Sunday, May 9, 2010

MIlitary Spending Finally Getting Looked At

U.S. Secretary of Defense wants to cut the U.S. military budget. According to this LA Times article, the Secretary is seeking BIG cuts.

How big? 2 to 3%!


Forgive me not being overwhelmed with the Administration's foresight and actions taken to cut the U.S. budget deficit and avert disaster. The very programs and institutions we enacted to protect us: Our military, Social Security, Medicare, Fannie Mae et al, are the very institutions whose gluttonous consumption of capital, effort, and resources will eventually lead the U.S. to ruin. Talk about your unintended consequences.

AFTER, yes AFTER that happens... the Left will point its finger at the military expenditures and the Right will point to the social programs... and they will both be half right... and then the battle might really begin...

I had an interesting exchange with the an individual on one of the social networking sites recently. No one I had ever met; a young man that felt the need to take me to task regarding my blog (I had invited one of his friends to read my posts as another point of view regarding the Oil spill in the GOM). I would best describe him as an angry young man (and my guess is he would describe me as an idiot, scumbag, moron, capitalist pig), probably of university age, who had moved away from the U.S. and now resides in a "Socialist" country. When he mentioned resources "that rightfully belong to the State" I realized that I was dealing with a political viewpoint not often encountered by an American. I am getting slow in my old age; earlier in the exchange, when I mistakenly assumed he was a garden-variety-college-kid-socialist, I tried to get him to expound on his view of using government agents to enforce his world view on the population - I pointed out that throughout history ALL socialist regimes had enforcement arms filled with the worst society had to offer willing to do the bidding of the government - the KGB and the SS come to mind, and I pointed out that the TYPE of person working for these organizations exist in EVERY society and that the only thing preventing the FBI or the CIA from going SS is the U.S. Constitution... he wasn't having any. I got a ducking, half answer that led me to believe that this young man was ready to lead the Red Revolution... and that he was prepared to make life fair "by any means necessary".

How very disconcerting.

I am a capitalist and a libertarian, but a casual perusal of history points out a couple of common threads... one seems to be that it is not REAL DEPRIVATION that pisses people off so much as RELATIVE DEPRIVATION. That large income and wealth disparity, not people starving, is the catalyst for upheaval (which sort of sits with my world view that in the end its all about sex, not money per se. While money may not buy love, it sure can rent it for a while. I will leave that alone for now because it will surely piss people off, even though we all know that it is what it is). The young, American communist I was speaking with came from an economically challenged upbringing, and he is PISSED OFF. Yea, I know, correlation does not prove causation... but we are talking humanity here... and it doesn't take a PhD in psycho babble to take a reasonable stab at this one. We have had a TREMENDOUS expansion in the distance, or multiple, between our top 10% of wealth and the bottom 10%. No doubt about that one. The question should be what, if anything, should be done about it... not who are we going to kill to fix it. The late 18th Century French Aristocrats flunked that one.

I should imagine that it is quite possible for a handsome, well spoken, charismatic leader to emerge and bring us down this road again... after all, it has happened before.


bureaucrat said...

Yeah, that is the historical example. Big problems start to flare up when there is such a massive divide between the MTV characters (Jersey Shore!!) who seem to have all the opportunity, and the average schmuck kids watching TV who know that just finding a decent job is gonna be tough in the U.S. This offshoring of the American economy was going to eventually hit a wall, and that wall has now arrived.

Hilter was an economic creation. If Germany hadn't been pounded into he ground economically with WW1 reparations, we would have never heard anything about Hitler. But that is how it gets started. The majority (almost always the young) start feeling robbed, and look for someone to blame. Hitler gave them the minority (Jews) they needed to start the pogrom, so the white German race could have their revenge.

The gulf between rich and poor in the American 1920s (similar to today) had a LOT to do with causing the Great Depression. We are exactly in that same mode now. I bet the people under 25 today think they are better than that -- that they would never persecute blacks, Chinese, Muslims ... how about the old? ... you name the group.

My bet is the people of the 1920s thought exactly the same thing. That it could never happen here.

K said...

"The question should be what, if anything, should be done about it?"

I agree, but I think the question will be 'what will be done about it?' and the answer will be 'not much and definately not enough'.

I guess most people that read this blog ask themselves 'What should I do to survive this?'

Greg T. Jeffers said...

I am not sure that anything that IS done would improve things. Unintended consequences, especially in the form of a corrupt and powerful government, tend to crop up in the most untidy ways.

My larger point was that there are people out there, right now, that would be very willing to execute millions of people to enforce their world view of "fairness". You see, I think that killing a single person is a cost too great.

The world will never, ever be fair. Some people are born rich, some are born beautiful, some brilliant, and some with talents so vast as to inspire awe - and a lucky few will possess all of these qualities (and they are ALL relative now, aren't they.

Whatever imbalances we try to correct in this matter today will only yield other imbalances tomorrow, me thinks.

Still, it is somewhat unnerving to think there are young people out there, right now, more than willing to "break a few eggs" (or end millions of lives) to compensate for some short coming life handed to them... poverty, small wedding tackle, whatever...

Anonymous said...

I liked the Barry Ritholz quote today regarding the HFT's causing last weeks market "disturbance"
..."I guess the commies were right, the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang them with..."
For most of history the holders of extreme unseemly wealth have hidden behind high walls with lots of guards for protection, but here in America, they like to flaunt it.
I think there's a reason for the historical norm....human nature being what it is and all that.

Stephen B. said...

Actually Bur, I think it's even worse than the 1920s. At least back then we had lots of new factories and a steadily increasing supply of new forms of cheap energy. We also still had about 1 in 4 citizens living on or near a farm along with population still in possession of a good deal of practical skills and knowledge such as how to cook from scratch.

Knowledge of to how to beat the computer at Grand Theft Auto, how to write an iPhone app, or how to sue your city school board isn't quite as useful.

Dan said...

The big anger inducing thing right now is not that the banksters are getting filthy stinking rich; it’s that they are getting theirs at our expense, whether we are playing in the casino or not, whether we did anything wrong or not. When I recently gave Bill Gates $700.00 for office 2007 it was my choice, and I harbor no ill will toward him. If he quadruples his pile, good for him. The banking mess however works nothing like that.

To quote Stoneleigh at automatic earth:“A credit expansion requires two sides - a predatory lending structure at the centre and gullibility and greed in the periphery.” I am in neither group yet these clowns expect me to pay for their mess? Not only do they expect me to pay for the mess, they are materially misstating their financials in order to give the appearance of retained earnings that isn’t there, so that they may pay bonuses on fictional gains, and stick me with the bill for that too.

This is outright felony fraud and we are all the victims. It’s not that someone else is getting theirs that upsets me; it’s that I’m getting screwed.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Stephen B's recent comment. This period of time, like all others is unique in terms of culture, resources, technological innovation and the like. Technology has held up society in many respects and clearly has allowed the end of the low hanging fruit of Oil, to not be very noticeable due to great innovations that allow for Oil extraction (even a mile underwater).

But the lack of resiliency is alarming, the limited redundancies built into modernity and how the hinge entirely on the monopoly money system (and Grandma isn't the benevolent banker) is beginning to show. It's sort of like the end of the wizard of OZ, pretty amazing stuff, but behind the curtain thing's aren't quite as impressive or all powerful as one might assume.

Basically we have a country based on trying to protect against the tyranny of both the majority and the plutocrats. But instead we have a country that in practice is an empire--but the tea baggers don't complain much about the military reaching that takes up the #1 spot in the budget. How about we just leave about 60 countries, we would still have military bases in what another 65 foreign countries? 10 billion or less in Military cuts is really a joke...but my guess is that this big military will be used once again--to secure some Oil perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with Greg, that it is not about money per se. but more about disparity, real or perceived. If you bother to read the screeds of the left, it is always more about bringing the rich down, as opposed to bringing the poor up. It has caused most leftist revolutions to be stillborn, except that they hang on by killing anyone who dares dissent. Most revolutions kill about 10% of the population to rid themselves of the evil elite. These are mostly those that know how run business and industry. The revolution then confiscates property "for the people" and populates its management with people uniquely unqualified to run it. These would be revolutionary hot heads and academic theorists. The results have been atrocious. Hitler brought the captains of industry into his revolution, and avoided that problem, but the results were no less disastrous.

While Socialist revolutions claim to be in the name of the "people." They expropriate private property to be held for the people in common. Once they have it, they don't know what to do with it. Further, it is not really held in common, but rather is controlled by the ruling clique. In reality it achieves concentration of power most quickly.

Every state seems to have the problem of accumulation of power into the hands of a few. The framers of the Constitution had this clearly in mind when they wrote it. That our freedoms have remained in tact to this extent for over 200 years is a testament to their foresight.

Concentration of power is a big problem in the US today. We have too many institutions that are too big to fail. We have a huge, ever more intrusive government. We have too much industry and finance in cahoots with an increasingly Socialist government. Both the private and government elites flaunt the law, or remake it to their benefit. The corruption is apparent and causing turmoil. I'm hoping for a rout on both sides of the aisle in the upcoming election, and some real reform. (Break up the banks, smaller government, term limits etc.) I doubt any of that will happen. Concentration of power seems to be a one way process. But, we can hope.


Coal Guy.

Stephen B. said...

I'm afraid we're all kind of right here in our comments. Greg and Coal Guy talk about a large economic divide. Bur mentions about how said divide can and has been used for war-making. Dan highlights pretty much exactly why this particular wealth accumulation stinks - it's stolen wealth, gotten by cheating others, and Meiyo and I cite the scary lack of resiliency on the part of the living arrangements and skill set of a good deal of the population.

Lastly, Coal Guy has it again when he says that the process of power concentration probably isn't reversible. We can hope for a better outcome in November, but it's a fairly dim hope at that. What happens after the citizenry realize, post-November elections, that not much has changed again, nor does it promise to? Well, that's when the drama scales up further. In any case, even *IF* the US managed some real reform, it would have to pull along the rest of the economic world into the solution, and looking at Europe, even with my fairly simplistic understanding of goings-on over there, it's just all that much more trouble all around.

Dextred1 said...

The man of system is apt to be very wise in his own conceit. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have not another principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, although different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same directions, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. IF they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder..

Adam Smith

IF you guys ever have the time read witness by whittaker chambers.

Publius said...

and it will happen again. And again.
And again.

Publius said...

I have come to the conclusion that Henry Adams was right:
the ancient Greeks were correct.
Democracy leads to decay and dictatorship.
You can delay the decay with clever mechanisms for a time (constitutions, laws, etc.), but you cannot stop the inevitable.

And the decay and eventual collapse is inevitable, just as much as peak oil is happening.
It is what is is.
All things have their time...
We can, however, sow the seeds for future virtue and renewal.

It is what it is.

The French peasant seemed remarkably docile and passive before the revolution.
It didn't take long for things to change, did it?
If things do change in that direction, I suggest keeping one's chin down and head screwed on straight. Literally.

bureaucrat said...

Democracy is just fine. All the empires of the world collpased from the same thing: debt and overreach. Stupid decisions are found in every government model :) and borrowing badly for the wrong reasons is one of those sometimes-fatal bad decisions.

fallout11 said...

No, Publius is correct, all governments eventually devolve into plutocracies, rule by societies dregs and least competent. Gresham's Law applies to people as well as money, the sociopaths, kleptocrats, morons, and gangsters eventually control all the levers of power and run off those who would see logic and common sense prevail, or discourage them to the point of apathy. They construct self-reinforcing systems (the system reinforces itself) that strength these tendencies. Those who aspire to rule us are now the least qualified to do so.
History is repleat with such examples, including "democracies".

Freedom and democracy are different. In words attributed to Scottish historian Alexander Tytler: 'A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury.' Democracy evolves into kleptocracy. A majority bullying a minority is just as bad as a dictator, communist or otherwise, doing so. Democracy is two coyotes and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.