Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life on Charon

Just watched the tail-end of Fareed Zhakaria’s interview with Donald Rumsfeld. Pretty astonishing. The two takeaways on Rumsfeld’s views:

1) The US is not spending enough on defense. We can spend a lot more, as evidenced by the fact that at one point in our history we were devoting 10% of GDP to defense spending.

2) Rumsfeld’s one regret is that post-9/11 we weren’t vocal enough about the treat of radical Islamic extremism.

The first claim is astonishing enough: sure US military spending as a % of GDP is lower than it was at the height of the Korean and Vietnam wars. But to point to those years as sustainable limits is absolutely absurd. Furthermore, while military spending as a % of GDP may have been higher then, it is also true that in real, inflation-adjusted adjusted dollars, we are spending much more than we were even at the height of the Vietnam war (graph and source). Finally, in recent decades, Federal receipts as a % of GDP have run about 18% of GDP source. So a 10% upper limit means spending up to 55% or so of Federal revenues on defense!

The second claim is just a joke. The notion that over the past 10 years the American people haven’t been subjected to a steady enough barrage of hysterical Phillipics warning us of the threat of “radical Islamic extremism” can only be held by: (1) an idiot (2) a liar (3) a full-time resident of Pluto’s moon Charon. Which one is Rumsfeld? I'm going to be charitable here and suggest that maybe the guy was abducted by aliens sometime after he resigned as Secretary of Defense.

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