May

17

While reading PoliticalCalculations I ran into a good pie chart of just who exactly holds the national debt as of Sep 30, 2010.

(for details click above linked article)

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George Parkanyi writes:

A nice way to fund all the pensions (including military) and social security is boatloads of low interest bearing, depreciating IOU’s that are on an ass-wipe trajectory…

You know, it was just about the time that the senate in Rome thanked the veterans who managed to cut their way out of the Cannae slaughter by exiling them to Sicily, that the Roman army started looking to its generals to take care of them. The republic became, well, inconvenient, when these generals started becoming emperors. Just sayin’ …

Stefan Jovanovich corrects:

There were no "veterans" at Cannae; the Roman armies were still largely citizen-militias modeled on the Greek (not the later Macedonian) phalanx. The analogy with current U.S. military pensions is a complete anachronism; the Roman Army did not start paying pensions until the latter part of the 2nd century C.E. I know Hans Delbruck makes the argument that the military reforms after Cannae (appointing a commander-in-chief rather than continuing to alternate command between the pro-consuls) somehow led to the decline of the republican form of government; but that is not supported by the facts. After all, Scipio Africanus declined to accept appointment as perpetual consul; he and his professional army, unlike later "popular" ones, did not march on Rome. The idea that the Roman army started "looking to its generals to take care of them" after Cannae is also a considerable stretch. Citizen soldiers had expected to be paid money from the spoils of conquest since the first days of the Republic. Citizenship was valuable because it allowed you to join the militia and get part of the loot; that was the reason that you find no discussions of conscription in the history of the Republic or even the later Empire, when enlistment allowed you to become a citizen and receive your part of the spoils (as it still does today in the American military.) Soldiers had always expected to be rewarded by Senate and its pro-consols; war was business for Roman citizens just as it was for the French who flocked to join the Revolutionary army and the sailors of Nelson's Navy. The decline of the Republic came from the Senate's persistent refusal to extend the franchise of citizenship to those outside Italy; having gained an Empire, the Roman elites wanted to deny the vote to anyone not from a founding family. That left an opportunity for Cinna, Sulla and Caesar to claim "citizen's justice" for the disenfranchised. One of the nastier aspects of the sentimentality of Adams and Jefferson for the Roman Republic is that they both feared the example of the Empire in extending the rewards of citizenship to the great unwashed.

George Parkanyi writes:

That’ll teach me to mention anything historical with Stefan around. That’s it, I’m cancelling my subscription to Discovery Channel …

It was a crude analogy, more about pissing off your own military through neglect/disrespect and the eventual consequences than the details of how they were/are compensated. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

 Please take comparison to the professional Roman army to heart, George. We are at the point where the Romans were after Cannae, not in the declining days of the late Empire. The American military is not going to be cheated out its pensions precisely because the franchise has been extended and "entitlements" for soldiers, sailors, marines and air folk are now more politically sacred than they have been at any time in the country's history, except for the Union Army pensions after the Civil War. There is also very little real discontent among the current serving military; reenlistment rates are now so high that the Navy is having to pay bonuses to get people to leave the service early!!!!

P.S. One of the legacies of the earlier time when military pensions were sacrosanct is this:

The National Building Museum

IMNSHO it has the most beautiful workmanship of any building in Washington D.C. It was designed by Montgomery Cunningham Meigs , the engineer for the Capitol Dome, and the Quartermaster of the Union armies and the Southern Unionist who despised Lee so much that he single-handedly turned the Lee-Custis home into Arlington National Cemetery.

Here is an interesting article about the reach of the Roman professional army

I've been donig some more thinking on this subject. 

 For the United States, Korea and Viet-Nam were Cannae; they may have been necessary wars against unavoidable enemies, but they were fought as the Romans initially fought against Carthage - with the extravagant waste that always accompanies the structure of a "citizen" army. The lesson the Romans learned and I would think Americans have learned is "never again". When cannon fodder is cheap, both democracies and dictatorships will allow their generals to use attrition as a strategy. Whatever its faults, that has hardly been the U.S. military strategy over the past 2 decades; the investment in battlefield medicine alone dwarfs everything done in the previous dozen wars. Wars are never worth the cost, but some are less wholly stupid than others.

The wars of the last 2 decades have left the country with no conscription, a capable professional military, and a sense of caution about further military adventures but no fear of conflict. Our known and likely enemies - Russia, China, Iran, the believers in permanent Jihad - have severely limited capabilities; yet the necessary continuing expenses of the military, including R&D and veterans pension and health care costs, are likely to be 5-6% of GDP, at most - half what they were in the 50s and 60s when everything was so wonderful.

By comparison, the Israelis have spent and will have to continue to spend 8% or more of GDP merely to preserve a strategic situation that is a hundred times more perilous than our own. If we are to look for the spending of "deep-bench assets", the search will have to begin with Johnson and Nixon and their domestic wars against poverty and the Federal subsidies to health and education spending. Those have consumed the bulk of the country's assets, not the spending on munitions and professional soldiers.

Check this out:

Fiscal     U.S. Military
Year       spending as
               percent of GDP

1940       1.7
1941       5.6
1942       17.8
1943       37.0
1944       37.8
1945       37.5
1946       19.2
1947       5.5
1948       3.5
1949       4.8
1950       5.0
1951       7.4
1952       13.2
1953       14.2
1954       13.1
1955       10.8
1956       10.0
1957       10.1
1958       10.2
1959       10.0
1960       9.3
1961       9.4
1962       9.2
1963       8.9
1964       8.5
1965       7.4
1966       7.7
1967       8.8
1968       9.4
1969       8.7
1970       8.1
1971       7.3
1972       6.7
1973       5.8
1974       5.5
1975       5.5
1976       5.2
1977       4.9
1978       4.7
1979       4.6
1980       4.9
1981       5.1
1982       5.7
1983       6.1
1984       5.9
1985       6.1
1986       6.2
1987       6.1
1988       5.8
1989       5.6
1990       5.2
1991       4.6
1992       4.8
1993       4.4
1994       4.0
1995       3.7
1996       3.5
1997       3.3
1998       3.1
1999       3.0
2000       3.0
2001       3.0
2002       3.4
2003       3.7
2004       3.9
2005       4.0
2006       4.0
2007       4.0
2008       4.3
2009       4.7


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