Saturday, February 27, 2016

Beating swords into plowshares: If you could cut the Pentagon's budget, what would you spend it on?

So with the usual amount of depressing news circulating through, I set myself a happier task, which nicely dovetails with this piece by Daily Kos' Meteor Blades on military spending:

How much could I cut the U.S defense budget and what would I spend the proceeds on?

The rules were designed to make this somewhat realistic. I'm not trying to eliminate the Pentagon's budget entirely, unilaterally disarm, or make the Air Force hold a bake sale to buy necessary equipment. The idea here is simply to identify some reasonable spending limits for the American military machine (kind of like the discussions we have for regulatory agencies, health care funding research and infrastructure spending), and then think about what sorts of programs (or tax cuts, or deficit reduction) we could implement with the savings.

Figure 1 shows U.S. military spending as a percentage of national GDP between 1962 and 2015, based on GDP figures from the Bureau of Economic Advisors and spending figures from the White House's Office for Management and Budget. This number represents military expenditures, but doesn't represent veteran services or health care (i.e. funding for activities under the Department for Veterans' Affairs.) Notice how the figure generally steadily declines, though it does ramp up during the Vietnam War, the 1980s Reagan build-up and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The 1990s peace dividend is clearly visible as well, reflecting the end of the Cold War.

In 2015, according to GDP figures, from military spending represented about 3.16 percent of GDP. In a world in which we made decisions that maintained a reasonable military investment, what might defense spending look like? I came up with plausible three candidates.

Scenario 1: We reduce military spending to the lowest level of spending (Fiscal Year 1999) in which we spent about 2.7 percent of GDP on military spending.  This scenario would give us roughly $82 billion (all peace dividends will be rounded down) in funding to allocate elsewhere.

Scenario 2:  We reduce military spending to levels of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), which is about 2.6 percent of GDP, according to the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research in 2014. I thought this seemed reasonable, since the ROK is an advanced industrialized democracy, participates at a reasonably high level in international operations and faces a clear and presents military danger from North Korea, both of which necessitate large investments in the armed forces. Cutting to this level leaves us with a annual peace dividend of about $101 billion.

Scenario 3: We could really give into the hippies and spend only the percentage of our GDP that an average country spends on the military: 2.3 percent of GDP.  This would leave us with a cool $155 billion to spend.

Note that all three of these scenarios would leave use spending at least double any other country in the world in absolute amounts of defense spending.

Head below the fold to see what I came up with to spend my peace dividend under each scenario. Some funding proposals are fairly detailed, but most (e.g. the preschool and parental leave are rough back-of-the-envelope calculations at best) Let me know in the comments what you would do with your surplus.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A crosswalk!

It's about darn time.

I love running along the bayou trail (in fact, I'm about to head that way now.) However, it's considerably less lovely playing live-action Frogger crossing 45 mph five-lane Allen Parkway at Dunlavy St. with no crosswalk, signal or median.

This will increase usage of the Bayou, which is looking a lot more inviting after $58 million in renovations.

Both the renovation and the stop light (and the coming speed reduction on Allen) definitely makes the half-marathon training more pleasant and safer.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

West Virginia about to fall to "Right to Work"

It looks like West Virginia's new Republican majority is about ram through a Right-to-Work (for less) bill.

It's not a surprise, that's what GOP majorities always do with anti-labor legislation. (See Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Michigan, oh, and Michigan again.) Once these bills surface, they rocket through the ledge to stop opposition and minimize the public discomfort their backers have to face.

West Virginia's legislative majority could use a visit
from these nice ladies.
In West Virginia, they're drawing on Orwellian inspiration to call it the "Workplace Freedom Act" Guh. Like all (so-called) Right to Work laws, it would give employees the right to stop paying dues to the labor union that represents them, but forces those unions to continue to represent the workers. The goal is to defund the unions, leaving workers out in the cold.

I've always been of the belief that if workers don't want to work in a union shop, they should quit and find an employer without a union. I mean, that's what management tells employees when they demand healthcare or higher wages or better working conditions, right?

Anyhow, back to West Virginia.

Proponents, backed by the usual third-rate think tanks, push the usual bad arguments about RTW improving West Virginia's economic prospects (because gutting workers' rights always improves things for residents). And anti-labor legislation debates always come with a few gratuitous shots at pro-labor protesters .

It was only a matter of time. I thought the GOP would wait until they elected one of their own as governor,  but the state's weak gubernatorial veto (simple majorities of the legislature can override as long as the legislature is in session) made it too tempting to not get done this year.

Kentucky is likely next up, with Missouri, New Mexico, Montana and Ohio potentially on the chopping block depending on how 2016 elections go.

Yes, I am depressed about this.  I'm doubly so because the battles in West Virginia's coal fields rocketed the United National Mine Workers to prominence. But the group has lost more than 90 percent of its membership in the last half century as coal-mining has died and the remaining operators rely on cheap bankruptcy tricks to undercut the few union minors left.

John Cole over at Balloon Juice has more on this and the other predictable horribleness that results when you let vandals take over your state legislature (like apparently now $100 for a five-year gun permit is an unconstitutional infringement on your right to pack heat).