Cato v Heritage on Defense Spending


Many on the left, including some of my own readers, seem to think that the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are practically twins, just two cogs in the right wing movement that they (and I) despise. Naomi Klein famously lumped them together along with the American Enterprise Institute as neo-con groups pushing an aggressive military policy to benefit big business:

“Only since the mid-nineties has the intellectual movement, led by the right-wing think-tanks with which [Milton] Friedman had long associations-Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute-called itself ‘neoconservative,’ a worldview that has harnessed the full force of the U.S. military machine in the service of a corporate agenda.”

As I pointed out at the time, she was painting with a brush so broad that you could sell ad space on the side of it. In reality, Milton Friedman opposed every post-WW2 military adventure the U.S. engaged in, as has the Cato Institute, and both have advocated significant cuts in defense spending. They are the precise opposite of neo-cons when it comes to the military and foreign policy.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute demonstrates that once again by hammering the Heritage Foundation for misleading readers about proposed cuts in defense spending. Heritage used this graphic to show that defense spending had supposedly fallen far below the historical average as a percentage of federal spending:

And he explains why this is absolutely misleading:

In fact, Pentagon spending in real, inflation-adjusted dollars has roughly doubled since 2000 and is up about 50 percent since 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. (And note that the recent figures don’t include the cost of the ongoing wars.)

That’s right. Not only is Heritage looking at an irrelevant figure — defense spending as percentage of the federal budget rather than in inflation-adjusted dollars — they aren’t even including the cost of two wars that have cost more than a trillion dollars.

Obviously, the big story in the federal budget over the past 40 years is the dramatic rise in spending on transfer payments. Does the Heritage Foundation really want to suggest that when spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rises, military spending should rise commensurately? That when President Bush creates a trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug entitlement, he should also add a trillion dollars to the Pentagon budget to keep “Defense Spending as a Percentage of the Federal Budget” at its previous level?

Cato and Heritage scholars have often differed on U.S. foreign policy and the defense budget that it implies. But surely neither group would actually suggest that U.S. national security should be measured by the relationship of military spending to entitlement spending. Surely we would agree that military spending must be sufficient to ensure U.S. security and not tied to some extraneous factor. So I invite the creators and promoters of the above chart to explain exactly what they think it proves.

It proves how dishonest the Heritage Foundation is when working diligently in the service of the defense industry.

Comments

  1. jjgdenisrobert says

    Finding a distinction between Cato and Heritage on this basis is like finding a difference between the Seventh Day Adventists and the Branch Davidians. Of course, there is some degree of difference, but it really doesn’t matter in the end.

    As for Friedman opposing military “adventures”, it’s in direct conflict with him going around the world creating multiple opportunities for such “adventures”, such as his undying advocacy of sundry right-wing tinpot dictators around the world, hand in hand with his neo-con friend-versaries.

    So you may be right that there is a small difference between the two sides. But to me, they are both evil men doing evil deeds based on pretty much the same overall evil ideology. So I don’t really care about the difference.

    Just as I don’t care that the Branch Davidians were no longer considered 7th day by other 7th day loons. To me, they are all just a bunch of nutjobs.

  2. says

    Also, I have to say that if the Cato stooges actually support cuts in defense spending, then they’re dead wrong. Again. Seriously, our military needs to recover from those two depleting wars the libertards never wanted to pay for; we have LOTS of veterans who need the health care we promised them after fighting in those wars; and there’s still this country in Asia that’s rapidly building its military power and expanding its influence…can the Cato assholes even find it on a map? It’s pretty big. Here, lemme give them a hint: it’s called China, a.k.a. the People’s Republic of Inexhaustible Cheap Labor for the Capitalist World.

    (Also, are the Cato asshats the only ones pointing out the Heritage Foundation’s dishonesty? Of course not — liberals have been doing it for DECADES. It’s only news when Republitarians do it.)

  3. says

    I think this is part of the reason people lack any confidence in liberalism and progressive. The perception of spending so much time arguing AGAINST their position.

  4. matty1 says

    Hmmm

    Cato Institute – cut defense spending

    Raging Bee -don’t cut defense spending

    Yes its obvious how Cato are the ones in the pocket of the military industrial complex.

  5. walton says

    Seriously, our military needs to recover from those two depleting wars the libertards never wanted to pay for;

    That doesn’t mean military spending needs to be as high as it presently is. The US continues to maintain an enormous blue-water navy (with, as of 2011, 11 aircraft carriers; relatively few other nations are able to deploy even one carrier), military bases in places like Germany, Japan and Korea, and a military establishment that was designed for the Cold War rather than for modern needs.

    we have LOTS of veterans who need the health care we promised them after fighting in those wars;

    Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought that was a different budget – namely, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs?

    and there’s still this country in Asia that’s rapidly building its military power and expanding its influence…

    It doesn’t follow that America needs a military establishment larger than the next several countries combined. The US outspends China on the military by an enormous margin. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is nowhere near the capacities of the US Navy, and has no chance of becoming so for decades. (And it’s not as if there is any danger of an all-out war with China in any event.)

    Of course, there is one reasonable argument in favour of America’s enormous military spending: it’s a Keynesian stimulus, since it undoubtedly creates jobs and pours money into the economy. And that’s fine, but let’s not pretend it’s necessary for any security purpose.

  6. says

    That doesn’t mean military spending needs to be as high as it presently is…

    It DOES mean we have to discuss these matters a lot more honestly and intelligently than the Cato scumbags are doing. At the very least, we need to abandon the mindless, shortsighted, sociopathically selfish taxophobia the Republitarians have been pushing on our country, and start paying for what we need, and for the consequences of our actions.

    Thanks to right-wing tax cuts, we have HUGE debts, both military and civilian, that must be paid — plus interest. Even if we have a net decrease in defense spending, we’ll still need to raise taxes to pay for what we’ve already done. (And some programs will still need to be expanded.) How honest are the Cato folks on THAT issue?

  7. says

    And it’s not as if there is any danger of an all-out war with China in any event.

    Ever heard of a place called Korea? Taiwan?

    The best way to prevent an all-out war with China, is to prepare for one, and to have sensible, proactive diplomacy based on that strength.

  8. says

    The US continues to maintain an enormous blue-water navy (with, as of 2011, 11 aircraft carriers; relatively few other nations are able to deploy even one carrier), military bases in places like Germany, Japan and Korea, and a military establishment that was designed for the Cold War rather than for modern needs.

    With our nuclear deterrent and the national guard at its current levels, the US could not be successfully attacked by any nation. We could shut down the navy (expensive floating targets), standing military (force projection), foreign bases (force projection) and air force (expensive hangar queens and air shows) and we’d still be safe. We’d lose our ability to maintain our empire, of course, but it’s already pretty expensive for something so pointless. If we still wanted to have imperial ambitions we could keep the military/industrial/defense complex employed trying to crack the problem of sustainable fusion reactions and – if they succeeded – we could then conquer the world by the simple expedient of purchasing it.

    It doesn’t follow that America needs a military establishment larger than the next several countries combined.

    Last time I checked we were spending more on our military than the 10 countries after us, combined. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that what we’re getting with that obscene amount of money is OK but not particularly great (for what it cost). We pay an enormous price for that global reach, just in terms of logistics (300+ bases worldwide plus a huge navy to protect the sea-logistical train) We have the best army money has ever bought but the costs are so padded that we’re probably getting less than 1/10 what we’re paying for. That latter statement is extremely hard to defend as other than my opinion, FWIW but I’d say that’s about right.

    If any of you want an idea how out of control the badness at the Pentagon (as Chuck Spinney calls it “Versailles on the Potomac”) you might want to read this:
    http://www.ranum.com/editorials/must-read/spinney/spinney_testimony.htm
    What Spinney points out, unfortunately, is that the Pentagon is in a “spend more, get less” trend where the trend-line is increasing sharply toward “get less” It means that, no matter how you look at it, the US empire is going to outspend itself because its parasitic load has gotten too high. The recent shift to privatizing huge pieces of the supply train and maintenance to contractors and mercenaries doesn’t appear in Spinney’s analysis because it’s fairly recent. We’re at the end of having an effective military no matter how you slice it; our choice is whether we’re going to have a supremely expensive ineffective military or a relatively inexpensive ineffective military. You know which one our leaders will choose, of course. It’s not their money.

  9. KG says

    When Cato stops lying about the most important issue facing humanity – anthropogenic global warming – then I’ll take some interest in their theological disputes with other far-right lie machines.

  10. KG says

    And it’s not as if there is any danger of an all-out war with China in any event.

    Ever heard of a place called Korea? Taiwan?

    Are you actually proposing to destroy civilization if, contrary to all likelihood, the PRC attacks either Taiwan or South Korea? The USA already has a very effective deterrent against the PRC that doesn’t involve having a single gun, let alone a Pacific fleet: the vast Chinese investments in the USA.

  11. says

    I’m curious as to why the years 1861 to 1944 were disappeared. I don’t consider military spending in the 19th century to mean jack-all, but if they’re going to bring it up, I’d at least like to know what happened over the intervening 83 year period.

  12. says

    Marcus: we tried isolationism before. It didn’t get us peace, or freedom. And if you actually think we can defend even our own turf without a navy or air force, then you’re a fucking idiot.

  13. says

    Are you actually proposing to destroy civilization…?

    Advocating a strong military, and wise diplomacy based on strength, is “proposing to destroy civilization?” Thanks, dude, you’ve once again shown what rank stupidity and escapism the Cato Institute and other libertarians count on.

  14. walton says

    It DOES mean we have to discuss these matters a lot more honestly and intelligently than the Cato scumbags are doing.

    I didn’t praise Cato – indeed, I didn’t say anything about them at all – so I’m not sure what this has to do with my argument.

    At the very least, we need to abandon the mindless, shortsighted, sociopathically selfish taxophobia the Republitarians have been pushing on our country, and start paying for what we need, and for the consequences of our actions.

    Sure. No argument there. (You will never see me defending the Republicans. They’re a party of racists, homophobes, sexists, warmongers and authoritarians; this is true even of supposedly “libertarian” Republicans like Ron Paul, who is anti-choice and anti-immigration.)

    But it doesn’t follow that every area of present government expenditure is necessary or useful. I can think of many that are not: aside from the bloated military establishment, we have America’s disastrous prison-industrial complex, the racist system of immigration laws enforced by USCBP and ICE, the DEA and the machinery of the War on Drug Users (calling it a “war on drugs” gives it more credit than it deserves), and so on.

    Ever heard of a place called Korea? Taiwan?

    The best way to prevent an all-out war with China, is to prepare for one, and to have sensible, proactive diplomacy based on that strength.

    This is just scaremongering. Given that both countries have nuclear weapons, an all-out war with China is vanishingly unlikely (and if it ever did happen, civilization would be screwed anyway and we might as well give up). The rulers of the PRC, while amoral, are not stupid.

    The way to build a more peaceful world is not to stockpile more and more weapons to guard against unrealistic paranoid fantasies.

  15. walton says

    Marcus: we tried isolationism before. It didn’t get us peace, or freedom. And if you actually think we can defend even our own turf without a navy or air force, then you’re a fucking idiot.

    I don’t speak for Marcus (and I suspect his stance is rather more extreme than mine is), but I certainly don’t advocate isolationism. Nor have I ever advocated abolishing the military or any branch thereof. I’m all for the existence of a military, both for self-defence (as a last resort) and to participate in multilateral peacekeeping operations authorized by the Security Council in accordance with international law. (Such operations don’t always work, but sometimes they can be effective in ending a catastrophic cycle of violence; Sierra Leone, for instance.)

    However, this does not mean that the US needs the scale of military spending that it currently has. As I said, the only good argument for maintaining the current level of military spending is that it is a Keynesian economic stimulus which creates jobs – which is certainly true, but has nothing much to do with national security.

  16. Glenn E Ross AKA HeartlessB says

    The problem for me isn’t that they are “just two cogs in the right wing movement”, it’s that they have inherent ideological biases before they even start their analysis.

    Yes, yes, all humans have inherent biases, but the think tanks’ reason for existence is to promote their ideology, not to find the optimum solution. To the man with only a hammer all problems have to be solved with a hammer. These think tanks ignore better analysis or solutions because their ideological “hammer” imposes too many restrictions on the results.

  17. jesse says

    Raging Bee, I am a little surprised, given the comments I have seen you post before.

    In any case, I’ll throw in the following: my issue with the Cato Institute is their assumption that markets tell you anything except what people are willing (or have to) pay for. Cato Institute folks seem to ignore completely the fact that markets have rules, and those rules are huge in determining what has success in the market. They aren’t authoritarians, but they ignore the authoritarian effects of unregulated market systems that are based on certain rule-sets.

    To give one example, if you need a job to eat, or care for your kids, and you are a woman, your boss can say “have sex with me or lose your job.” By any reasonable definition that is rape, if the other choice is losing your livelihood and starving. Yet this kind of abuse is routine in American workplaces. But the Cato people seem to think that this is all waved away by “get another job.” They simply haven’t got a good answer for this kind of abuse, or the power imbalance between workers and their bosses inherent in the system. The Heritage foundation is at least honest in the authoritarianism.

    Both groups believe in the magic of property ownership — if you have more, you must be a better and more socially useful person. They have never met Paris Hilton.

    Now, to get to Raging Bee’s bit about defense:

    I’m not sure, reading your initial comment, if the issue is the size of the military or the costs that go with having one, the latter of which can be self-perpetuating. One of the big issues here is that the US spends so much on the military — more than the Chinese by a factor of three or four, if not more. The return on investment isn’t much because when you build an aircraft carrier or a plane the whole point is to blow it up. Really, that’s it. For any military hardware there are sort of two outcomes: it gets blown up or it blows up something else. In investment terms, it means you put money into a fixed asset that doesn’t offer return, only depreciates.

    If I build a road, the situation is different. Roads generate economic activity, for instance, on a pretty continuous basis. The property around it can appreciate. All that good stuff. Military spending is a keynesian stimulus but the multiplier effect is limited because there is only one customer and it isn’t like a tank get used for anything else but war. (A similar issue occurs BTW with service industries — you create nothing in services, so the multiplier is really small).

    In any case, the U.S. has a military force that is a huge drain on the economy at this point, could be downsized considerably and still be equal to anything the Chinese could field for the next decade at least. There are, as pointed out, 11 aircraft carriers in the fleet. The Chinese have one, maybe, if we are generous about the definition. (The USSR, BTW, had only two, and one was out of service a lot of the time). It takes 2-3 years to build one. If the Chinese built three at the same time — a WW II level of production, even accounting for the larger economies these days — well, that’s a decade before they have what we have right now. And no, you can’t build one without anyone noticing. They are sort of big.

    Downsizing the military and saying that sending spooks to get rid of democratically-elected governments you don’t like is not isolationism. And sometimes presenting force is a great way to start wars, not prevent them. See WW I as exhibit A. Every country involved was in a massive arms race (some more successfully than others). The balance was delicate, and fell apart immediately. Perhaps another (better) example is the Franco-Prussian war.

    And the deterrent effect of the old nuclear standoff was, I think, offset by the fact that we were all damned lucky that in two separate incidents a Russian and a US military man decided to violate procedure and essentially disobey orders. (The two incidents are the Able Archer case and Thule AFB). The point is, if you scare the other guy enough, he might do something stupid. The US and the USSR had a whole elaborate system set up to avoid just that. We have no such system with the Chinese government yet.

    Could the Chinese attack Taiwan? Possibly. But the cost to the Chinese — even minus the U.S. stated commitment to Taiwan — would be high. Korea? Please. The North Korean army may look fearsome, but they have no fuel for the trucks and tanks, and I can’t imagine the Chinese giving them any. The last time US and Chinese troops met it was because as they saw it they were defending their borders. MacArthur might have been crazy/stupid enough to attach China but he wasn’t given the chance. And that was a long time ago.

    (BTW, the economic links between China and the US consist largely of debt securities that the Chinese are loath to see lose value. This death-embrace both countries are in will likely forestall all-out war for a while. Dumping all the US Debt the Chinese central bank has would be a disaster — for the Chinese).

  18. says

    Given that both countries have nuclear weapons, an all-out war with China is vanishingly unlikely…

    That’s a lazy, ridiculous non-sequitur. Just because a country has nuclear weapons, does not automatically mean they can’t go to war without using them; nor does it mean their leaders magically lose their ability to envision multiple options and scenarios. I hate to break it to you, but “The Day After” was not a realistic war scenario, and did not represent how policy-makers actually think when making war-and-peace decisions.

    …aside from the bloated military establishment…

    Which parts of the “establishment” are “bloated?” The military is not a single homogeneous organization, you know. You’ll have to be a lot less lazy if you want to be taken seriously.

  19. says

    When writing this post, I was absolutely certain that Raging Bee would show up to leave comments full of mindless rage. And as usual, he does not disappoint. He sees the word “libertarian” and seems to lose even a veneer of rationality. It induces spittle-flecked outbursts like the ones above. I should go work for Psychic Nikki.

  20. says

    jesse: my issue here is mostly with the escapism, dishonesty and childish simplemindedness of the libertarians’ foreign and military policy ideas. There’s a necessary debate to be had here, but aside from scoring cheap little points on the periphery like what Ed described above, the Cato folks have nothing to bring to it. It’s too complex for them.

    The return on investment isn’t much because when you build an aircraft carrier or a plane the whole point is to blow it up. Really, that’s it. For any military hardware there are sort of two outcomes: it gets blown up or it blows up something else. In investment terms, it means you put money into a fixed asset that doesn’t offer return, only depreciates.

    Bullshit. If a strong military presence deters war, or makes and enforces peace, then there’s a sizeable return visible in both lives saved and wealth created in a peaceful orderly region. They’re a bit like cops, on a much larger scale. Would you lay off every cop you saw not actively pursuing a criminal at that time?

    The problem with judging the ROI of military investments, is that waste is built into the military’s very purpose: either it destroys shitloads of capital and lives, or it never gets to use its toys because no one wants to fuck with it.

  21. says

    The point is, if you scare the other guy enough, he might do something stupid. The US and the USSR had a whole elaborate system set up to avoid just that.

    True — and it didn’t involve reductions in either side’s military investment.

  22. says

    Could the Chinese attack Taiwan? Possibly. But the cost to the Chinese — even minus the U.S. stated commitment to Taiwan — would be high.

    The Chinese won’t think that beforehand unless the US shows a credible threat to MAKE an attack costly. This is a mistake that several leaders have made throughout history: they don’t beef up their forces enough, so an enemy thinks they’re not committed to defend something they want to take, so they try to take it, so there’s a war that would not have happened if the attacker had seen a serious defensive effort beforehand.

    Korea? Please. The North Korean army may look fearsome, but they have no fuel for the trucks and tanks, and I can’t imagine the Chinese giving them any.

    Um…remember that incident where Kim Jong “pants on head” Il ordered the totaly unprovoked shelling of a town in South Korea? I think you underestimate what the Chinese are allowing them to do. Remember, in the strict legal sense the Korean War is still on.

  23. juice says

    Anyone who thinks there is a remote possibility of the US and China having a war is beyond deluded. Neither country could afford it and it would destroy them both. It would be suicide for either side to start a war. It simply will not happen in this century. Hell, I’m not even mentioning the fact that China’s military budget is a tenth of the US budget. Ok, I just did.

    So neocons want to increase Pentagon spending to gear up for a war with Iran and some people who call themselves progressive (or even laughably, liberal) are saying, “No! The real threat is China! Increase Pentagon spending because of China!”

  24. says

    Neither country could afford it and it would destroy them both.

    Yeah, and oil companies would never cut corners in managing their drilling platforms, because they know they can’t afford a malfunction. Thus, the Deepwater Horizon incident is INCONCEIVABLE!

    And like I already said, the last war where US and Chinese armies fought each other is, legally, still on. So who’s “beyond deluded” again?

  25. KG says

    Advocating a strong military, and wise diplomacy based on strength, is “proposing to destroy civilization?” – Raging Bee

    Look, numbskull, advocating “a strong military” is pointless if you don’t convince the prospectivce enemy you’re actually prepared to use it, and the only way to do that is to be prepared to use it. Diplomacy “based on strength” is the best way to set off a full-scale arms race with China, with the result of squillions being wasted on both sides, if nothing worse. The American “advocates of a strong military” nearly got us all killed at least three times during the Cold War with their fuckwitted willy-waving.

  26. KG says

    Besides which, even if you don’t manage to set off a nuclear exchange with China (or for that matter Russia – you think they’re going to sit on their hands if the US starts pumping more into armaments?), if you have a “strong military” it’s going to get used to invade weaker countries. Jesus wept, haven’t we had enough of the US’s “strong military” in the last decade?

  27. KG says

    Raging Bee, if you can manage to take your head out of your arse for a few minutes, read up on the start of World War 1. Both sides invested in a “strong military” and “wise diplomacy” – building alliances to deter the potential enemy. With the result that a group of nationalist fanatics from a minor power were able to set off a catastrophe that cost 15 million lives, and sowed the seeds for an even worse catastrophe 20 years later. At a time when there were no nuclear or biological weapons, no nerve gas, no ballistic or cruise missiles, no air forces, no tanks even.

  28. says

    How a strong military is used, and how effective our diplomacy is, kinda depends on who we elect to run it all, not how powerful the military is. Elect a competent leader (like, oh I dunno, an educated liberal maybe?), and we’re more likely to counter potential aggression without going to war. Elect a moron (like the kind of person the Cato asshats tend to support), and we’re hosed regardless of the size of our military.

    Seriously, you’re blaming the size of the military for our stupid military adventures, and not the competence of the leaders? That’s just fucking ridiculous. And, as I said earlier, it’s the abusive bully’s mindset: “We have to keep our country weak because we can’t trust our people to agree with us.” It’s the same mentality as the one driving Republican tax cuts: keep the government broke so they can’t do what we don’t want them to to.

  29. says

    And no, WW-I was not caused by too-strong armies; it was caused by a “system” of interlocking treaty obligations, coupled with mobilization schedules that required each nation to fully mobilize before it even knew whether it really needed to go to war. Thanks for showing, again, the simplemindedness underlying libertarian thought.

  30. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #25

    Relative to the Formosa Straits, Mr. Bee treats the Taiwanese armed forces as if they didn’t exist. The fact is that the Taiwan armed forces are a very highly trained and formidable force, particularly the Taiwanese air force. It should be noted that in a previous engagement between the two forces many years ago, the ratio of planes shot down was something like 10 to 1 in favor of Taiwan. Unless China was prepared to use nuclear weapons, they would suffer enormous losses in any attempt to conquer Taiwan. Pound for pound, and plane for plane, the Taiwanese air force is probably the best in the world and that includes the US and Israel, which ain’t chopped liver.

  31. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #33

    It should be noted that Bismarck once said that the next European war would be initiated by some damn fool incident in the Balkans.

  32. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #32

    And no, WW-I was not caused by too-strong armies; it was caused by a “system” of interlocking treaty obligations, coupled with mobilization schedules that required each nation to fully mobilize before it even knew whether it really needed to go to war. Thanks for showing, again, the simplemindedness underlying libertarian thought.

    That’s only partially true. The real cause of WW 1 was the Dreadnaught race between Germany and Great Britain. Absent that, the British Government would not have joined France and Russia in the Triple Entente, thus making it unlikely that the latter two powers would have considered intervening in the dispute between Austria and Serbia, which would have allowed Germany to also not intervene. France, especially, could not have afforded to challenge Germany without the support of Great Britain.

  33. KG says

    Raging Bee,

    I’m a democratic socialist, fuckwit, not a glibertarian.

    How a strong military is used, and how effective our diplomacy is, kinda depends on who we elect to run it all, not how powerful the military is.

    And of course you can be sure that for evermore, intelligent, cool-headed liberals will be elected POTUS, can’t you?

    WW-I was not caused by too-strong armies; it was caused by a “system” of interlocking treaty obligations, coupled with mobilization schedules that required each nation to fully mobilize before it even knew whether it really needed to go to war.

    The interlocking treaty obligations were the “wise diplomacy” of the time. The place of the mobilization schedules would be taken by the even more dangerous need to strike before command systems were disabled by the other side’s strike – as nearly happened twice in 1983 when the Soviet Politburo feared that Reagan planned a first strike. Read David Stevenson’s 1914-1918: The History of the First World War for an account of the role the arms race between Germany and its potential enemies played; I’ll take a professional historian’s view over that of a militarist intenet nincompoop any day. Briefly, the key event after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the German guarantee to Austria-Hungary that if they attacked Serbia and Russia came in against them, Germany would go to war alongside them. The German High Command took this decision because they were, temporarily, ahead in the arms race: they knew that in two or three years’ time, they would be in a worse position.

  34. The Christian Cynic says

    Ed, calling me irrational doesn’t work if you don’t even try to prove me wrong first.

    Such a thing is hardly necessary to the rational observer.

  35. KG says

    Talking of “wise diplomacy”, can anyone think of a better way of encouraging the formation of a Sino-Russian military alliance than a renewed US arms build-up?

  36. slc1 says

    Re KG @ #36

    But Russia would not have intervened without the support of France and France would not have supported Russia without being assured of the support of Great Britain.

  37. KG says

    slc1,

    Indeed, probably so. The alliance system and the arms race were part of the same deadly mechanism. Raging Bee wants to set the same hideous process in motion again. As I say @38, what better way to bring about a Sino-Russian military pact than a Us arms build-up? Both Russia and China would, quite understandably, feel threatened.

  38. Michael Heath says

    Raging Bee to Ed:

    Ed, calling me irrational doesn’t work if you don’t even try to prove me wrong first.

    Christian Cynic:

    Such a thing is hardly necessary to the rational observer.

    I think many of Raging Bee’s criticisms hit right at the heart of libertarianism in terms of both its behavior and more importantly, how it ultimately helps the conservative movement achieve their political ends. Even when libertarianism has an abstract argument contra conservatism.

    We can’t merely consider the abstract arguments and how they differ, instead we must also consider how these arguments play out in effecting policy and results. That largely comes from how various movements ally themselves politically. From this perspective the Republican party can easily ignore non-conservative arguments from Cato while gaining great political advantage leveraging their work when their positions align, e.g., on denying the fact of anthropogenic global warming.

    Libertarians increasingly remind me of how Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly of Fox News occassionally take a position out of sync with the conservative movement. Both then leverage those adventures off the reservation as “proof” they’re independent thinkers who are above mere political partisanship. Raging Bee does a mostly effective job of revealing this about libertarianism. I find him to be a great resource, as I do you Christian Cynic, including on the subject of libertarians and their movement.

  39. The Christian Cynic says

    I think Raging Bee’s critiques of libertarianism would be more effective if you didn’t have to fight past two straw men per post to find them. I’m no fan of libertarianism – I’ve had plenty of arguments with libertarians and conservatives, all too often in work situations – but if I were a lurker with no entrenched position, I’d sure as hell wouldn’t be persuaded by the rhetoric and arguments that RB uses frequently.

    For just one thing, RB says in an early comment:

    (Also, are the Cato asshats the only ones pointing out the Heritage Foundation’s dishonesty? Of course not — liberals have been doing it for DECADES. It’s only news when Republitarians do it.)

    Which misses the point: Ed was explicitly drawing a contrast between the two organizations to fight a common notion that the two are identical right-wing think-tanks with the same ideological positions.

    And no, it’s not news when liberals point out flaws of conservative groups; that’s exactly what you would expect, ideologically speaking. A right-wing think-tank taking on another right-wing is surprising for similar reasons.

    The whole thing is made worse by the fact that RB immediately goes into another critique without giving Cato any real credit for being right on this issue. There can’t be any credit given to libertarians, because we know they’re wrong, wrong, wrong! Four legs good! Two legs bad! (Et cetera, et cetera.)

    And it’s not just a critique; it’s an awful and – I daresay – illiberal argument about Cato on defense in which he defends the Heritage Foundation. I mean, seriously, opposing defense cuts? I don’t consider myself that much of a liberal (maybe a somewhat left-leaning centrist), but that amazes me.

    …and now I have officially wasted a whole lot more words on the issue than I wanted to.

  40. Michael Heath says

    Raging Bee:

    (Also, are the Cato asshats the only ones pointing out the Heritage Foundation’s dishonesty? Of course not — liberals have been doing it for DECADES. It’s only news when Republitarians do it.)

    Christian Cynic:

    Which misses the point: Ed was explicitly drawing a contrast between the two organizations to fight a common notion that the two are identical right-wing think-tanks with the same ideological positions.

    You illustrate my previous point. I didn’t argue Ed was wrong, only that Ed ignores what Raging Bee smartly raises, which is the fact that libertarian institutions are politically aligned with conservatives.

    Ed is right on the abstract, but Raging Bee is also right on the reality of how this all plays out, which has a far bigger impact on all of us than the abstract positions Cato takes which don’t toe the conservative/Republican party-line. I think Ed needs to be more considerate of Raging Bee’s point to flesh-out his position to one that is more sufficiently framed. From this perspective I think Ed and James Hanley’s criticisms of Raging Bee were too easily dismissive.

  41. Ichthyic says

    while not an official position of Cato, I noted that one member of Cato, who used to be an Editor of Ars Technica, pretty much wrote exactly what I had been thinking about SOPA and PIPA, so at least they have people working for the Cato thinktank that can, uh, think.

    read what he said for yourself; it’s just an opinion piece, but he seems to have hit the nail on the head AFAICT:

    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/18/whats-the-best-way-to-protect-against-online-piracy/the-content-industry-should-focus-on-innovation-instead

  42. walton says

    Michael: I half-agree. I once identified as a libertarian – being generally suspicious of state power and supportive of individual freedom – but no longer use the term of mysel, for precisely this reason.

    The trouble is that mainstream libertarianism, like most mainstream political movements, has ended up serving the interests of its primary backers. And since it’s a movement that consists (probably inevitably) mainly of middle-to-upper-class white people and business interests, it tends, in practice, to focus on opposing those forms of state coercion that affect the economic interests of that group. Mainstream, corporate-backed libertarians tend to get up in arms about excessive taxes or excessive regulation of business, for instance; whereas you see most of them (with a few honourable exceptions, like Radley Balko) talking far less about instances of state coercion that primarily affect the poor and marginalized, like immigration detention or the prison-industrial complex. (Which is not surprising; rich people and corporations have money, connections and a loud voice in the political process, whereas undocumented immigrants and unjustly-detained prisoners generally don’t.) Similarly, all too many libertarians seem to be perfectly content with state coercion when it’s used in defence of established power and privilege (like, for instance, police brutality against OWS protestors).

    More broadly, on a philosophical level, I’d critique the libertarian idea of property rights as “natural rights”, and consequently the libertarian conception of what a “free market” means. The trouble is that the typical libertarian analysis largely disregards the role that state coercion has played, and continues to play, in creating modern-day capitalism, and the degree to which the rich benefit from state coercion that protects their interests. After all, private property rights themselves are created by states and enforced by the use or threat of state violence; corporations are ultimately creatures of the state; and organized state violence has played a huge role in shaping the modern-day global economy, from the colonial era to the present day. (On this, see Robert Hale’s essay, “Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State, written way back in 1923 as a response to the then-popular notion of “freedom of contract”.) The trouble is that libertarians want to remove those forms of state coercion which benefit the poor, while keeping private ownership of the means of production, and continuing to protect the property rights of the owners of capital through state violence; the effect of this is to protect the already-established power and privilege of the rich, at the expense of the poor. I wrote more about this on my own blog a while ago.

    Of course I’m painting libertarianism with a broad brush here, and there are honourable exceptions. There are libertarians I really respect, like Radley Balko; and there are plenty of issues on which liberals and libertarians can, and should, make common cause. Ending the War on Drugs, for instance, and liberalizing immigration laws and opening the borders, and reducing the bloated security-industrial complex. But I think there are real problems with libertarianism that prevent me calling myself a libertarian.

  43. says

    Ed: He sees the word “libertarian” and seems to lose even a veneer of rationality.

    Raging isn’t PZ writing under a pseudonym is he? :) Actually I’ve noticed this sort behavior from quite a few “liberals”.

  44. Michael Heath says

    Troy Britain writes:

    Raging isn’t PZ writing under a pseudonym is he? :) Actually I’ve noticed this sort behavior from quite a few “liberals”.

    Why the scare quotes around liberal? Are you insinuating that Raging Bee poses as a liberal but isn’t?

  45. says

    Michael: thanx for the good word. Ed seems to forget that I’m never the only one trashing libertarianism, here or elsewhere.

    Troy: I’m no one’s sockpuppet, and AFAIK no one else has used the name Raging Bee anywhere (which is one reason I took it, DUH). If you want to accuse me of being a PZ sockpuppet, we can take bets on how long it takes PZ to stop laughing.

    Actually I’ve noticed this sort behavior from quite a few “liberals”.

    Yeah, we liberals (no “scare” quotes “necessary,” unless of course we “actually” scare you) all have a predictable habit of seeing through libertardian bullshit and calling it out. Staying moored in reality makes us boring that way. And guess what — we’ve been proven right all along. That’s why they hate us so much and have made it their number-one priority to discredit and marginalize us since 1980: when we were central in the public debate, they couldn’t say anything without being laughed off the stage.

    …RB immediately goes into another critique without giving Cato any real credit for being right on this issue.

    I didn’t give them any credit because “this issue” was so minor and peripheral to the overall defense-policy debate as to be meaningless. This little gotcha moment is just a brief diversion from the overall wrongness, stupidity and indifference of libertarian thought on foreign policy.

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