We Need to Demand a Less Bloated Budget

When Pigs Sprout Wings: Mangled Rationales for a Fatter Defense Budget

The Pentagon’s budget is now bigger than at any point since World War II as measured in constant 2008 dollars.

Nonetheless, some want more stuffing. They want the money not for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but for the so-called baseline, non-war budget.

Some adopt arguments that destroy their own case. Examining them explains how the Pentagon fails to give us a war-winning, combat–ready military. James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued Feb. 21 in the Washington Times, “In Defense of Defense Spending,” that “Comparing the cost of today’s military to what America spent to equip and deploy GIs against the Nazis is like comparing today’s home entertainment center – plasma-screen, surround-sound HDTV with PlayStation 3 and Wii – to Harry Truman’s Philco Radio. Sure, today’s system costs a lot more. But look what you’re getting.” A typical example is the F-22 fighter. It may cost more, but it is also a superb fighter, the argument goes.

According to Wikipedia, Harry Truman’s Philco radio console “ran into the $500-$800 range.” Today, at Circuit City, a top-of-the-line HDTV runs about $3,800; a good surround-sound, about $1,800. The PlayStation 3 and Wii are $400 and $250 respectively.

Add a DVD player and a year of broadband TV service for $200 and $600, respectively.

That makes $7,050 for the “lot more” cost of the superb, modern home theater compared with Harry Truman’s dowdy Philco console.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to compensate for the change in the value of the dollar from 1945 to today, the 1945 price should be multiplied by 11.9. That “$500-$800 range” for Harry Truman’s Philco calculates to $6,000-$9,500 today.

In other words, if we adjust for inflation, weapons today should cost – very roughly – what they cost in 1945, at most 30 percent more. Of course, the advance in technology should bring a vast im-provement in performance.

Now, let’s run the price comparison for fighter aircraft. The newest thing in 1945 was the Lockheed P-80 jet, the most expensive fighter Harry Truman could buy. In 1945, the P-80 cost $110,000. Using the OMB index to convert the dollars, we get $1,309,000.

Today’s F-22 is a little pricier.

The 184 F-22s the Air Force is now buying will cost $65.3 billion in contemporary dollars. That’s $355 million per copy. That’s not exactly in the price neighborhood of the inflation-adjusted P-80. In fact, it’s in a whole different universe. It’s a multiple of 273.

Read the rest of it here.

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