August 04, 2003

Mercy, Mercy, Lord Jeebus! Mercy!

I must have been very, very bad in a previous life to have been born into a world in which I have to bear the karmic burden of reading Stephen Moore. Here's the latest:

Stephen Moore and Phil Kerpen on GDP on NRO Financial: Here's a proposal: The conventional GDP numbers should be replaced with private-sector GDP. Private-sector GDP would omit government spending from the calculations. This would allow us to measure how much the market-based economy is expanding over time. By excluding government spending, no longer would economists and policy makers automatically assume the Keynesian theory that increasing government spending increases economic output. Let's measure GDP correctly. Activities that add to wealth should be included; expenditures that reduce wealth excluded. Sorry to say that when we calculate economic growth correctly, our performance is still underwhelming. We would make the case that the single most productive thing that Congress could do to revive prosperity and jobs would be to cut government spending by as much as possible. By all means, bring a chain saw. But this advice is exactly the exactly the opposite of what the GDP calculators would tell us to do. The New York Times just published a front-page story arguing that the reduction in state and local government spending this year is having a contractionary effect on the U.S. economy. Here we have the perfect example of how statistics lie, and liars figure.

One hardly knows where to begin. Does one begin with the fact that most of the $2 trillion a year in federal government spending is not included in GDP now? Social Security checks, unemployment insurance, TANF, farm subsidy payments, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera do not appear in GDP. What appears in GDP on the federal side is government purchases of goods and services--a sum of some $700 billion a year, two-thirds military purchases and one-third domestic purchases.

Does one begin on the state and local side with the Orwellian head-spinning concepts that, in Moore's proposed system of national accounts, when a city government runs a zoo it does not add to wealth, but when MarineWorld runs a zoo it does? That when my colleagues children are taught math at the (private) Bentley School it adds to wealth, but that when my children are taught math at the (public) Stanley School it does not? That when we pay to have our (private) road resurfaced, that adds to wealth, but that when the City of Lafayette pays to have our public roads resurfaced, it does not? That wealth is increased when we pay for our pool membership so that we can swim but not when we pay for our EBMUD pass so that we can hike?

Do we begin from the fact that the bulk of federal government expenditures that count in GDP come from the military, and with Moore's demand to remove military spending from GDP because:

Wars are a cost not an asset. You fight wars because you have to -- because there are bad people in the world.... Defending U.S. interests militarily is a legitimate and necessary function of government, but it eats up resources and reduces growth... the growth reported this past quarter is a statistical mirage... [that] makes billions of dollars spent on military expenditures look like productive economic activity...

To this there is a very simple answer: It has to do with the word "cost". Two centuries ago there were economists who said that workers' wages shouldn't be in their equivalent of GDP because they were a "cost". The Physiocrats thought that only agricultural output belonged in their "net product" because what craftsmen produced was balanced by the "cost" of feeding them. Everything becomes a "cost" from someone's point of view.

So let's look at benefits instead:

With our consumption spending, we benefit: we buy ourselves full stomachs and dry places to sleep and amused minds. With our investment spending, we benefit: we buy ourselves greater productive power and better options in the future. And with our military spending, we benefit (at least, we hope we do): we buy ourselves (at least, we do if our leadership is competent) peace, freedom, security, not having office towers blown up at 9 AM on a September morning.

These things we buy with our military expenditures are important. Indeed, they are more important, in most cases, than the things we buy with our private consumption spending. Peace, freedom, and security are very valuable indeed. We should value them. It was Adam Smith who said: defense is more important than opulence. He was not a dumb guy.


As is nearly always the case with Moore, it is hard to tell what of his ignorance is genuine and what is feigned. Does he really believe that our military budget is much too large, and that a good way to cut it is to shift to a system of national accounts in which an increase in military spending automatically generates large negative economic output headline numbers? Or does he just have no clue that those components of federal spending that are included in GDP are predominantly military? There is an argument that some government consumption expenditures are "intermediate" goods that should not be counted in GDP, but does Moore really think that part--administration of civil justice, police protection against property crimes, et cetera--stands for the whole? I cannot tell.

Posted by DeLong at August 4, 2003 09:04 AM | TrackBack

Comments

While Michael Moore has been known to afflict us, this particular affliction is, of course, stephen moore.

Posted by: howard on August 4, 2003 09:50 AM

If Moore is addressing an extant problem here, it is the usage of GDP as a proxy for utility. The measure that best does that is the present value of expected consumption per capita, or some such - the argument being that investment is good because it allows future consumption, government spending on military/police/fire/etc. is good because it protects our future consumption and so forth. Redistribution increases consumption short-run because it moves money from saving rich people to spending poor, but it hurts long-term to the extent that it cannibalizes savings, and thus investment. Government spending is only good if it is protecting future consumption - it isn't utility-creating on its own. Maybe we should "net" consumption by subtracting off crime and uninsured disaster losses. Anyway, this is a more complete solution to Moore's problem than just subtracting off government spending.

Posted by: rvman on August 4, 2003 09:55 AM

"The New York Times just published a front-page story arguing that the reduction in state and local government spending this year is having a contractionary effect on the U.S. economy. Here we have the perfect example of how statistics lie, and liars figure."

Got it! Cut spending on public education or public safety or public health or public recreation and GDP "increases." Raise public spending for any and all reasons and GDP declines.

Wow. Do away with public health and schooling and we'll have a boom of booms. Go, go, go....

Posted by: anne on August 4, 2003 10:13 AM

Please, please, will someone help get me on the staff of Cato and Heritage Foundations, Economic Board of Advisors for Time Magazine, national Review, Senior Economist Joint Economic Committee, National Economic Commission, spots on every television show known, space in the Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest....

Associated Press - "Stephen Moore has earned the wide respect of economists for his many forays into the entrails of taxation and budgetary matters."

Imagine if Stephan Moore hadn't earned such wide respect of economics.

Posted by: lise on August 4, 2003 10:24 AM

>One hardly knows where to begin. Does one begin with the fact that most of the
>$2 trillion a year in federal government spending is not included in GDP now?
>Social Security ... et cetera do not appear in GDP.

That was *exactly* the right place to begin. As an amateur I read Moore's argument with some sympathy--there is a lot of government spending that intuitively seems questionable to include in GDP. Then, lo and behold, it turns out that (at least by-and-large) those things are excluded. I'm sure there are lots of details I still don't understand, but reading DeLong I now understand the basic reason why Moore is mistaken.

Thanks again for an understandable explanation.

Posted by: Tom on August 4, 2003 10:46 AM

"As is nearly always the case with Moore, it is hard to tell what of his ignorance is genuine and what is feigned."

With the National Review and rightee right travelers all is ignorance and feigned, for one must believe in what is to be feigned.

Posted by: jd on August 4, 2003 11:08 AM

"By excluding government spending, no longer would economists and policy makers automatically assume the Keynesian theory that increasing government spending increases economic output."

Government spending does not and can not and will not increase economic output. It only seems that way. Keynes was wrong. Moore is right. The earth really is flat in my kitchen.

Posted by: jd on August 4, 2003 11:13 AM

This sport of arguing for a definition of GDP that fit one's own ideal world is a popular one. Moore's call for a government-free GDP seems very like the arguments that housework, resource use, environmental degradation and such like should be included in GDP. The starting point in these arugments is, I think, a misunderstanding (sometimes willfull) of the intent behind constucting a non-politicized, objective measure of the fruits of national economic activity. The idea that economic measures can be put to positive, rather than normative, uses seems to baffle many people. Economics is all about being a expert witness in a partisan battle, isn't it?

The notion that "economists and policy makers" would change their thinking if the stats were compiled differently seems to me likely to be mostly wrong. Fiscal policy makers, as mostly elected officials who respond to headlines, would have a headline that looks different than the GDP headlines published now, and would treat them as magic numbers. However, that wouldn't change the jobs data, so even making numbers fit Moore's dream world better wouldn't shield his dream world completely from reality. Monetary policy makers, who have a pretty good grasp on what the numbers mean in their present form and probably have a good grasp of what private sector trends look like, wouldn't be buffaloed by a change in how the data are compiled, and neither would their cousins, those "economists" Moore has in mind. He is confusing his own normative uses of economic data with the positive uses for which these data were constructed. Just like the housework and resource use folks. Difference is, he seems to claim that he is advocating "efficiency", a positive term, rather than making a normative statement like "housework/resources/environmental quality ought to be recognized..., when in fact, he is making just such a normative claim.

Posted by: K Harris on August 4, 2003 11:31 AM

This is the same kind of screwball logic that suggests that changing the way unemployment is counted to make the percentage lower will make the unemployed feel better and more likely to vote for the incumbent.

Two phrases of the last paragraph sum it up quite nicely:
"does he just have no clue..."? and "does Moore really think..."?

Just leave it at that.

At least this is only written for the dittoheads that read National Review. Imagine the impact of Moore's testimony before Congress.

http://www.cato.org/testimony/ct-sm03182003.html

Isn't lying to Congress supposed to be criminal?

Posted by: bakho on August 4, 2003 11:59 AM

"The New York Times just published a front-page story arguing that the reduction in state and local government spending this year is having a contractionary effect on the U.S. economy. Here we have the perfect example of how statistics lie, and liars figure."

Because, of course, government spending consists of burning big piles of cash while praying to Stalin, rather than purchasing products and employing people, who then go out and spend their wages keeping the economy afloat.

Seriously, though, these guys would be better off sticking with telling people "Taxes are morally wrong, and you deserve the shit job you got because your parents were poor and couldn't pay for college because they had a shit job." Whatever your ideological persuasion is, it's just ludicrous to suggest that only corporate managers are capable of dictating growth-inducing expenditures.

Posted by: Anonymous on August 4, 2003 12:21 PM

This seems a mirror-image of the argument from the left you heard a lot in the 90s about subtracting undesirable stuff from the GDP. This view was well summarized in the Oct 1995 Atlantic in an article entitled, "If the GDP is Up, Why Is America Down?"

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/ecbig/gdp.htm

But as the Economist pointed out in reference to this article, they subtracted so much stuff out of the GDP, that by their reckoning, the government's take in taxes was over 100% of GDP!

Posted by: Curt Wilson on August 4, 2003 12:21 PM

Of course, if Moore's idea was in effect right now, that much-ballyhooed 2.4% jump in GDP last month would have come in at around .9% (the bulk was of the increase was from -- surprise!! -- defense spending)

Posted by: GR on August 4, 2003 12:26 PM

Notice what the intent of the article is. The National Review shills for a disdain for American government; well not for the national defense, though they would privatize as much as possible of defense. The idea is that private companies will pave your streets if you can pay to have them paved, and if you can not pay then walk in the damned mud.

To hell with any social sense that calls for a joint or government effort to build a base on which private enterprise can in turn build; a base which all can share.

This article has a philosophy of greed as the focus.

Posted by: anne on August 4, 2003 12:29 PM

Curt, that article is about trying to replace the GDP in common discourse with a metric more reflective of quality of life, not changing the definition of GDP itself. E.g., "There is an urgent need for new indicators of progress, geared to the economy that actually exists." It's hard to dispute that having a coal power plant next to your house is detrimental.

But this NRO article ("Let's measure GDP correctly. Activities that add to wealth should be included; expenditures that reduce wealth excluded.") suggests redefining GDP itself, and not as a better way of talking about the health of the economy or society, but because the authors allow their ideology to blind them to economic fact.

So, I don't think the parallel is that clear.

Posted by: Anonymous on August 4, 2003 12:42 PM

These folks are smart. Read the article line for line and find distortion after distortion. The reason is a desire to finally set aside the social programs established from Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, programs that built our extensive middle class society. No matter the distortions, the aim is to ridicule and undermine every manner of social benefit. There is no honesty here, no honesty to such radical right advocates.

Posted by: dahl on August 4, 2003 01:17 PM

What is really sad about Stephe Moore's accounting is that it totally misses what might be a couple of legitimate conservative points. For example, suppose a society decides to spend $1 milllion on something and is trying to figure out whether the private sector should do this versus the public sector. If the private sector does it, the benefit/cost ratio is 1.2 in my example, while the benefit/cost ratio is 1.1 if the public sector does this. GDP accounting will miss this inefficiency of letting the public do this but Moore's calculus grossly misstates the real measurement issue.

The other issue goes to a classical macroeconomic issue that most Keynesians agree is true for the long-run. Increasing government purchases will crowd-out either investment or net exports or both. But then so do tax cuts that promote consumption. I guess Moore did not wish to raise this issue clearly as his crowd is currently promoting such tax cuts as something that somehow encourages long-term growth as if this crowding-out effect (aka the law of scarcity) does not exist.

The real problem is that any smart conservative would know the National Review just lied to them. But the National Review lies to its readers all the time. So I guess their subscribers are limited to really stupid conservatives?

Posted by: Hal McClure on August 4, 2003 01:46 PM

Anonymous, I'm afraid I don't see the distinction. Both want to subtract from a prosperity measure (whatever they end up calling it) things that are in the standard GDP measurement that they don't like.

The NRO quote you cite, "Let's measure GDP correctly. Activities that add to wealth should be included; expenditures that reduce wealth excluded," would have fit perfectly in the Atlantic article, if they had not chosen to rename their modified GDP calculations.

Posted by: Curt Wilson on August 4, 2003 02:05 PM

Dr. DeLong writes, "And with our military spending, we benefit (at least, we hope we do): we buy ourselves (at least, we do if our leadership is competent) peace, freedom, security, not having office towers blown up at 9 AM on a September morning."

Instead of looking at what we *hope* we buy ourselves, shouldn't we look at what we *actually* buy ourselves? Here are some major military engagements since WWII:

1) Korea

2) Vietnam

3) Panama

4) Gulf War I

5) Kosovo

6) Gulf War II

Can anyone make a convincing argument that any of those military adventures *actually* bought us "peace," "freedom," or "security (not having office towers blown up at 9 AM)"?

(Note: I chose these 6 military adventures deliberately, because 3 were initiated by Democratic presidents, and 3 were initiated by Republican presidents. So it would be hard to argue that they were all initiated by "incompetent leadership.")

Again, who can make a convincing argument that any of those 6 military adventures accomplished any of the 3 goals ("peace, freedom, security")?

Since I doubt anyone could defend even a majority of the 6 as accomplishing those three goals, it makes some sense, from an *actual* standpoint, to *not* include military expenditures in the calculation of GDP.

Dr. DeLong continues, "These things we buy with our military expenditures are important. Indeed, they are more important, in most cases, than the things we buy with our private consumption spending. Peace, freedom, and security are very valuable indeed. We should value them. It was Adam Smith who said: defense is more important than opulence. He was not a dumb guy."

Yes, but I doubt Adam Smith would judge most, or even any, of those 6 military adventures I listed above as being necessary for peace, freedom, or security of the people of the U.S.

"Does he really believe that our military budget is much too large,..."

How can anyone who looks at what our military budget is spent on, and who looks at our military budget compared to any conceivable "enemies," NOT think that our miltary budget is too large?

Who could make the argument, if the U.S. were to cut its military spending in half (to approximatly $200 billion per year) that any country or group of countries would conceivably attack the U.S.?

Why do we have forces in Europe? Why do we have forces in South Korea? Between Gulf Wars I and II, why did we have forces in the Middle East...especially in Saudi Arabia? After all, our forces in Saudi Arabia between GW I and GWII were a significant reason for "office towers being blown up at 9 AM on a September morning."

If one looks at what our military spending *actually* buys us, (as opposed to what we *hope* it would buy us, I think it makes sense to not include military expenditures in the GDP.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 4, 2003 02:14 PM

"The National Review shills for a disdain for American government;..."

"Shills?" Who exactly are they "shilling" for?

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 4, 2003 02:24 PM

Does anyone here know the difference between coercively financed activity and privately financed activity?

By necessity the value of government spending is overestimated. Otherwise it wouldn't be financed by threat of violence.

Posted by: Jim on August 4, 2003 02:33 PM

"The NRO quote you cite, 'Let's measure GDP correctly. Activities that add to wealth should be included; expenditures that reduce wealth excluded,' would have fit perfectly in the Atlantic article, if they had not chosen to rename their modified GDP calculations."

Yes, both are attempts (one from the left, and one from the right) to adjust GDP to eliminate portions of the GDP that are "negative" while keeping those which are "positive."

Neither seems to be inherently an incorrect thing to do. The GDP is just a number.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 4, 2003 02:49 PM

Mark

Had Stephen Moore proposed to deduct government 'pork' (whatever that means), I would see your point. Moore does not make that distinction. Go back and read DeLong's list and note that much of what he discusses are things we do value but alternatively choose to have been done by the private sector versus by the public sector. Perhaps the public sector does things less efficiently (though that can be debated on a case by case basis). And perhaps the spending on the Vietnam War was just plain wasteless and destructive but would you argue we did not need to defend against Hitler? I think it is a huge burden on GDP accountants to do so. Now maybe Mr. Moore wants to do so - but he does not even try. He just wants to exclude all government purchases regardless. And then he is foolish enough to count expenditures that are transfer payments to households who choose where they wish to consume. Should we exclude that consumption too? If so, on what criteria. The problem with Mr. Moore is he offers NO criteria.

Posted by: Hal McClure on August 4, 2003 03:49 PM

> in Moore's proposed system of national accounts,
> when a city government runs a zoo it does not add
> to wealth, but when MarineWorld runs a zoo it does?
> That when my colleagues children are taught
> math at the (private) Bentley School it adds to wealth,
> but that when my children are taught math at the
> (public) Stanley School it does not?

And that when my housekeeper cleans up after me and cooks me dinner, it adds to wealth, but when my wife does it for me it does not?

Oh wait, that's the existing system.

Posted by: Kieran Healy on August 4, 2003 05:37 PM

As I understand it GDP is an accounting of transactions, not a measure of real wealth in the utility sense. So when two cars collide and need repair, the GDP increases. Similarly, if a man marries his housekeeper, her work is no longer included in the accounting of transactions; it becomes a personal service not part of any economic transaction. I guess Kieran Healy thinks what is wife does for him should be included in the GDP, so he can pay taxes on it. If Kieran fixes the plumbing, changes the oil in the car, or prepares the income tax (all of this is “housework”), the family should get taxed on those activities too. The point of all this is that it is hard to align economic reality with accounting reality.

Posted by: A. Zarkov on August 5, 2003 12:47 AM

Jim,

Your statement – “By necessity the value of government spending is overestimated.” – is at the heart of the problem. “Value” as you use it is in the eye of the beholder. The national accounts, for all their faults, maintain a very consistent definition. Money spent on final goods and services, with a number of adjustments, including inventory and net trade balances, all adjusted for inflation, is the “product” that the national accounts try to measure. Once we try to jigger the national accounts to adjust for things like coercion, quality of life and such, an already difficult prospect becomes impossible.

Policy is made, and should be made, by balancing disparate goods and costs, not by trying to make unlike goals fit within a single data series. We need to argue about the balance between individual freedom and the good of the community, about the right level of taxation and government spending. If we jam everything into one number, then the argument is over once the system for arriving at that number is determined. The intent of creating such a number is to codify “utility”. Then all we have to do is maximize that utility. Except, that codification of utility won’t be right. Jamming all our policy views into a single number would just obscure the debate. The debate would go on, though, and the number would have to change according to who had the upper hand in the debate right now. Soon, GDP wouldn’t mean anything. GDP may need revising, but not in order to load it down with normative baggage.

Kieran,

Zarkov is right. We are measuring what we can measure. Sure, economists and sociologists recognize that "transactions" are taking place within the family. But what should they do about that? Do you want to take time out of your day to log activities you undertake on behalf of other family members, but for which you aren't paid (in a taxable fashion)? GDP has to be measured, and measured objectively. Is it an oddity that marrying the housekeeper lowers GDP? Yes. Does it, as has been claimed by some, ndicate some prejudice against uppaid (historically mostly female) houseworkers? Not proven. It demonstrates that GDP accounting measures only what can be measured, things that happen in public, so to speak.

If it is any comfort (I doubt it will be), there is a certain consistency when firing the housekeeper because a family member has lost a job lowers government revenue. Government revenue varies strongly with measured GDP, not with overall human activity.

Posted by: K Harris on August 5, 2003 05:22 AM

The National Review has been a shill for any and every form of racism, sexism, and policies aimed at disadvantaging or harming America's middle class and poor. What else would be expected of William Buckley and fellow travelers?

Posted by: moen on August 5, 2003 08:52 AM

"Had Stephen Moore proposed to deduct government 'pork' (whatever that means), I would see your point."

I had two points (as I recall) ;-):

1) Most U.S. military spending in the latter half of the 20th century, and continuing into the forseeable future, is not necessary for the "common defence." Therefore it is reasonable, if one wants GDP to measure social "good" rather than simple transactions, to eliminate military spending from GDP calculations.

2) Any type of change to the way GDP is calculated, either of the type that Stephen Moore proposes, or the type anyone else proposes, is reasonable, as long as it is doesn't take some sort of priest to figure out what should be counted, and what shouldn't.

Stephen Moore proposed to eliminate federal spending on the military from GDP calculations. That seems reasonable. He also proposed to go even further, to eliminate all government spending from GDP calculations. That also seems reasonable, as long as it is understandable and repeatable.

One thing I never *did* comment on, is that Brad DeLong writes that most federal spending isn't included in the GDP, anyway. If he's right--and he makes a convincing case that he is--then Stephen Moore's proposal, while "reasonable," probably isn't worth wasting time on. Mr. Moore can keep his OWN accounting of GDP, using ***his*** method, and we'll see whether the information market starts to pay attention to it.

A comparable situation to this is found in the World Resources Institute's "Vital Signs" series of books. They keep track of world and U.S. GDP...but also keep track of a "Genuine Progress Indicator." I personally don't pay much attention to their Genuine Progress Indicator, since I have a hard time agreeing that there has been no "genuine progress" in the U.S. since the 1970s.

Another comparable situation is the U.N. measures a "Human Development Index," that includes not only GDP, but also literacy and lifespan. I do pay a bit more attention to that than I do to the "Genuine Progress Indicator." In part, it's because I understand better how the U.N. Development Index is computed.

"And perhaps the spending on the Vietnam War was just plain wasteless and destructive but would you argue we did not need to defend against Hitler?"

Yes, *I* would argue that the U.S. didn't need to defend against Hitler. But that's me. I would NOT argue that military spending should be counted sometimes, and not counted others, depending on some ruling by a panel of high priests. Given the current situation in the U.S. and around the world, I wouldn't count military spending in the GDP. But it's probably more effort than it's worth to change. Especially since the number is fairly small, related to the total GDP (about 3-4%).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 5, 2003 09:11 AM

That is surely "you."

Good grief!!!

Posted by: arthur on August 5, 2003 09:42 AM

These radical righters are loons, but the defenders are worse. "Good grief!" is less than deserved.

Posted by: Emma on August 5, 2003 10:02 AM

"arthur" writes, "That is surely 'you.' Good grief!!!"

I didn't even know who this was directed at, for several minutes.

My point was NOT that Hitler wasn't evil. He was clearly one of the most evil men of the 20th century.

My point was that Nazi Germany was never a military threat to the United States. Had the United States never gotten involved in the war in Europe, Nazi Germany STILL would have lost the battle of Stalingrad. That battle was effectively the end of Nazi Germany's overwhelming military might:

http://www.thehistorychannel.co.uk/classroom/gcse/staling.htm

After Stalingrad, there was no way that Nazi Germany could have kept the Soviet Union completely at bay, conquered Great Britain, and then posed a military danger to the United States. Especially not with the Atlantic Ocean in the way.

Emma writes, "These radical righters are loons, but the defenders are worse. 'Good grief!' is less than deserved."

I am more truly liberal than you are, Emma my dear. If you were truly liberal, you'd be voting Libertarian.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 5, 2003 02:16 PM

Jim wrote: "Does anyone here know the difference between coercively financed activity and privately financed activity?

By necessity the value of government spending is overestimated. Otherwise it wouldn't be financed by threat of violence."

To which my answer is this.

Does anyone here know the differene between coercive justice and private justice?

By necessity the value of government justice is overestimated, otherwise it wouldn't be enacted by threat of violence.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on August 5, 2003 03:22 PM

I think part of the problem here is that Steve probably doesn't know that there are two different ways of calculating GDP--on the production side and the income side. The production side is official and often diverges from calculations on the income side. Like debits and credits, they are supposed to equal each other, but don't for various reasons. In essence, Steve is taking part of the income concept and transferring it over to the production side. Then he complains that something that isn't there doesn't belong there.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on August 5, 2003 04:29 PM

Bruce,

That's not all Steve doesn't know. Where does this guy's credibility come from? Why does anyone publish his gibberish?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on August 5, 2003 06:17 PM

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it would be a brave man who said in 1941 after Germany declared war on us: not to worry -- Uncle Joe will take them out!

But aren't we all much richer, financially, because Western Europe contained free, happy, productive people since the late 40's, instead of Nazi slaves? That's what we bought, and I think it was well worth the price, although I haven't run the numbers (and did not serve in the war).

And what about Japan? The country that actually attacked us. Did our money buy us anything there?

Since then, I tend to agree with Mark. But I got a kick out of his earlier post that said since presidents of both parties started wars, it's hard to accuse them of incompetence. Best laugh of the day.

Posted by: Amos Newcombe on August 5, 2003 06:31 PM

Yes folks (Kieran in particular), GDP is never intended as a measure of human welfare but rather as a measure of the volume of market transactions (even for that it's partial).

All economists will have been taught that, but some just choose to forget it when convenient.

Posted by: derrida derider on August 6, 2003 02:38 AM

Why does anyone publish his gibberish?

If it is not intended to inform, then it is intended to mislead. There are some would benefit by his misleading. That is why he is published.

It is time to apply the "prisoner's dilemma" to internet content.

Posted by: bakho on August 6, 2003 09:10 AM

"Yes folks (Kieran in particular), GDP is never intended as a measure of human welfare but rather as a measure of the volume of market transactions (even for that it's partial). All economists will have been taught that, but some just choose to forget it when convenient."

It may not be a matter of "forget." Some economists may knowedgeably and honestly think think that GDP calculations should be changed, in such a manner that they DO better reflect "human welfare."

I don't see how one could object to that, unless:

1) The proposed changes make GDP essentially impossible to repeatably calculate, such as by including "military spending ONLY when such spending is necessary and proper for the common defence," or

2) The proposed changes are extensive, but don't really change the final number much (if Dr. DeLong is correct, Stephen Moore's proposed changes don't actually result in much change in the calculated GDP...at least for the U.S.), or

3) Some reason I haven't thought of yet.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 6, 2003 09:24 AM

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it would be a brave man who said in 1941 after Germany declared war on us: not to worry -- Uncle Joe will take them out!"

Well, let's put that declaration of war into a historical timeline:

1) In the Summer of 1941, the U.S. government passed a ban on exporting oil to Japan, and leaned on the Dutch government-in-exile to prohibit the sale of oil from Indonesia to Japan. This had the effect of cutting off the Empire of Japan's oil supply.

2) Japan eventually responded by bombing Pearl Harbor (as well as conquering Indonesia).

3) The U.S. declared war on Japan, which was in an alliance with Germany and Italy.

4) Germany declared war on the U.S.

5) The U.S. declared war on Germany.

6) The U.S. ***prosecuted*** the war more forcefully first on Germany...then after Germany's defeat, on Japan.

So the U.S. could have essentially concentrated first on Japan, then on Germany.

In reality, again just in my opinion, I don't think either Japan or Germany was much of a military threat to the U.S. I just don't think a country could wage a war across an entire ocean in WWII. (The U.S. could do it, because we had bases in Britain in the Atlantic, and Hawaii in the Pacific).

This is obviously all simply speculation. In fact, I looked up the battle of Stalingrad, and found it wasn't quite as devastating a military loss for Germany as I'd thought it was.

"But aren't we all much richer, financially, because Western Europe contained free, happy, productive people since the late 40's, instead of Nazi slaves?"

All of this is really just speculation. Perhaps, if we hadn't been militarily involved in WWII, the Soviet Union would have collapsed...or at least would have been in no shape to maintain control of all of Eastern Europe for almost 50 years. Perhaps, if we hadn't defeated Japan, the communists wouldn't have gained control of China. Or maybe they would have. I personally don't think Britain would have been conquered, even if we hadn't joined them militarily...but maybe they would have.

"And what about Japan? The country that actually attacked us. Did our money buy us anything there?"

Japan was a brutal military empire. After we totally defeated that empire, we turned it into a democratic republic. It's hard for me to imagine that Japan would have become so rich so quickly, if it had remained a military empire. But the Soviet Union was a military empire that seemed to be a world champion...though perhaps mostly due to fraudulent accounting.

Who can say?

But I WILL stick to my original point: I don't think Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Gulf War I, Kosovo, or Gulf War II were necessary for the defense of the U.S. So I think it's legitimate to at least make the claim that the military spending (including human lives lost) on those adventures didn't make the U.S. a better place. Therefore, if one is trying to turn GDP into some calculation that more accurately indicates whether the U.S. is a "good place," the military spending could be left off.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 6, 2003 09:58 AM

Thank you for explaining about WWII. The original post seemed to be meant to offend. I realize that it was not.

Posted by: arthur on August 6, 2003 10:13 AM

Thanks as well. Words are often tricky to get hold of. Still, I do not agree with the line of reason. A pacifist argument could be a little more persuasive.

Posted by: Emma on August 6, 2003 10:26 AM

"6) The U.S. ***prosecuted*** the war more forcefully first on Germany...then after Germany's defeat, on Japan.

So the U.S. could have essentially concentrated first on Japan, then on Germany."

Pearl Harbor maimed the Pacific fleet, so before to be in a force position there the USA had to reconstitute it. And the Pacific is quite wider than the Atlantic. AFAIK most US death in II WW were in the Pacific theater.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on August 6, 2003 10:34 AM

Mark's synopsis of WWII is grossly incorrect especially in terms of prosecuting the war more forcefully first on Germany and then on Japan. DDay did not happen until June 1944, 2 years after war was declared. Ok, so Patton was wandering around N Africa and Italy and the US was bombing Germany, but there were huge battles with Japan long before that. Perhaps the difference is that the battles with Japan took place at sea and on islands and the war in the Pacific gets less press.

Yes the Japanese did some damage at Pearl Harbor and almost 3000 sailors were lost. Several large battleships were lost, but by the start of WWIi, these were old slow dinosaurs that were not effective in WWII battles. This did not "cripple" the US Pacific Fleet. Fortunately, none of the aircraft carriers were present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. Loss of aircraft carriers would have crippled the Pacific Fleet. Had the Japanese destroyed the US carriers, they would have and could have taken Hawaii and the Alaskan islands. The Japanese could have projected enough air power to keep the US at bay and threaten the west coast of the US. That would have made it very difficult for the US to conduct war against the Japanese.

Mark is making the mistake of underestimating the Japanese military strength and the US weakness at the beginning of WWII. Don't forget, the Japanese had defeated Russia, conquered most of China and expanded its empire from the East Indies to the South Pacific. Because Japan demilitarized after WWII, people forget how mighty their military forces were.

The problem for the US was it was outnumbered in carriers and airplanes at the beginning of the war. Most of the war in the Pacific was fought by attacking ships with airplanes. Battleships were only a small factor that were mostly obsolete due to aircraft carriers.

Within 6 months of the attack on Pearl, the US had fought 2 major sea battles against the Japanese, the draw at Coral Sea and the decisive victory at Midway that saw the Japanese loss of 4 aircraft carriers to the loss of only one American carrier. Throughout the rest of the war, the Americans were able to control the air in the Pacific and that neutralized the Japanese fleet. The US did prosecute the war against Japan to its fullest from the beginning. However, the US had to produce more carriers planes and pilots before they could reach Japan itself. At the beginning of WWII, the US was outmanned and outgunned by Japan. It took a crash building program to catch up and eventually surpass the Japanese.

The US was well on the way in its march across the Pacific before US troops landed in France in 1944. 4 Months after DDay, the US destroyed the last remnants of the Japanese navy and had retaken the Philippines.

Prior to WWII, the Japanese had the best navy in the world and were a modern industrial country. Lacking in natural resources, Japan turned toward taking them through imperial conquest. Japan had a skilled and trained workforce but had directed its industry to production of military goods. Japan redirected its post war industry it did not have to invent one.

Posted by: bakho on August 6, 2003 12:04 PM

As for the vulnerability during WWII, the west coast did not have the large population it has today. In 1940, as many people lived in Oklahoma as in Washington and Oregon combined and Texas, Ohio, Illinois Pennsylvania or New York all had larger populations than California and except for Texas those states have much less area.

It was only after WWII that California population boomed.

Posted by: bakho on August 6, 2003 12:20 PM

Wouldn't WWII also have changed dramatically if the nazis had developed the atomic bomb before we got involved?

Posted by: theCoach on August 6, 2003 01:18 PM

The libertarian arguments on foreign policy fall apart for numerous reasons. However, the neocon shock and awe has its own set of limitations. There is a broad range of policy options in between the extremes of isolationism and pre-emption.

Mark does not have a good sense of history. If the US did not have the Japanese code, the outcome of WWII could have been very different.

Posted by: bakho on August 6, 2003 01:49 PM

Arthur writes, "Thank you for explaining about WWII. The original post seemed to be meant to offend. I realize that it was not."

Yes, it certainly wasn't meant to offend. Since I'm a Libertarian, I consider Hitler, without question, to be one of the top handful of monsters of the 20th century. In fact, without thinking too carefully, the only question would be whether Hitler or Stalin was worse.

...Thinking a little more, Pol Pot killed a lot more people with a lot less power at his disposal, so I guess there would be a question there.

In short, there are probably many candidates for #1 monster of the 20th century, but I would certainly count Hitler in the top contenders. My apologies for any offense I may have inadvertently given, in seeming to suggest otherwise.

Emma writes, "Thanks as well. Words are often tricky to get hold of. Still, I do not agree with the line of reason. A pacifist argument could be a little more persuasive."

Well, I'm not a pacifist. (If one takes pacifist to be to the extent of Christ, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King.)

I do strongly support the Libertarian "non-aggression" principle. According to that principle, were I king, or at least FDR (uncomfortably small difference, for a Libertarian ;-)) I definitely would not have pushed for a law forbidding U.S. oil companies from exporting oil to Japan in 1941.

If that hadn't happened, I'm fairly sure Japan wouldn't have attacked the U.S....so the U.S. wouldn't have declared war on Japan, and Germany wouldn't have declared war on the U.S.

So it seems to me the "pacifist argument" (I'm not sure exactly what that would be) produces the same result as the "non-aggression" argument.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on August 6, 2003 03:47 PM

"In short, there are probably many candidates for #1 monster of the 20th century, but I would certainly count Hitler in the top contenders."

This plays to the notion that somehow the crimes of Hitler belonged to him and him alone.

What distinguishes the crimes of Hitler, and in particular the Holocaust, from other crimes of the 20th century was the enormous amount of popular support they attracted.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the Holocaust couldn't have occurred without the enormous collaboration of the occupied countries of Europe.

It was the police forces of France, Belgium, Holland and Norway that rounded up their Jewish citizens. It was the Poles who in their many millions gave help to the Nazis in the obliteration of 3 million Polish Jews (99% of the Jewish citizens living in Poland in 1939). And who can forget the famous Polish expression popular during the war: "When Hitler dies we'll go to spit on his grave. Then we'll return to bring him flowers for helping us get rid of the Jews." It was the Lithuanians who massacred 200,000 Jewish citizens in a few weeks amidst scenes of great celebrations. And on and on and on.

In the countries of Germany and most particularly Austria, according to eyewitnesses like Shirer, there was enormous popular support for the persecution of the Jews. Whatever, Shirer recounts, the Germans and Austrians might have had against the regime - and there was much that angered them - the one thing they were almost all agreed up was the treatment of the Jews. Many of the worst crimes were committed by ordinary German and Austrian soldiers. In Vienna, for instance, following the almost universally popular Anschluss, Jewish citizens were forced to clean the streets of the city as many thousands of non-Jews mocked and abused them. The Jewish citizenry were overnight dispossessed of their property by Austrians whose families to this day live in the stolen houses and apartments of the murdered Jews without a care in the world.

It was the allies - America, Britain, and Canada, Australia - driven on the weight of anti-Semitism in their own coutries (most particularly, from German-Americans and various other ethnic groups who had a very long standing history of Jew hatred) who didn't lift a finger to help the Jews being massacred in Europe. They fought a war in spite of the Jews and not because of them.

After the war, lies one large story of betrayal: Of property stolen from Jews in Western Europe being kept without shame. Of failure to prosecute war criminals and of enabling them to escape justice. Of fifty years of poisonous antipathy towards the state they the Europeans had created by their behavior - Israel.

The crimes of Stalin and Pol Pot were of them and a relatively small number of their supporters. The crimes of Hitler were of him and the hundreds of millions of his fanatical admirers across the world. Hitler merely built on 2,000 years of hatred that had been established and perpetrated with such skill and hard work by the various churches. Hitler and the greatest crime of the 20th century - the deliberate and meticulously planned slaughter of an entire people in which any sign of their culture was eradicated - was just the logical result of that endemic Christian hatred of the Jews; coupled of course with that ruthless efficiency which is such a special hallmark of German and Austrian culture.

Re Mark Bahner's answer to this question:

"But aren't we all much richer, financially, because Western Europe contained free, happy, productive people since the late 40's, instead of Nazi slaves?"

I e-mailed Mark's response to an elderly man, a Jew, who is the sole surviving member of a family of 83 and of a Polish village of many hundreds. "The world will never change. It is every bit as bad as it always was," he replied. Quite.

What makes Mark's true feelings so obvious is that he can defend the war against Japan on the basis that "Japan was a brutal military empire" and yet belittle a similar campaign against Germany and its European allies. Surely, he supports non-aggression, but only selectively when certain groups of people are being massacred.

Doesn't it all put you in mind of all those "good souls" who marched against war in Iraq when in reality they were marching *for* mass-murder? Rather like Mark in fact who is absolutely unconcerned that had there been no war (although this was not its purpose) against Germany, Europe wouldn't have simply been enslaved, for the remainder of the Jews of Europe would have also been murdered together with many millions of Poles and other Slavs, who despite their own vicious anti-Semitism were themselves ultimately marked down for death.

And yes, I do take this very personally, because in the event Mark's fellow travellers in the 30's had got their way I would not be here to write a response to his post.

Yet again I am reminded of the vital importance of Israel to the survival of the Jewish people.


Posted by: Pooh on August 7, 2003 07:44 AM

Mark,

Where does the Rape of Nanking rank in your monstrocities of the 20th Century? Would you have done nothing while the Japanese continued their occupation and war in China?

Between December 1937 and March 1938 at least 369,366 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were slaughtered by the Japanese troops. An estimated 80,000 women and girls were raped; many of them were then mutilated or murdered.

Then there is Korea and the issue of the Japanese Army using captured civilian women including Americans as sex slaves for their army.

Once France was overrun, the Vichy government gave the French colonies in Indochina to the Japanese. This set off protests in Europe and the Dutch East Indies, the largest supplier of oil to Japan cut off oil. The US did join the boycott using oil to try and negotiate Japan out of imperialist expansion and their brutal occupation of China.

Whether or not the US embargoed oil, the Japanese were planning to invade the East Indies and take over colonies from European powers tied down in the war with Germany. It is possible that the US would have not gone to war with Japan when British and the Dutch colonies were attacked. However, the American Philippines bases were a threat to Japan as was Guam. These bases were vulnerable and not easily defended. It is unlikely that the Japanese would have left them for the Americans or their allies. The military controlled the Japanese government and they believed that they could use their military to acquire the resources and territory they desired.

The Japanese had 11 aircraft carriers to 3 for the allies in the Pacific at the start of the war. A preemptive strike that eliminated the American carriers would have left the allies unable to protect their bases including Pearl Harbor. As it was, the Japanese rolled through Indochina, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Guam, etc. Were the Japanese not stretched thin by their occupation of China they would have been even more of a threat.

The peaceful Japan of today bears little resemplence to the militaristic Japan with 100 million people of the 1930s and 40s. Japan had secretly and in violation of treaties built its Navy to a level superior to the combined allied forces in the Pacific. If not challenged, they would have continued on their path of military conquest and dominated the region.

The world can be a dangerous place and other nations don't always play nice, including the US. There are people who are ruthless and brutal and can cause havoc. Yes the world can be ordered by rule of law and agreements among nations, but that cannot exist unless there is some enforcement mechanism and power backing it. Sorry. Utopia would be nice, but the world doesn't work that way.

I believe we spend too much on our military and that this new doctrine of preemption is corrupt and unworkable. However, the US cannot be isolationist when improvements in transportation and communication have created a global economy and global politics.

Posted by: bakho on August 7, 2003 07:59 AM

Pooh, your post demonstrates why most Americans today do not accept the Libertarian position on foreign policy. Mark is an isolationist and argues that the US should not get involved in ANY international dispute no matter how vile. The vast majority of Americans today would agree that the US was correct to fight the Nazis and even cite ending the holocaust as a good reason. However, that is hind sight and the decision to go to war is more complex than simply supporting a noble cause.

The Libertarian stance on foreign policy is full of holes, yet is appealing to many Americans. There is no great swell of support for intervention in Liberia nor was there support for the far worse situation in Rwanda in the mid 90s. Mr. Clinton went to Washington with isolationist leanings but grew into a huge supporter of internationalism and global politics. Mr. Bush ran as an isolationist. No to nation building. No to Kosovo. No to Somalia. No to involvement in Israel Palestinian negotiations. No to most foreign aid. He has been forced to change.

America in 1940 was still very isolationist. FDR wanted to help in the fight against Hitler, but politically did not have the support of Congress. America fought in WWII only because it was attacked. Only after the war started did the brutality of the enemy and the holocaust become an issue. The US went to war with Iraq on the basis of Iraq as imminent threat to the US. Only after the war are arguments about Saddam's brutality used as justification. Kosovo was one of the few situations where the US and NATO went to war with Milosovic specifically to stop ethnic cleansing. Although Europe was horrified by the ethnic cleansing and flood of refugeess streaming out of Kosovo, Mr. Clinton had very tenuous support and was roundly criticized by the GOP leadership in Congress and the conservative press.

On your final comment, I disagree. The state of Israel cannot substitute for the need to continue to build a world where people are more tolerant and committed to diversity and religious freedom. I would argue that having a large majority of the world's population committed to tolerance and pluralism is better protection for any group of people than a small embattled theocracy. Israel only exists today because the US backs it and supports it with dollars and military equipment. The US may not always be top dog in the world. The state of Israel could be very vulnerable if the balance of world power should shift sometime in the future. While we may think of the world as relatively stable, the opposite is true especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East and elsewhere, history is filled with shifts of power that have seen populations, religions and cultures come and go.

Posted by: bakho on August 7, 2003 09:10 AM

Israel exists because it is far far stronger in military terms than any of the surrounding countries who have tried or might wish to try to destroy it. That America supports Israel is quite important, but Israel is a superior power in its own right. Time the Arab world and Iran come to terms with the right of Israel to exist, for exist it will!

America's well being depends and has long depended on significant involvement in the world. To be an isolationist may be respectable, but isolationist policy would be most harmful to us. That does not mean all involement is useful.

Posted by: emma on August 7, 2003 09:49 AM

"While Michael Moore has been known to afflict us, this particular affliction is, of course, stephen moore."

... and besides, the above opinion piece doesn't click very well with Michael Moore's style and ideas. :-)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 7, 2003 02:33 PM

Mark:

In your reply to my comment, you seem to believe that any accounting system that is clear in what it does as far as adding-up and is reproducible is OK. There are a lot of meaningless things that add-up. I'm sorry but your defense of what Moore was suggesting amounts to making accounting a totally meaningless exercise. Now I'm neither a CPA nor a big fan of GAAP accounting but at least accountants TRY to present numbers that have some meaning.

Posted by: Hal McClure on August 7, 2003 04:40 PM

"Jamming all our policy views into a single number would just obscure the debate." K Harris

I wish I believed this point needed to be made to those pushing the idea.

Ah, the Libertarian view of common defense. Better known as the let's wait until the costs are much higher approach to national defense, it requires a myopic view of U.S. interests and a belief that the U.S. would be able to deal with the much bigger threats when they finally reach our shores.

It was not even feasible in a day of sailing ships, but hey what does that matter? Once we stop getting involved in foreign affairs all of our problems will just go away, right?

While only the foolhearty would claim that all of our military interventions of the last half of the 20th Century were necessary, it takes a special individual to ignore the fact that the cold war took place at all. I guess it is simply fantasy to believe that the Soviets would have happily used military force in the absence of a U.S. presence. That the U.S. had to prove that we were willing to aid our allies to make our presence count would not be believable at all.

Posted by: Stan on August 8, 2003 07:30 AM

Having known Phil Kerpen from a while back, I'm not surprised that he would make this argument but I am a bit shocked that it wasn't better thought through.

Posted by: dhn on August 8, 2003 09:34 AM

Antoni Jaume wrote, "AFAIK most US death in II WW were in the Pacific theater." Wrong.

Bakho wrote, "However, the US had to produce more carriers planes and pilots before they could reach Japan itself. At the beginning of WWII, the US was outmanned and outgunned by Japan. It took a crash building program to catch up and eventually surpass the Japanese."

But this is precisely why Mark is *correct*---in the long run, we were bound to crush Japan---they couldn't keep up with us in terms of military production. (If they could, they could have rebuilt the carriers they lost at Midway.)

bakho wrote, 'Mark does not have a good sense of history. If the US did not have the Japanese code, the outcome of WWII could have been very different." I don't believe this for a minute. Certainly the war would have been more difficult for the US, but the US would have prevailed over Japan regardless.

The only thing that could have saved the Axis Powers would have been Germany developing the A-bomb. Otherwise, all you have to do is look at the productive capacity of the two sides to realize that the Axis was doomed.

Mark wrote, "I definitely would not have pushed for a law forbidding U.S. oil companies from exporting oil to Japan in 1941." Right. Actually, the extent of the West's attempt to put an economic stranglehold on Japan is greater than that---e.g. IIRC, Holland stopped exporting oil to Japan from the Dutch East Indies. (Not that I think Japan's expansion into China etc was innocent or anything.)

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 8, 2003 11:44 AM

Stephen-

The US was about as unprepared for war in WWII as possible. Had the US not broken the Japanese code, the US could not have ambushed the Japanese at Midway. If the Japanese had taken Midway, the US base at Hawaii would be untenable. If the US had lost their carriers, trying to block the Midway invasion, then the Japanese would have had military control of the entire Pacific and could have threatened the west coast of the US. Had they succeeded in clearing the Pacific of the US Navy in 1942, Japan could have destroyed the west coast ship yards or forced the US to sue for peace.

People underestimate Japan because Japan denounced militarism and has not been a military power since 1945. However, for the first half of the 20th Century, they were THE military power in Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese had superior equipment, superior airplanes, superior pilots and superior Navy to the US.

Between Pearl Harbor and the end of the war, the Japanese built or converted 18 aircraft carriers. They more than replaced their losses at Midway. The loss of trained pilots was harder for Japan to replace than the aircraft or the carriers. Japanese war productivity was vulnerable to submarine attack because raw materials and energy had to be shipped in by boat. If the US had been pushed out of Midway and then Hawaii, it would not have been able to support the submarine attacks on Japanese shipping that hurt their production. Also, numerous carriers that were lost in operations in the Pacific would have been available. Had the US been pushed out of the Pacific, Japan would have had 9 of the 10 carriers from the start of the war (1 lost at Coral Sea) plus another 18 or 27 carriers. Part of this fleet would have been based in Pearl Harbor and the Aleutians making it difficult for the Americans to regain a foothold. We would have had to start from India or somewhere in South Asia. The logistics would have been very difficult.

While the Americas may have been relatively immune from attack, what would the world have been like if the Germans or Russians had controlled all of Europe and Africa and the Japanese controlled most of Asia and Australia? The US is untouchable militarily because we far outspend the rest of the world. But prior to WWII, that was not the case.

Posted by: bakho on August 8, 2003 01:51 PM

bakho,

You still haven't addressed my point: Japan at the time couldn't compete with the US in economic terms. You have any GDP stats for the era to indicate otherwise?

Here's a GDP stat I found via Google for 1941:
US, $1094 billion
Japan, $196 billion

For some reason google isn't given me the population ratios, but I reckon Japan didn't have *more* population than we did at the time.

Things I just read on google (web and usenet) indicate that we creamed the Japanese, especially in aircraft production.

So I still maintain they were doomed.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 8, 2003 07:25 PM

1940 US population was about 130 million compared to 100 million for Japan. You can make some assumptions based on GDP but Japanese expenditures in the WWII era were directed at the military. The US had a large number of unemployed that could be recruited to support the defense industry.

You have this mindset that the US has always been a super power because we never demilitarized after WWII. We spend more on defense than the next several countries combined. Before WWII, US defense spending was low compared to other countries.

The Soviets lost about 20 MILLION people fighting the Germans including over 13 million soldiers and almost 8 million civilians. The rest of the allies (excluding China) lost about 1 million military. On this basis alone, the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Germany was much greater than the other allies. The Chinese lost about 3.5 million soldiers and another 10 million civilians. Germany lost 3 million soldiers and about 4 million civilians. Japan lost under 2 million soldiers and about a third of a million civilians.

The US had under 300,000 combat deaths. In WWII, the US benefitted because Germany and Japan were engaged in a war of attrition with countries that had large populations (Soviets and China). Both Germany and Japan were fighting wars on two fronts. The US was immune from attacks on its industrial capacity while German capacity was limited by resources and under direct attack while Japanese shipping was under attack.

Today, the US is a seemingly invincible superpower. But we spend 400 Billion per year on defense. No other country wants to spend that much money when they have more pressing needs like health care and education....

Posted by: bakho on August 8, 2003 09:31 PM

bakho:

"1940 US population was about 130 million compared to 100 million for Japan."

OK, so they didn't have more people to draw troops from. Check.

"You can make some assumptions based on GDP but Japanese expenditures in the WWII era were directed at the military."

I'm not making any "assumption". The fact of the matter is that the US had an enormous advantage over Japan in terms of manufacturing capacity. One cite I found via Google claimed that we outproduced the Japanese 3:1 in military aircraft.

"You have this mindset that the US has always been a super power because we never demilitarized after WWII. We spend more on defense than the next several countries combined. Before WWII, US defense spending was low compared to other countries."

I already knew the facts you cite there. But I never thought or claimed here that the US was a *military* superpower at the onset of WWII. But that doesn't mean that the US couldn't rev up a military machine and then crush Japan---which it did.

"On this basis alone, the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Germany was much greater than the other allies."

Correct. Using the metric of "casualties inflicted," the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany was 6:1 (or maybe 8:1, can't recall exactly) over that of the Western allies.

"Today, the US is a seemingly invincible superpower. But we spend 400 Billion per year on defense. No other country wants to spend that much money when they have more pressing needs like health care and education...."

Right. But my point re WWII is that, in the long run, there are exactly 2 factors that a country can control (as opposed to population and geographical situation) that determine its vulnerability:
(1) the strength of its economy;
(2) the strength and determination of its political system.

Factor (2) accounts for the pathetic performance of France at the beginning of WWII. Factor (1) led to the defeat of Japan.

This, in fact, is an argument *against* these idiotic US military expenditures we've been seeing for the past many decades.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 9, 2003 08:00 AM

(3) The openness of its society.

In both totalitarian states, and in the West, there was a break down of mechanisms of the open society during the 1920-1935 period. Information in the UK was hidden from the public, and even from MPs, in order to bolster various government's plans to cut expenditures rather than increase them. Economic figures and military figures were routinely massaged for poltical purposes by Baldwin governments in the UK. Indeed, approximately half of Winston Churchill's memoir on the run up to World War II focuses on this exact point.

Totalitarian states, of course, exhibit more flaggrant violations of the needs of open societies, and these violations lead, inevitably, to millions of deaths and the horrors of war and genocide. But the ground work for the Ukraine Genocide, the atrocities in China, the invasion of Abyssinia and the culminating World War and Holocaust - was laid in years before, when ideological purity corrupted public discourse in nominally Democratic societies such as the Weimar Republic.

Closed societies make bad decisions, because they have an easier time of creating a herd poisoned populace that rushes in one direction at once.

It is a delicate balance - not enough political will, and the intercine warfare destroys the economic and political health of a nation, as problems fester and grow. Too much, and the nation rushes headlong over a cliff. There must be a balance, and that balance is based on time. It must take long enough to make decisions, but not too long.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on August 9, 2003 08:44 AM

Stirling Newberry wrote, "(3) The openness of its society."

I agree. But I'm subsuming that under my (2). As I posted on another thread at this site, the State is stronger in the US than it was in the USSR, for example, if you appropriately define "strength". (In many senses, the State in the USSR was extremely weak---it collapsed.)

"Closed societies make bad decisions". I agree, and in the context of this thread, one could cite Stalin's unwillingness to respond to the initial Nazi thrusts into the Soviet Union.

Though I think the *best* example of the craziness you get from impeded information flow under totalitarian regimes might be Mao's Great Leap Forward...

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on August 9, 2003 07:22 PM
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