Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Maybe It's Time Florida Got Off the "Defense" Teat

Florida governor Rick Scott complains that the upcoming* federal budget "sequestration" would hurt Florida because:

Florida is one of America’s most defense centric states. Florida hosts three unified combatant commands, 20 major Air Force and Navy installations, and very large segments of the nation’s defense industry which annually contributes over $73.4 billion and more than 754,000 defense industry jobs to the economy.

This is precisely the wrong way -- 180 degrees ass-backwards -- to look at "defense" spending.

For the sake of argument, let me temporarily (very temporarily, and purely for the sake of argument -- I'm an anarchist) stipulate to the claim that "national defense" as written is a "legitimate government activity."

If that's the case -- if "defense" spending is "necessary" -- let's treat it as what it is: Overhead. A cost, not a "contribution." That money isn't appearing out of thin air. It's coming out of the pockets of the very Floridians whose interests Scott claims to have at heart. And from that standpoint, any analysis of whether the money should or should not be spent should be conducted solely on the basis of how it affects the government's ability to discharge the explicit duty (the meat), not on how many jobs might land in Florida as a result of it doing so (the gravy).

And if we're going to analyze it from that standpoint, well, we should be demanding far larger cuts than the sequestration provides for. The current US "defense" budget is -- and I consider this estimate very conservative -- at least four to five times the size required under any plausible scheme pertaining to "national defense." At least 75-80% of US "defense" spending  is a dog's breakfast of corporate welfare, congressional pork as district "jobs programs," and the kind of featherbedding that's only to be expected in a bureaucracy that's had seven decades to perfect the practice of lobbying for its own perpetual growth.

The US government spends more on "defense" than the next 20 national governments combined, even though it hasn't faced a credible external military threat in decades that wasn't entirely of its own making (largely due to that over-spending -- the military is so obese that the knotheads in DC can't resist the temptation to throw its weight around in places where it has no business).

The sequestration would temporarily (again, very temporarily -- when these things end, they always end in back pay for furloughed employees, etc.) reduce DoD spending to 2005 levels. I'm sure that all of you remember, as I do, those dark days of eight years ago: Pentagon employees paying for new tanks by putting on bake sales and car washes, pan-handling in Taco Bell parking lots to raise the money for aircraft carriers, etc.

If Rick Scott is serious about improving Florida's economy, he'll ask DC to shut down the military bases, cancel the procurement contracts, and refund the money saved to Florida's taxpayers so that they can spend it on real goods and actually useful services instead of on bureaucrats in Washington and make-work "jobs" for constituents and welfare payments to "defense contractors" in Florida.

* I went with "upcoming" instead of "looming" or "imminent" because the latter two make the thing sound a lot bigger scarier than it actually is.

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