military spending. Go deeper, and the problem may be wasting what we have: stationing troops in Germany as a cold war hangover, when they could be in Iraq doing some good.

If the US loses X amount of "stuff" (people, physical assets etc) per year at the current level of spending, what will that go up to with only half as much going into preventing those losses?

If you are running an economy that is successful (the success of the American economy is a point that can be debated ofc) then any change which might reduce the power of an institution as significant and deeply entrenched as the US militiary is going to be met with scepticisim.

In the UK if the government proposed cutting spending on the NHS by half there would be uproar. How many people would be made unemployed by such massive cuts for example?

Without being qualified in even a superficial sense to offer a pro-spending argument, let me at least probe further. I concede the first point against correlating perception of weakness with slow economic growth. But the second point misses the mark.

Why do we want to be just as safe as other nations? Perhaps they're not safe enough, no? Isn't the absolute level of safety more important?

And second, of course we're at more risk, not only because of America's perceived imperialism, economic or otherwise (I happen to think the idea of economic imperialism quaint, and useless, but if people are acting on it, then we must consider it), but also because of our sheer visibility.

Imperial Hubris by Michael Schuer lists all the demands Osama Bin Laden gave to the U.S. prior to 9/11. Our presence on the Saudi peninsula evidently irritates the man. So if by "reduced military spending" you mean, "withdrawing our military from Saudia Arabia," then I'll concede that our risk may decrease with decreased spending. But that seems more tactical than budgetary, no?

I agree with you Robin. I made some related arguments here, although during the time I am discussing the U.S was not the undisputed global superpower.

Floccina
We are so strong relative to the likely threats that is a waste to keep spending as much as we do

Americans are likely to overestimate how secure their position truly is.
SavageHenry is right that it is more useful to consider
how to reduce military spending while minimizing any marginal loss of real & perceived American power.

RobinSavage, is there some analysis or argument that persuades you that "our current level of military power is just fine"?
This question only seems relevant if current spending and power are related 1:1. The goal is to reduce spending, not power, no? and per dix, our aversion to death leads us to spend huge amounts to replace/protect persons with consequent diminishing marginal returns as technology improves.

It is obvious that military spending efficiency could improve but the assertion that we could halve spending without ill effects, esp. long term, needs to be quantified.

I'd be very happy with 50%, or even 70% reductions in military and medical spending, and really see no credible counter-argument, but realistically both have vast vested interests in greater spending so this seems unlikely to happen.
It seems to me that an ideal military spending policy would be for the US to commit to spending no larger a share of total global military spending than our share of the global GDP, unilaterally disarm to that level, and encourage other nations to lower spending still further with credible promises to do the same. The initial reduction required to take us to parity with other nations would be about 55%, and it seem reasonable to suggest that this could produce good-will to inspire another 33% reduction in foreign military spending which we could match. Obviously we couldn't do this all at once, but we could credibly commit to doing it over 8 years, if there was a "we" who was influenced by reason, cared about national interests and made policy decisions. Of course, there isn't making the point moot.

Colin Gray is the most persuasive advocate of large military spending (see some of his work here). Economists Rosefielde and Mills have also advocated a robust military capability to deal with any type of potential threat unilaterally.

The US presently functions as a planetary police force. The commissioner is corrupt and the police are widely disliked, but it's still the police force. Yanking out the police force is going to have effects on international stability...

...I think. I learned a while back that I don't understand a damn thing about international relations. Any readers from the State Department care to weigh in on this?

A negative externality of decreasing military spending would be increased maritime crime. Without fear of naval retribution, piracy would become an increasing problem. Imagine police refused to leave the towns and cities they protected-- an easy way to make money would be to wait outside of towns and cities for trucks full of goods, and seize them.

It could very well be the case that the increase in trade efficiency associated with the US Navy policing the oceans could offset most of the cost.

Even with the US Navy being as strong as it is, piracy is still on the rise.
http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=14505

There are a number of benefits derived from military spending which are not immediately apparent. This may not be the case with medical spending.

(I'm a non-American with little-to-no stake in the American military.)

Chris, no matter how much we spent on the military, it would be possible to fail because we tried to do too much with that military.

Rue, surely cutting our military in half would require a lot fewer foreign bases, such as in Saudi Arabia, which would reduce the "perceived imperialism" that you suggest puts us at risk.

Thomas, even with a reduced military our financial losses from piracy would remain tiny compared to our military spending.

Joshua, quick surveying the sources you cite I find no argument whatsoever about either why the US should spend more than other nations, nor any calculation of an ideal military budget. Can you find such things?

Eliezer, if we functioned as a planetary police force, we should expect to see gratitude from those protected, and should expect others to take up a lot of the slack were we to provide this function less.

I think it's important to look at the margins. For instance, the US fields roughly the same 2 million in forces as China, if you count US reservists. But the air power and air support spending between the two countries is highly disparate.

I like an all-volunteer force (a la Greenspan, Moynihan, et al) as I think it is truly democratic and forces the government and the generals to value a soldier's individual life more than if more soldiers could be had cheaply through coercion (i.e. conscription).

But if the US places a higher value on the life of its soldiers, then it's got to spend a lot more things like air support (which reduce casualties and increase medical recoveries). Cutting our spending will only cause more deaths. I can't get behind that in good conscience. I am biased against externalities which increase death, and to a lesser extent, poverty.

(Original comment posted over at Asymmetrical Info)

Actually, according to the latest figures, France and Britain are nearly tied in second place in spending behind the US, with China just having surpassed Japan for fourth place. Russia is in sixth place. For a blog on "overcoming bias," this was a pretty large slip regarding the facts here.

Barkley, where are you getting your figures? A quick search for "military spending by nation" backs Robin up.

It's a horrendous idea any way you slice it. If you cut our military men and women in half, it doesn't matter whether the cut is vertical or horizontal, it will seriously impede their ability to perform their jobs. I don't know what possessed you propose this insane idea. Are you trying to double the number of boots on the ground? Well, it won't work, because cutting them in half will not double the number of boots. A better idea to increase the number of limbs on the ground would be to encourage the enlistment of horses, or for the area, camels.

1. I think we were invaded about 6 years ago and 3000 were murdered.

2. The biggest reason our military is so expensive is because of manpower costs.

It is far easier for the Chinese to conscript millions of peasants into its army than it is for the US to recruit volunteers who have far greater alternatives. It's about economics. The conscript is paid $500/yr in salary, while the US volunteer requires $80,000/yr in salary and benefits.

So it's not really fair to compare military spending among countries in absolute dollars when one country has a volunteer military. It is very misleading. A more honest way is to look at it as a fraction of GDP.

3. A very large part of manpower compensation is medical care for service members, retirees, and their families. It's no different than it is for GM.

Eliezer, if we functioned as a planetary police force, we should expect to see gratitude from those protected

Is this remarkable assertion based on a generalization from history, or extrapolation from social psychology?

I didn't say the US military was a good planetary police force. But a planetary police force it is, and a centralized one that responds selectively to local problems. The various local militaries that cost so much less are the equivalent of private security forces guarding the front desk of an office building. Imagine how much it would cost if every country needed their own real military.

But we have already done this. In the 1950s & 1960s the defense budget was some
8% to 10%, or more of GDP. Now it is only about 4% of GDP--up from a low of
about 3% before 9/11. Under Reagan it was around 6% --
the Reagan defense budget was a smaller share of
GDP then every other Cold War administration but Carter.

The primary reason we can not establish security in Iraq -- and so are losing the war --
is that the revealed preference of this administration is that its' tax cut are more important than giving the military the resources and/or manpower they need to win.

1. Iran, China, N. Korea, Syria and Russia are not our friends. China, N. Korea, and Russia all have nuclear capabilities, as do India and Pakistan.
2. There are certain Muslims (Wahhabi) who truly believe it is their holy duty to make Islam the only religion in the world. In fact strict Wahhabis "beleive that all those who don't practice their form of Islam are heathens and enemies." (www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/wahhabism.html)
3. Wahhabis are interpsersed throughout the world and number at least 30 million.
4. Keep in mind:

a. London-7/7/05 bomb blasts in transportation system
b. London-2007 bomb attempts.
c. Spain-March, 2004, 192 killed, 1421 injured.
d. Algeria-April, 2007 23 killed.
e. Jordan-11/9/05 bombing.
f. Pakistan-7/19/07 33 killed.
g. Bombay-July, 2006 174 killed

5. What would be the economic impact of a small dirty bomb in one of our fair cities?
6. What would be the economic impact of just 12 suicide bombers setting off bombs in 12 shopping malls? I think for a prolonged time consumer spending would drop significantly.

7. My $5K a year seems a small price to pay in light of these things.

Given the expense of maintaining our security apparatus and the inescapable moral hazards involved in traditional full-scale warfare and occupation in the mode of Operation Iraqi Freedom, should we be revisiting less expensive and less disruptive methods of deploying violence to achieve those ends for which we deem violence necessary? Assassination leaps to mind as an relatively humane alternative to OIF-style invade-and-occupy operations. Beyond that, if our moral imperative is to minimize the loss of life among our forces and civilians while working to achieve those goals for which we are nonetheless willing to kill large numbers of people, maybe it's more rational for the U.S. to be engaging in terrorism rather than declaring war on same. I don't think that's the conclusion I would prefer to draw, but I can't see an obvious fault in the argument.

I'm a bit surprised no one has mentioned anything about the Pentagon's New Map by Thomas Barnett. The idea is that there are countries that function in the world economy, that are safe and stable, and there are countries that don't, that tend to be unsafe and unstable. In fact being a greater part of the world economy requires a greater degree of stability to minimize risk and make trade economically feasible.

Countries entering the world economy is good for America by enlarging the economic pie.

America is the only country that can export security globally. It can represent the interest of the global economy and influence stability in countries. This allows for benefits in standard of living in failing states and growth of the global economy.

The Iraq snafu notwithstanding, think the Balkins instead.

I don't know if the a percentage of the growth in GDP could be identified as being directly caused by growth in our trading partners, but if it could I suspect it would dwarf defense spending.

Whether the spending is effective at stabilizing countries? Well that's a different matter, regarding the feasibility of the implementation.

ZAG, how do conventional armed forces reduce terrorism? Isn't the point of terrorism to avoid engaging the conventional army entirely?

First off, we need to be careful about arguments based on fraction of GDP. Measure of GDP has changed over the years (perhaps for political reasons) and is done in different ways in different countries. It is too undependable a measure to say that we spent x% of GDP one year and y% another year, or that we spend x% while another country spends z%. Those comparisons are too misleading to argue.

Other things equal, we can expect military expensives to rise according to Parkinson's Law. In the absence of any change in goals or change in technology etc we can expect the number of people and the value of resources required to fulfill the same mission to increase by maybe 4% a year. As the military gets better at its job, it inevitably needs more people and more resources to do that job.

I can't say whether this is a conscious choice, but somehow we have chosen a military strategy that involves spending a lot of money. Here is a rationale for it: When we develop new military tactics or technology, there's a chance that others will copy us and do it better. For example I read that an american particularly developed blitzkrieg tactics, but the american and british armies weren't interested -- it was the germans who actually tried it first. So we should develop methods that work better for us than for anybody else. And expensive methods do that. Nobody can copy us without spending more money than they want to. And if they develop special tactics to stop us, those tactics won't particularly work against anybody else. As long as we can afford a super-expensive army and nobody else can afford that, we do better to use successful tactics that nobody else can copy than tactics that might be used against us.

We have a lot of people who want to be soldiers. Up until the iraq fiasco we had more wannabe soldiers than we could use. We were forcing good people out of the army to make room for new ones. "Up or out." To cut the army in half we'd have to throw out a whole lot of dedicated soldiers, and they would be outraged. They want to be soldiers. And they want short sweet victorious wars to fight. They are a pretty big voting block and politicians who make a show of giving them what they want have an advantage.

Concluding, our military is expensive but it's hard to actually count the costs. We have big goals but it's very hard to tell whether our military can meet those goals. Our military is a cultural phenomenon, people do it mostly because they want to, and they come up with justifications afterward. Take away their toys and they will be angry. This is not a subject that leads to easy rational argument -- the data mostly isn't there, things that look like data tend to be designed to justify previous desires, and military supporters will make extreme emotional claims not just by calculation but because they feel extreme emotions themselves.

I think one primary cost driver is the expensive weapons systems which are expensive primarily to reduce collateral damage as well as protect our own soldiers. Examples are cruise missiles, B-2 bombers, precision guided munitions, etc. Another cost driver is force projection which means carrier battle groups (what do we have, like 8?) and overseas military bases. Then there are the domestic military bases. If we want to maintain the same amount of firepower, however that may be measured, cutting the weapons budget may result in higher collateral damage or higher casualties for our soldiers. Of course, this may also result in less likelihood of using them due to the political ramifications. Reducing our force projection capability may be interesting. Which sections of the world should we withdraw from? Europe? Korea? Middle East? Domestic military bases? Even Ted Kennedy turns into the second coming of George Patton if anyone tries to close a military base in Massachusetts.

Robin:

First off, many countries (including wealthy ones like South Korea, Israel, many European countries) have mandatory military service. Therefore, we should conclude that the official figures from those countries based on government spending understate the economic loss of defense spending.

Second, a decent amount of US military spending is done on behalf of US allies, who then free-ride on the US military. Given economies of scale and specialization, it may well be a logical choice that's better for all considered to do so. OTOH, it may be appropriate for Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and other to shoulder more of their own burden. However, I am unconvinced by an argument claiming that "we have X% of GDP, but produce Y% of this good," even a public good. One could just as easily claim that money spent on space exploration, or the GPS satellites, or anything else that is a public good is misspent, much less specialization in private areas.

Robin: It's not just our direct losses to piracy-- increased insurance costs against theft and kidnapping, extra security personnel on ships, increased uncertainty, etc. The magnitude of the impact of these costs, as well as the friction it would create for transactions, isn't something easily estimated. (Admittedly, my comment about it offsetting the cost of the navy is a pretty big exaggeration.)

Consider also America's response after the tsunami. Having such a strong navy made humanitarian intervention easy.

George Friedman of Stratfor offers this argument against cutting naval spending:

"The argument for slashing the Navy can be tempting. But consider the counterargument. First, and most important, we must consider the crises the United States has not experienced. The presence of the U.S. Navy has shaped the ambitions of primary and secondary powers. The threshold for challenging the Navy has been so high that few have even initiated serious challenges. Those that might be trying to do so, like the Chinese, understand that it requires a substantial diversion of resources. Therefore, the mere existence of U.S. naval power has been effective in averting crises that likely would have occurred otherwise. Reducing the power of the U.S. Navy, or fine-tuning it, would not only open the door to challenges but also eliminate a useful, if not essential, element in U.S. strategy -- the ability to bring relatively rapid force to bear.

There are times when the Navy's use is tactical, and times when it is strategic. At this moment in U.S. history, the role of naval power is highly strategic. The domination of the world's oceans represents the foundation stone of U.S. grand strategy. It allows the United States to take risks while minimizing consequences. It facilitates risk-taking. Above all, it eliminates the threat of sustained conventional attack against the homeland. U.S. grand strategy has worked so well that this risk appears to be a phantom. The dispersal of U.S. forces around the world attests to what naval power can achieve. It is illusory to believe that this situation cannot be reversed, but it is ultimately a generational threat"

(source: http://www.iipub.com/thoughts_va_print.aspx?EditionID=502 )

I would like it if Greg Cochran chimed in.

Bryan Caplan's old post here seems relevant.

If you cut our military men and women in half, it doesn't matter whether the cut is vertical or horizontal, it will seriously impede their ability to perform their jobs.

Oh no! Then how would we repel an invasion by those dastardly Canadians!

Pfft.

Consider also America's response after the tsunami. Having such a strong navy made humanitarian intervention easy.

This is simply insane. If your argument is that the military makes humanitarian intervention easier, let's just make a humanitarian force and cut out the middle men of Grumman etal taking gazillions for weaponry. Your argument is prima facie absurd.

Our military is inefficient and incompetent, but so is every bureaucracy, including the military of Iran, China, or any other potential foe. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental purposes of government is protecting its citizens from foreign threats--individuals or their non-government unions can't do that. Now transnational humanists like professors can't imagine a foreigner wanting to bomb good natured Americans, but I think that's naive (why would Germany get rid of the Jews? Who'd a thunk it? Answer: success makes people hate you). There are many fanatics, primarily driven by religion, who would destroy the USA given the chance, regardless of collateral damage to the Brent Brockmans of the world ("I, for one, welcome our new ant overloards"). In a generation, might there be a Chinese power who would do the same? I think it's much more prudent than buying a Prius to project strength internationally because unlike Canada we can't depend on someone else.

But I do agree that military spending should be reduced massively, but by changing the strategy from 'promoting democracy' to 'defending America'. That is, Iraq was a mess under Saddam, its a mess now, it will be a mess later. So too Africa, Russia, etc. But cutting the military's budget by 50% doesn't imply they will change their priorities like I think is optimal. They may just apply half their efforts to everything.

Infiltrating and destroying terrorist cells is a dirty business, so if we play by a chivalric code derived from the ACLU, while terrorists slice throats because someone's nose looks funny, we lose. So it isn't 'cheap' to fight terrorists because our intelligentsia naively yet effectively argued that we are dealing with reasonable people who want the same things we do, and they have rights like OJ Simpson; Miranda rights, rights to counsel, trial by jury, meals according to their religion, and only plastic gloves handling their holy scriptures. That's a losing battle I don't expect to change, so a big nuclear bomb, or massive airpower, is essential backup.

We have tried cutting defense and intelligence spending in actuality before and there is a pretty strong argument that it didn't work out very well:

http://www.optimist123.com/optimist/2005/02/rethinking_the_.html

-Gene

jpe- I'm not arguing that the only reason to have a strong Navy is to be prepared for a humanitarian crisis. My argument is that, because it already has a navy, America does not have to set up the kind of separate organization you suggest. If one of America's goals is to provide humanitarian relief after disasters, it might as well take advantage of the fact that it already has an infrastructure that can deal with such problems. America can thus achieve two goals for around the cost of achieving one. For a bit more than the cost of providing national defense, it can provide national defense AND humanitarian relief.

Also, your suggested organization wouldn't be able to withstand political reality. Cutting it would be a top priority for every politician with a drop of fiscal conservatism in their blood. A widespread, well-manned, humanitarian force with stockpiles of perishable supplies and expensive capital goods (ships, etc)? Not exactly the top priority of either political party. Better to use that money on tax cuts or social spending.

Because America has a strong navy, it has the benefit of being able to provide the kind of expedient humanitarian relief that it did after the tsunami. Without a strong navy, this would be a political impossibility.

Those who are focused on our having volunteer soldiers, consider that if we could save $10,000 a year on two million soldiers, that would only save us $20B/yr, out of $600B/yr.

For those focused on our role as global cop, I'd like to see an itemized budget listing the expected annual costs we would suffer in a world that had adapted to our only spending $300B/yr on defense.

Brian, 9/11 and Pearl Harbor were attacks, not invasions. Invaders intend to hold territory.

Thomas Thorn, the reason our navy could drop everything and do humantarian aid was that we weren't using it for anything more important at the time. Most of the time we don't need the navy we have. The argument for it is that when you do need a strong navy, you *really* need one quick and you can't build one quick.

So it's very hard to measure the benefits. It's like an insurance policy for one nation -- if there were a hundred thousand nations with similar navies we could do statistics about how well they do. But there's only us. The data isn't good so we decide how much to spend based on raw emotion and on Parkinson's Law.

When the time comes that we can't defend our aircraft carriers will we mothball them or keep them going for their tremendous nondefense potential? I'm afraid you're right that we'll just shut them down. Or worse, try to bluff with them and hope nobody sinks them.

Those who are focused on our having volunteer soldiers, consider that if we could save $10,000 a year on two million soldiers, that would only save us $20B/yr, out of $600B/yr.

Yes, but surely that's not the real way to count it, because that wouldn't be comparing true economic costs; that would only be ignoring some of the US economic costs as well. The proper way to count it is to determine how much extra the other governments "should" be spending, to approximate the hidden deadweight loss of their mandatory service. Would that method of counting be significant? I think so; labor costs are a higher proportion of defense spending in other countries because they spend less on hardware as well. Therefore, counting the true economic costs in other countries would have a significant effect on the rest of the world's defense spending, and thus on the proportion of the world's defense spending made up by US spending. (As far as the US goes, there's also the secondary effect that a country with draftees tends to spend less on hardware designed to protect their safety, so the potential accounting, but not economic, savings could be more than $20B/yr.)

The interesting thing about the Hansonian "cut medical spending in half" argument is that decreased spending has a 50-50 chance of IMPROVING the medical outcome of patients (because so much of medicine makes people sicker. You go to the hospital for a cold and die from flesh eating bacteria, for example).

Can you say the same thing about military spending? Do we have a 50-50 chance of being SAFER if military spending is cut arbitrarily, and with no corresponding spending increase elsewhere?

I can see arguments both ways. If our military spending is provoking the Islamists, or the Chinese, or whatever, cutting spending could make us all safer.

What other areas could we cut spending arbitrarily and improve outcomes?

How about Social Security? The elderly as a group are the wealthiest segment of American society. While some people rely of SS for their entire finances, others don't really need it.

If Social Security were cut in half, what are the chances that the average recipient would be BETTER off? 50-50?

Does anyone question that the economy would take off if, say, the employer portion of the SS tax were eliminated? How would elderly stockholders benefit from such a change.

Buzzcut, I question it. It certainly could be true, but the economy is Bloody Complicated and very little to do with it is *unquestionable*. Elderly stockholders would probably benefit; elderly nonstockholders, not so much. So to avoid redistributing money from the poor to the rich relative to the present system (note: maybe you'd be in favour of such redistribution, but I wouldn't) you'd need to make the payouts more uneven, and naively I'd have thought that that means making the system more complicated and less efficient.

When you say that the elderly are the wealthiest segment, how are you measuring wealth? http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/reprint/22/3/168.pdf has tables that suggest that the median elderly person in the US at present has total assets somewhere around $200k and income somewhere around $20k. (That's total, not just liquid, assets; I'm not sure how to make those figures consistent with one another, unless that income includes some erosion of the assets or pension fund holdings are excluded from the assets. Probably the latter.)

I'm pretty sure that that income figure is substantially below the national median; as for total assets, see e.g. http://money.cnn.com/2003/01/23/pf/millionaire/fedsurvey/ which shows median total assets being greatest among the 55-64 age group.

Eric,

Regarding how conventional forces would counteract terrorsits. It was suggest by some military guy on Fox that we should supplement our troops with a lot of special forces, who are well trained to combat terrorists. That may or may not be what we are doing now.

However, I should point out that during an Arab revolt in 1938 the British put down the uprising by being even more brutal than the Arabs. They would kill the Arabs, then dismember the bodies. I've been told that according to Islam, one can't get to heaven if the body is dismembered. That seems to make sense in view of the fact that the Saudis publically behead adulterers and other offenders of Islamic laws. This tells a passionately religious population that not only will offenders be killed, but they have no chance to go to heaven. It also makes sense when we see terrorists beheading captured jopurnalists and marines. They in effect are telling their own people, this is what we will do to anyone who gives aid to U.S. We will kill you and you have no chance to go to heaven. That's a powerful statement.

But to get back to the subject. We should have special forces kill, then decapitate the terrorists. The Marines were successful in WW II against the Japanese because they had a reputation for brutality (many of the marines wore necklaces of human teeth). I imagine that's why they're called "devil dogs."

I would go even further and completely dismember the terrorist body and send the various parts to surrounding towns. That would make an impression. However, they would have to disguise themselves as Arabs--not too hard to put on Arab dress and "tan" the exposed parts of the body.

So the short answer to your question is that we engage the terrorists on there own level, but do this "discretely."

Conventional troops need to be there if for any thing else as a show of strength.

Protecting the oil-rich allies in the Middle East, not to mention the misadventure in Iraq, would probably triple to true cost of barrels of oil from that region.

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