Why is protecting the US so expensive?

For the serious discussion of weighty matters and worldly issues. No off-topic posts allowed.

Moderators: Azrael, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Fri Nov 14, 2008 1:15 am UTC

Locked because I don't know what else to do with it yet. I've had to edit out bitchy responses, name calling and condescension that are the typical precursors of SB knife fights. I've had to delete a handful of single sentence posts that do nothing to further the debate and, thus, don't belong in SB. Same with another pile of wildly off topic ideas and even still, I'm left with a single page discussion flowing inevitably towards ... I'm not sure ... "Let's talk about US Military Strategy, Predictions and Feelings."

I am going to ponder this for a while longer. PMs with helpful and relevant suggestions are always welcome.

-Az


EDIT (12/10): I pondered this so long that someone actually PM'd me with a relevant suggestion. Unlocked.

EDIT THE NEXT (12/17): Grumble.
Last edited by Azrael on Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:18 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Sun Dec 12, 2010 5:04 pm UTC

sorry to resurrect an old thread, but by what standard could someone say the military is "so expensive" or "so cheap" or "just the right price"?

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Mon Dec 13, 2010 8:42 pm UTC

charonme wrote:sorry to resurrect an old thread, but by what standard could someone say the military is "so expensive" or "so cheap" or "just the right price"?

Could you expand a bit? My having-the-internet-do-my-homework sense is tingling.

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Tue Dec 14, 2010 11:51 am UTC

what homework? The OP was 2 years ago :)
Anyway, the OP asked "why does it cost as much" - well, how can he know whether it is "as much" or "as little"? What prompted him to think it should be less?

Sharlos
Posts: 720
Joined: Fri Dec 26, 2008 9:26 am UTC
Location: Straya

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Sharlos » Tue Dec 14, 2010 1:30 pm UTC

charonme wrote:what homework? The OP was 2 years ago :)
Anyway, the OP asked "why does it cost as much" - well, how can he know whether it is "as much" or "as little"? What prompted him to think it should be less?

Probably the part where the US spends more on defence than the rest of the world combined.

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Wed Dec 15, 2010 9:39 am UTC

you could say that there are cheaper alternative ways of reaching the same goals or you could say that they want to attain too much, but how is it possible to make either assertion when most of the things are kept secret. Also, the latter statement just begs the question: how can one know it is "too much"?

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Zamfir » Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:37 pm UTC

charonme wrote:you could say that there are cheaper alternative ways of reaching the same goals or you could say that they want to attain too much, but how is it possible to make either assertion when most of the things are kept secret. Also, the latter statement just begs the question: how can one know it is "too much"?

Surely the burden of proof falls on those who want to spend the money?

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:26 pm UTC

If you put it that way, of course. My personal opinion is that any nonzero amount is too much :)

But the discussion from 2 years ago went ahead as if it was obvious that it is too much without ever discussing what the optimum amount is supposed to be and according to what criteria

Dark567
First one to notify the boards of Rick and Morty Season 3
Posts: 3686
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:12 pm UTC
Location: Everywhere(in the US, I don't venture outside it too often, unfortunately)

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Dark567 » Wed Dec 15, 2010 5:50 pm UTC

Sharlos wrote:
charonme wrote:what homework? The OP was 2 years ago :)
Anyway, the OP asked "why does it cost as much" - well, how can he know whether it is "as much" or "as little"? What prompted him to think it should be less?

Probably the part where the US spends more on defence than the rest of the world combined.
Yes, but as a fraction of GDP its only slightly higher than typical spending for a country. The US is just much richer than the rest of the world, which means it both has more money to spend, and has more at stake hinging on its military. For the record, the US accounts for 43% of world military spending, so it isn't really as much as the rest of the world combined(although it still is a very sizable chunk of it).
I apologize, 90% of the time I write on the Fora I am intoxicated.


Yakk wrote:The question the thought experiment I posted is aimed at answering: When falling in a black hole, do you see the entire universe's future history train-car into your ass, or not?

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:55 pm UTC

Considering how complex the equation is, the only way to judge what military spending "should" be is to benchmark and then apply scaling or weighting factors. Unfortunately those factors are subjective, rather than objective. First off: Zero is not a benchmark. It's not realistic whatsoever, which should be plainly obvious to anyone entering this exercise with reasonable expectations.

Let's use %GDP as a basis of comparison, and this chart as a convenient aid. (The table here can be sorted by % GDP too.) The US is currently at 4.3%.

So, what is a reasonable way to benchmark? By geographic area or to similarly developed economic areas? In comparison to the rest of the western hemisphere (save Colombia with their drug issues), spending is perhaps 1 to 2.5% of GDP. Then let's compare to Europe, which runs around 2-3%. Russia clocks in at 3.5%, but that's a dangerous comparison, with the whole Cold War Arms race feedback cycle having pushed both country's numbers up artificially. So saying we could drop to around 3% is not unreasonable based only on a peer-comparison.

Although, it is a widely accepted position that the US carries some burden that benefits the stability of countries that aren't the US. From that it's not unreasonable to ask: If US spending went down, would the spending of those under the umbrella have to go up? Without the US at 4.3% would the 2-3% peers in Europe have to assume some fraction of an increase? Is there a balance? Stealing US and EU GDPs from Wikipedia (they are surprisingly close, within 13% of each other) and assuming 2.5% spending for the EU as a whole, the balance point would be roughly 3.3% each to maintain the same overall spending. So there's a good position: US drops to 3.3%, the EU (assumption: EU has similar goals) picks up their 'share'. (A similar balance could be done to include Canada, Mexico, S. Korea, Japan etc.)

However, would generic stability increase if the US stopped spending? If faced with a burden-sharing situation, would the EU really support maintaining the overall spending levels? I'm really not sure of a good way to model the former or predict the latter. But, I would be comfortable saying that it would be fairly reasonable for the US to instead be spending in the 3-3.5% of GDP range.

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:13 am UTC

Zero can be a correct benchmark if you consider how the military is financed. This is also the root of the problem of determining the "optimal cost":

The usual way of determining the "optimum price" for something is to look at the price signaling on the market. If all of my neighbors and friends get the same bread for X (+-Y%) per weight unit and I get the same kind and quantity of bread in the same area for say 3*X, something tells me I spend too much.

The problem of most state militaries is that they don't emerge as a service from a market, they are something entirely different. That means they are not subject to the market price signaling. So those who don't consider the "zero benchmark" don't have any other means of determining whether any cost is "high" or "low". I would even say that judging the level of the costs is meaningless. As you hinted, comparisons with other states or GDPs or anything else are purely arbitrary and don't yield a relevant answer to the original question.

User avatar
Zamfir
I built a novelty castle, the irony was lost on some.
Posts: 7604
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2008 2:43 pm UTC
Location: Nederland

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Zamfir » Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:32 am UTC

charonme wrote:Zero can be a correct benchmark if you consider how the military is financed. [...] The problem of most state militaries is that they don't emerge as a service from a market, they are something entirely different.


But that is a problem with any publicly provided good, and no reason to think zero is the right answer. It just means you cannot use market mechanisms to allocate resources. That happens a lot anyway. Resources within firms for example are not allocated by market mechanisms either.

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:36 pm UTC

If one wishes to reduce this to a purely economic trade study, feel free. That exercise, however, is not useful in answering your question regarding what metrics should be used to judge military spending, because zero is (again, clearly) not a correct or viable data point. It is plainly obvious that zero military spending is not achievable, as shown by a comparison to any peer across any similar characteristic. Even if this were a purely market-driven expenditure, no one can reasonably suggest that your bread should cost nothing. Doubly so when no one else is finding bread at no cost either.

The best you're going to be able to do is a services rendered comparison to peers. That won't answer if everyone is spending too much or too little until it becomes [$] per [service rendered] per [unit security], combined in which every way one wishes provided that it is applied equally. That [unit security] will correct for the current security umbrella, but is going to be a rather tricky metric to develop, probably much worse than services rendered*.

* Which could reasonably be a [normalized within each country] sum of active service members, ships, aircraft, armor.

Contrary to your conclusion from my analysis earlier, there is a very good comparison to be found in the EU, especially since the GDP, quality of life and general security levels are quite similar.

User avatar
Yakk
Poster with most posts but no title.
Posts: 11129
Joined: Sat Jan 27, 2007 7:27 pm UTC
Location: E pur si muove

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Thu Dec 16, 2010 4:43 pm UTC

If you are looking for an example, Costa Rica has a nominal zero military spending.

It is rare, but not unheard of. (And yes, the USA is not that much like Costa Rica).
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

Last edited by JHVH on Fri Oct 23, 4004 BCE 6:17 pm, edited 6 times in total.

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Fri Dec 17, 2010 7:38 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:It just means you cannot use market mechanisms to allocate resources.
No, it doesn't mean you can't. It means you don't.
Zamfir wrote:Resources within firms for example are not allocated by market mechanisms either.
this is off topic, but I disagree. Resources within firms are indeed allocated by market mechanism, namely the owner decides it (or legitimately delegates the decisions).
Azrael wrote:if this were a purely market-driven expenditure, no one can reasonably suggest that your bread should cost nothing
This is irrelevant. No one suggests zero benchmark for services on a market.
Azrael wrote:there is a very good comparison to be found in the EU
I don't contest that you get a nice graph or that you can find some interesting correlations from that comparison, but it still doesn't help one to decide whether the military of some country is "too expensive" or "too cheap".

Again, I'm not saying the spending "should be zero", I'm just pointing out that the expressions "too expensive" and "too cheap" don't have a meaning outside the market price signaling. You may redefine them (and cause more confusion in economic terms :) ) or you may say "this country spends more per X (capita, GDP, area, border length etc) than that other country".

You could also say that a country "should" spend exactly as much as its government decides. In that case "too expensive" would mean that they spent more than they decided, whatever that may mean :)

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:14 pm UTC

charonme wrote:... I'm just pointing out that the expressions "too expensive" and "too cheap" don't have a meaning outside the market price signaling.

... but those are your own terms, from your own question. From here it looks like you asked to unlock an old thread so you could pose a rhetorical question, ignore the well intentioned answers and then complain that your question can't actually be answered.

Poor form.

... or you may say "this country spends more per X (capita, GDP, area, border length etc) than that other country.
Indeed I may, as I have demonstrated on this page. And for that matter, that's exactly what the OP actually asked:

Calorus, in the first post of the thread wrote:... why does it cost as much to defend a country ... as for the entire rest of the world, including Western Europe to defend theirs?

charonme
Posts: 141
Joined: Sun May 18, 2008 11:18 am UTC

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby charonme » Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:08 pm UTC

touche

I was blindly looking at the thread topic alone

User avatar
Azrael
CATS. CATS ARE NICE.
Posts: 6491
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:16 am UTC
Location: Boston

Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:14 pm UTC

Relocked with excessive prejudice.


Return to “Serious Business”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Majestic-12 [Bot] and 8 guests