Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?

Some 9/11 reflections…

U.S. military spending in 2000 was $320 billion. That’s about $520 billion in today’s mini-dollars. The 2021 military spend is about $700 billion (35 percent higher in real terms) plus about $220 billion for veterans (pensions, health care, etc.).

We were recently defeated by a peasant army in Afghanistan. Might it be time to consider investing less in an area where we have a record of ineffectiveness?

My dumbest question: Why spend money on an army (1 million uniformed personnel plus 250,000 civilians)? I can understand why we might want a navy (though maybe we could lose it all in an hour or two? See Robot kamikaze submarines shaped like blue whales render navy ships useless?). I can understand why we want an air force, e.g., for drone attacks on people we don’t like, dropping bombs on the assets of governments we don’t like, etc. I can understand why we might want Navy SEALs and similar special forces. But what is the Army for in our current strategic situation?

We’re not going to invade Poland with tanks, right? We’re not going to occupy Canada (I hope!). We’re not going to try to secure the border with Mexico against unauthorized crossing. Why are we paying 1.25 million people to prepare for a land war and/or to fight unwinnable land wars, such as in Afghanistan?

One argument in favor of the Army is that it can be deployed against domestic enemies, e.g., those who violate lockdown and mask orders (see Australia and Peru) or Trump supporters who might have wanted to come back to the Capitol after January 6. Another argument is that the National Guard part of the Army can help with disaster relief, e.g., picking up people with helicopters after floods. But these roles wouldn’t seem to require 1.25 million people.

Here’s another way to phrase the question: If we had no military forces of any kind today, what would we choose to fund and build? Would a million-soldier land army be part of that?

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29 thoughts on “Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?

  1. I don’t know who you are but you’re not playing with a full deck! Did you ever serve in the military? Where do you come off degrading our military folks. I take exception to that whole heartedly.

    Boats

    • I did not see anything bad about army in Phil’s commend. All he is saying that herd of tigers led by a sheep turns into the heard of sheep…

    • That our army is not effective doesn’t mean that there is any defect in the people who serve in the U.S. Army. Consider the horse-riding cavalry in World War I. They were highly skilled and courageous, perhaps the most excellent of humans (not to say “men” since we can’t know their gender IDs). But they were not effective because the military environment had changed.

      Questioning the idea of funding a million-soldier army is not necessarily a criticism of any or all of the million soldiers in that army.

      Circling back to the original post, in what situation do you imagine that the U.S. needs a million-soldier (plus 250,000 civilians) army? If you can’t think of one, why do you want to pay for a million-soldier army?

    • @Anonymous: You should watch Das Boot some time. German submarines in WWII. 40,000 sailors went out, only about 10,000 survived. Simply because they started strong but got creamed in the end doesn’t mean they weren’t courageous, capable, and equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

    • @Alex, Nazi submarine fleet was critical to Soviet defense and attacks in WWII: it consumed large percentage of armor and fuel produced by Nazis in WWII. Germany produced more armor then USSR but built fewer tanks by a large margin.

  2. Just like any bureaucracy, US army has a singular goal: to grow and to extract as much tax from their host population as possible. The fighting part is secondary, and degrades with time to the point of being a complete sham. As Afganistan so vividly demonstrated recently.

  3. Productive answer: Probably focus more on Marine-like smaller elite tactical units.

    Deconstructionist answer that would be implemented: Equity needs no be achieved. Why should young adults that need 18s for 100m not be able to join the Green Berets? Physical ability is a social construct! If I self-identify as John James Rambo, who can contradict me?

    Everyone in the Army should wear a dress. Trousers are a relic of male supremacy and should be abolished.

    Bathroom planning must be improved. There are more than 50 genders and bathrooms need to reflect the fact.

    The Army needs political officers. After Westpoint, officers need to take a two year course at a new Military Political University. The curriculum will include Critical Theory, Permanent Cultural Revolution and Flagellantism.

  4. I think we should take a Spiked Pipe™ to some of the noncontributory parasite consultants Inside the Beltway from time to time and stop some of their traffic on all those new highways they’ve built. It’s well beyond my pay grade to know which ones to swing at first, but someone must know.

    • The problem with those sdratsab and sehctib is that they know how to hide and cover their tracks, so everyone winds up getting rolled all the time, and then they have to pretend they don’t know they’re stupid. But I’ll bet if you hang out in some Georgetown bars (or some other places) and shoot random spitballs you’ll hit some of them before you get thrown out and have to say sorry to the DCPD.

      As a distant observer I’m getting tired of watching the predictable consequences of internal normalization of deviance.

  5. Does not all the money spent on the armed forces, and their exotic and insanely expensive weapons, end up flowing right back into the US economy anyway? Improving efficiency through more competition in the defense industry does seem like a worthwhile pursuit. Like every other large, capitalist industry in the US, I don’t think the gobbling up and merging of the competition is healthy. For example, prior to the 90’s, there used to be over a half dozen competitive aerospace companies, now there are only two: Boeing and Lockheed.

    The wrong thinking in my mind is going to war aimlessly, sending folks to die or be incapacitated in some way, setting fire to or using up the insanely expensive equipment. That’s the real waste in my mind. We seem to repeat that mistake for no good reason. We were also defeated by a peasant army in Vietnam 50 years ago. There is surely some value in the experience and deterrence gained through actually fighting a war versus hypothetical based training but that’s hard to quantify. Perhaps if Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld had served in Vietnam they wouldn’t have been so eager to start a similarly unwinnable war.

    $7 trillion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan. How many solar panels, windmills and good, productive related jobs would that have produced? I have to think it would have gone a very long way to freeing us from the root of the folks and ideology who were actually behind the 9/11 attacks, whom we can’t retaliate against due to their stranglehold on the oil markets, Saudi Arabia. Instead, $7 trillion and 20 years on, we’re still totally subservient to Saudi Arabia as demonstrated by Trumps public cowering and absurd defense of a journalist being loured to their own dismemberment at their embassy.

    • “Does not all the money spent on the armed forces, and their exotic and insanely expensive weapons, end up flowing right back into the US economy anyway?”

      Nope. This a prime example of long-understood but still very much alive fallacy in economic reasoning called “broken window fallacy”.

      Money and (very real) resources spent on bloated military and totally unnecessary weaponry are resources NOT spent on creating productive assets and higher standard of living for the people.

      While some defence is nesessary, the US military is 10x size of what is actually reasonable for defense against tech-parity adversaries (i.e. China and Russia). No other country poses military threat to US.

      Mandatory reading: Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

    • Senorpablo: I think that your comment actually demonstrates what averros is trying to tell you. Towards the end, you talk about solar panels and windmills as alternatives to military spending. Money spent on paying 1 million soldiers to march around their bases carrying rifles is money that can’t be spent on paying for solar panels and windmills.

      If you truly believe that money spent by the government “flows right back into the U.S. economy” and therefore is cost-free there is no reason to limit federal or state government spending, at least for domestic projects. Instead of the $10.4 trillion being spent in FY 2021 (https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/ ), for example, (a little less than half the GDP) you’d spend $15 trillion or $20 trillion and buy everything that everyone has ever dreamed about. I hope you’ll agree with me that teachers deserve higher pay and, since domestic spending is free, a $1 million/year salary for each teacher would make sense (they’ll still earn less than pro sports players and some Wall Streeters, but this will be a start). Police officers and firefighters risk their lives every day for our protection. Even if their statistical rate of death in the line of duty is much smaller than for a roofer, I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that each police officer should earn $3 million/year. (stats at https://www.ishn.com/articles/112748-top-25-most-dangerous-jobs-in-the-united-states ; sad to say that pilot is 3X riskier than being a police officer) With higher pay, we could attract police officers who would respect Black lives, for example.

    • Averros, Philg,
      I do not believe, nor meant to imply, that military spending is some kind of financial perpetual motion machine. Just that the real problem is the wars themselves, much less so the act of being prepared for them. Destroying useful equipment and American’s in the process is the epitome of counterproductivity.

      But, as a thought experiment, what happens if we do away with the military altogether or even partially? American’s taxes get reduced and we go out and send the money overseas to acquire more Xbox’s, iPhones, cars, electronics, and clothes. No more cool military funded inventions like the internet, GPS, insane satellites, radar and who know what else? Domestically, we buy more diabetes and obesity causing corn based food stuffs, drive up housing and college tuition prices for all, add more people driving on the roads since everyone can afford a car now. Except for all the folks who’s jobs got displaced. There’s a glut of engineers and manufacturing capacity in the market, wages go down for all engineers and manufacturing industries as a result. The top 10%–“job creators”–love the new labor market conditions. Taco Bell and Best Buy add more part time jobs because the commoners have money to burn! But, most of the money ends up, like it does now, going to the top 1% where they use it on yachts, Gulfstreams, private islands, rockets to mars, and tie the rest up in the stock market where they pay less in taxes than the middle class chumps who labor for a living. 10%er’s life improves, while they find new and ingenious ways to squeeze out the bottom 90%. Long story short, the status quo on turbo. Sounds amazing.

    • Senorpablo: Are you sure that your thought experiment isn’t simply a recasting of the broken windows way of thinking? Increasing government spending doesn’t reduce the overall welfare of the country (broken windows fallacy). You’ve tweaked this to “Cutting government spending doesn’t increase the overall welfare of the country.” We would not be better off if we cut the health care spend from 20 percent of GDP to Singapore’s 4.5 percent (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.CHEX.GD.ZS?locations=SG ). Part of your theory is that the U.S. Gini coefficient is very close to 1, i.e., all money flows to a handful of rich people or at least all new income/wealth will flow to that top 1%. But, especially with Presidents Biden and Harris at the helm, who is to say that money saved from running an army wouldn’t be redistributed to loyal Democrat voters already receiving government transfers, e.g., those in public housing? The U.S. is likely more equal in terms of spending power than most European countries (see Table 4 of https://www.cato.org/policy-analysis/reassessing-facts-about-inequality-poverty-redistribution#the-gini-coefficient-measurement-of-inequality that compares the raw Gini coefficient to one adjusted for government transfers, such as Medicaid).

      If your theory about the marginal Gini coefficient is correct, my plan of massive pay increases for our front-line heroes (teachers and police officers) would make sense because all of the money would be taken away from billionaires and they wouldn’t suffer any inconvenience other than having to keep their old yachts rather than buy new ones from Holland Italy.

    • @philg, GINI does not seem to be indicator of real inequality, either by design or by how it is being calculated. First of all, it does not seem to account for overall level of wealth in the country including social programs distribution. Second, let’s look at US (GINI 41.1, GDP per capita $68,000, average salary $82,000, median salary $52,000) and Russia (GINI 37.5, GDP per capita $29,000, average annual salary $8,000, median annual salary $6,000). Average and median income figures, even before large subsidies for American with below mean means, are clearly much larger in American then in Russia relative to countries per capita GDP. And rich people have as great lives in Russia as rich people in America, possibly even better lives for rich in Russia then in America. But GINI says that Russia is more equatable then America, despite mean/average salary in USA approximately equaled to GDP per capita, while in Russia average/mean salary equals one quarter of Russian GDP per capita. Of course American rich are richer on paper then Russian rich. I am not saying that USA division of income is perfect or great, I am saying that it is better then in many countries with low GINI. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/gini-coefficient-by-country

    • Philg – The premise put forth by you and averros, was that the private sector would make better, more productive use of the money that would otherwise flow into the military and defense industries via the government. That represents an increase in GDP, does it not? And we know from the last 40 years, if not much longer, the vast majority of the benefit from increases in GDP flow to the top 10% and above, but mostly the top .01%. Why then, would your average American be in favor of downsizing the military? So they can work part time at Taco Bell, rather than playing will guns outside, or building tanks?

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/24/opinion/income-inequality-upper-middle-class.html

    • Senorpablo: I am not sure that I said that the government would be smaller if the U.S. Army were shut down. Government generally grows and therefore I would expect the same money to be spent on something else that Congress and/or Presidents Biden and Harris dream of.

      Thanks for that NYT link. I’m 99% sure that the data are incorrect, however. They say that they’re accounting for government welfare transfers, but the biggest welfare programs are public housing (much of which is off-balance-sheet, e.g., forcing a commercial apartment building owner to give 12 percent of units to a city’s public housing authority to allocation), Medicaid, Medicare, etc. These aren’t cash transfers. Back in our old Boston suburb, a family of four earning $130,000/year was eligible for subsidized housing. Their residence in a new complex at below-market rates wouldn’t show up in Piketty’s data. Roughly 1/4 of Americans are on Medicaid: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/program-information/medicaid-and-chip-enrollment-data/report-highlights/index.html
      Another 63 million are on Medicare, which functions as a transfer program for those recipients who are middle class and below. People with a lifetime entitlement to live in $1 million apartments and receive the world’s most expensive (if not effective) health care, while shopping for food via EBT, are marked as destitute by Piketty/NYT and as having less wealth than a typical person in India.

  6. Never did figure out what the Army still specializes in that isn’t done by someone else. According to kiwipedia, they provide land based defense, but most projection of power these days is from the air, space & sea. Maybe if the army was dissolved, Biden would have to surrender the midwest to the taliban. $700 billion today is $70 billion 20 years ago, by any non government metric.

  7. Why not just have one “military force” instead of separate: army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, space force, homeland sec, etc.? And while we a fantasy budget cutting, how many redundant, shadowy 3-letter agencies does one country need?

  8. Can’t forget the billions of dollars spent on government defense contractors (and subcontractors). One of the large defense contractors put food on the table for four generations of my family. My 92 y/o grandmother is still collecting my grandfather’s defense contractor pension and he died in 1975.

    • TS: These data show us how much more “fighting for freedom” (by marching for the LGBTQIA+ cause in California, for example, as Emma did) remains to be done.

      (A friend did ask how it was possible for the Taliban to prevail over the U.S. military when the Taliban is notably deficient in diversity, has hardly any warriors identifying as “female”, and has no warriors identifying as LGBTQIA+)

  9. It’s just another black hole funding line item for the MIC as well as a “stick” to wield to sustain the Petrodollar narrative (for now).

  10. Was it a defeat? How victory in Afghanistan would look like? More sacrifices and tenths of thousands cheap driver for Uber from Afghanistan? That the same way the defeat looks after Trump was ousted, surprisingly there were no American casualties in last year and a half of Trump in Afghanistan. Forward ! – towards complete idiocracy.

    • That is a great question as to what victory would have looked like! Our theory was that Afghanistan was going to be a sort of like a mountainous version of Maryland? People would vote for their favorite Democrat and put up social justice signs in their front yards. The best jobs would be working for the government or a government contractor. Women would earn more than half the college degrees, just like in the U.S., and could sign up to TinderKabul and have sex with a different partner every night (pregnancies to yield profitable child support and/or an abortion that could be sold at a discount to the net present value of the potential child support cashflow; see http://www.realworlddivorce.com/Maryland ). Schools would be shut down for both boys and girls, in order to keep them safe from a virus that kills senior citizens (but bars and restaurants for adults would be open during most of the school closure period).

      The refugee angle is confusing to me. We’re negotiating with the Taliban right now to get whatever we want/need. We are taking in what will ultimately, no doubt, be millions of “refugees” because we say that the Taliban will kill them if they stay in Afghanistan. So we’ll pay for three generations of public housing, Medicaid, SNAP/EBT, and Obamaphone for these refugees (even if they do some Uber driving, they’ll still be eligible for all means-tested programs). Afghans are close to being the world’s least economically successful people, #213 out of 228 before the recent change in government (https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/real-gdp-per-capita/country-comparison ). Per person GDP is about $2,000/year. If we paid the Taliban $5,000/year per person not to bother people whom we designate, why wouldn’t they take that deal?

    • @philg. they will take the deal and the number of persecuted by Taliban Afghans will surpass entire population of Afghanistan 10-folds

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