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Archive for May 3rd, 2013

National defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the military should get a blank check to spend unlimited amounts of money.

To make sure taxpayers get the best bang for the buck (no pun intended), there should be a sober assessment of threats to national security and a plan to defend against those threats without adding superfluous expenditures.

That being said, America already accounts for close to 50 percent of world military spending, with another 25 percent of the global total coming from nations that are allied to the United States, so I’m fairly confident that we’re not under-spending on the Pentagon.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t worry that much about the sequester, particularly since military spending actually climbs by about $100 billion over the next 10 years.

But I would like the Defense Department to have some flexibility to reallocate funds so that we spend money on national security rather than boondoggles.

And there are some absurd examples of waste at the Pentagon, including “green” jet fuel that costs 15 times as much as regular fuel. Here are some of the mind-boggling details from the Washington Examiner.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently warned that sequestration would cause “suspension of important activities, curtailed training, and could result in furloughs of civilian personnel” but the spending cuts haven’t killed the green fuels program, as the Pentagon has continued purchasing renewable fuel at $59 per gallon. “In March, Gevo entered into a contract with the Defense Logistics Agency to supply the U.S. Army with 3,650 gallons of renewable jet fuel to be delivered by the second quarter of 2013,” Gevo announced this week in its first quarter financial report. “This initial order may be increased by 12,500 gallons.

This is even worse than the bizarre $600,000 frog statue than the Defense Department selected to adorn a new $700 million office building.

Military Frog SculptureI realize that the $700 million office building should be the bigger issue, but I can’t help but be irked by the thought that taxpayers are being raped and pillaged for the frog.

In any event, the $700 million for the office building is pocket change compared to the amount of money we misallocate to subsidize Western Europe to protect against a Warsaw Pact military alliance that no longer exists!

Yes, it’s true that America’s main fiscal problem is entitlement spending. And, yes, domestic discretionary spending is a bigger problem than the defense budget.

But wasting money in those areas is not a reason to also have waste at the Pentagon.

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Paul Krugman recently tried to declare victory for Keynesian economics over so-called austerity, but all he really accomplished was to show that tax-financed government spending is bad for prosperity.

More specifically, he presented a decent case against the European-IMF version of “austerity,” which has produced big tax increases.

But what happens if nations adopt the libertarian approach, which means “austerity” is imposed on the government, rather than on taxpayers?

In the past, Krugman’s also has tried to argue that European nations have erred by cutting spending, but this has led to some embarrassing mistakes.

Now we have some additional evidence about the absence of spending austerity in Europe. A leading public finance economist from Ireland, Constantin Gurdgiev, reviewed the IMF data and had a hard time finding any spending cuts.

…in celebration of that great [May 1] socialist holiday, “In Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand jobs and an end to years of belt-tightening”. Except, no one really asked them what did the mean by ‘belt-tightening’. …let’s check out expenditure side of Europe’s ‘savage austerity’ story… The picture hardly shows much of any ‘savage cuts’ anywhere in sight.

As seen in his chart, Constantin compared government spending burdens in 2012 to the average for the pre-recession period, thus allowing an accurate assessment of what’s happened to the size of the public sector over a multi-year period.

Austerity in Europe

Here are some of his conclusions from reviewing the data.

Of the three countries that experienced reductions in Government spending as % of GDP compared to the pre-crisis period, Germany posted a decline of 1.26 percentage points (from 46.261% of GDP average for 2003-2007 period to 45.005% for 2012), Malta posted a reduction of just 0.349 ppt and Sweden posted a reduction of 1.37 ppt.

No peripheral country – where protests are the loudest – or France et al have posted a reduction. In France, Government spending rose 3.44 ppt on pre-crisis level as % of GDP, in Greece by 4.76 ppt, in Ireland by 7.74 ppt, in Italy by 2.773 ppt, in Portugal by 0.562 ppt, and in Spain by 8.0 ppt.

Average Government spending in the sample in the pre-crisis period run at 44.36% of GDP and in 2012 this number was 48.05% of GDP. In other words: it went up, not down.

…All in, there is no ‘savage austerity’ in spending levels or as % of GDP.

I’ll add a few additional observations.

Sweden and Germany are among the three nations that have reduced the burden of government spending as a share of GDP, and both of those nations are doing better than their European neighbors.

Switzerland isn’t an EU nation, so it’s not included in Constantin’s chart, but government spending as a share of economic output also has been reduced in that nation over the same period, and the Swiss economy also is doing comparatively well.

The moral of the story is that reducing the burden of government spending is the right recipe for sustainable and strong growth. Growth also is far more likely if lawmakers refrain from class-warfare tax policy and instead seek to collect revenue in ways that minimize the damage to prosperity.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening in Europe…and it’s not happening in the United States.

A few countries are moving in the right direction, such as Canada, but with still a long way to travel.

The best role models are still Hong Kong and Singapore, and it’s no coincidence that those two jurisdictions regularly dominate the top two spots in the Economic Freedom of the World rankings.

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