Friday, April 03, 2009

U.S. Defense Spending: Did you know this???

Before I start, I should say that this has nothing to do with education--unless you want to relate it to all the complaints we hear about how much money is spent on it.

About a month ago, I had CNN on in the morning as I was getting ready to go to school, and they had a very brief news piece about defense spending in China. They said China was increasing its defense spending for the coming year by 15 percent, and they also said that meant that the Chinese had increased spending on their military by double digits every year for two decades.

I found that to be terribly alarming. I thought, those darned Chinese with that huge population and their rapidly growing economy are becoming a real threat to us.

The only thing that made me feel good about this was that I thought this would be a good current event item to assign to my American History classes. So when I got to school, I went to Star/ to look for an article on this topic, and I found it right away. The first couple of paragraphs basically said what the CNN piece had said, but when I got to the third paragraph, this is what I read:
The country's spending, which puts it on par with Japan, Russia and Britain, is still dwarfed by U.S. military expenditures, which are nearly 10 times as large.

Maybe I'm showing my ignorance here, but I had no idea! I mean, I've always known we spend a lot on our military--and I'm not knocking that--but ten times more than anybody else?!?! Holy Moley!!!!

Am I an idiot? Did you know we spend that much more than anyone else? I have to confess that I had no idea.

NOTE: The Star/Tribune article I am using in this post is not the same one I read initially, but the paragraph regarding U.S. military spending is the same. In the article I read originally, it was in the third paragraph. If you want to find it in the article I linked to for this post, it is in the very last paragraph.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the documentary "Why we fight".

4/03/2009 9:18 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

No, I haven't, Anonymous, and I have no idea which direction you're coming from on this. You've certainly got my curiosity aroused. Where can I find it?

4/04/2009 2:58 AM  
Blogger mmazenko said...

At one point, not long ago, some estimates put American spending at more money than all other industrialized nations combined. That always seemed a bit of hyperbole. However, we do spend a ton.

That said, we are able to accomplish what no other nation can in terms of mobility and overwhelming force. Additionally, one of our greatest strengths is our aircraft carriers - one of the most important military tools of the modern age. We have fourteen - the next closest nation has two.

We spend more because 1.) we have a powerful military lobby and private sector suppliers and 2.) we have the most awe-inspiring military hardware and software on the planet.

While I think we could be more efficient in spending, I don't have a problem with this sort of superiority.

4/04/2009 7:28 AM  
Blogger Roger Sweeny said...

Yes, we do spend that much more. But paying for a military is not like paying for potato salad at the deli counter. Spending ten times more doesn't give you a clear ten times more.

For one thing, China doesn't spend dollars on its military. It spends yuan. The exchange rate between renminbi yuan and dollars is not determined by "purchasing power parity" but by supply and demand of traders, bankers, and government officials. China is often accused of maintaining an "artificially low" price of the yuan. This keeps the price of Chinese exports low, increasing demand for them. This also makes the reported dollar figures for all internal Chinese expenditures appear lower than they otherwise would be.

Wages are a lot higher in the United States than they are in China. So the American government has to pay a lot more in personnel costs.

The militaries are configured differently. Much of the United States military is designed for "force projection," acting far away from home. This requires an incredibly big supply and maintenance operation. A rule of thumb is that one fighter requires ten support personnel!

This also makes for some of the large spending on things like aircraft carriers.

China's military is primarily concerned with China's neighbors. The Chinese government wants to be able to say to the Vietnamese, "Don't f--- with us." It wants to be able to say to the residents of Taiwan, "We're going to take you over eventually. Don't do anything stupid in the meantime that would make us mad. We'd be happy if the take-over could be peaceful, like it was in Hong Kong."

4/04/2009 8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the "Why we fight" video.

Not the most biased piece, but interesting insight into the development of the "military-industrial complex". As with most things, you have to take it with a grain of salt. The part about Eisenhower's warning is really interesting.

I would say our military spending is result of two things.
1. Cold war fear. We spent half a century believing that Nuclear war was a push of a button away, and we ramped up accordingly. After the fall of communism, policy makers were slow to reduce the infrastructure that was built to fight the powerful(falsely) Soviet Union.
2. 9/11

On a side note. People worry to much about China. "Communist" China is a fading remnant. My definition of China is "Capitalistic and Anti-Civil Liberties." We're also never going to war with China for any fear mongers out there. They own too much of our treasuries bonds to see us fail.

4/04/2009 8:56 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Anonymous, I just finished watching the video. There certainly is a bias, and Iraq seems to be going better now, but it made some powerful points. I was a supporter of going into Iraq because I completely bought the WMD argument. I have called that the biggest "Oops!" in American history, but maybe it wasn't just an "Oops!" Maybe it was a lot of BS.

Roger, you are obviously a lot more knowledgeable on this subject than I am, and your explanation tells me that we might not be spending ten times more than China in real terms, but we're still spending a heckuva lot more. Maybe only five times more?

Michael, you say you have no problem with our superiority, and to be honest, I'm not sure what the alternative is, but it does have me thinking. I've been reading a book by a Dominican priest from South Africa, and I love the book and the author strikes me as a wonderful person, but when he refers to the United States, he calls us "The Empire," but I guess I'm getting a better understanding of why. It bothers me that we are looked at that way by so many people in the rest of the world. I guess that's one of the reasons I voted for Obama.

4/04/2009 12:52 PM  
Blogger Annikki said...

Hi -- stumbled onto your blog this morning. I think I need to find your book!

I always found this video from True Majority illustrates comparitive military budget spending well, despite being a bit dated and of course biased:

4/11/2009 6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Cost of Running a Global Empire
3-31-09 The Marker Oracle by James Quinn

The 2010 budget just put forth calls for 26% more in spending on Defense than President Bush spent in 2006. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, leaving the United States as the only remaining superpower on earth. Since 1990, the United States has depleted the U.S. Treasury of $7 trillion for spending on Defense. With no military on earth capable of challenging us why would there be a need to spend this much on the military? Over this same time frame the U.S. spent $360 billion on science, space & technology and $52 billion on energy, a mere 6% of the spending on killing machines. Military expenditures benefit humanity in no way. If these trillions had been invested by the private sector or devoted to energy and scientific research, our economy might not be a hollowed out shell dependent on China and oil exporting countries.

Nationalists argue that the Defense industry employs millions and benefits the country. These companies employ brilliant engineers and scientists who spend their days developing things that kill people more efficiently. If they had been employed developing electric cars, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, an efficient electric grid, infrastructure upgrades, or finding a cure for Alzheimer's, would the United States be better off today?
The U.S. National Debt in 1990 was $3.2 trillion. Today, it is $11 trillion. This is a 343% increase in nineteen years.
Article completes with graphs at:

4/12/2009 7:08 PM  
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