War Is Swell

In his post below, Justin Logan outlines some of Max Boot’s howlers on Iraq, and asks: “why should anyone be listening to him now?”  It’s a good question.  However, I think Boot serves a useful function.  If you find yourself arguing that neoconservatives are empire-hungry, war-mad, and contemptuous of civil liberties–and your opponent accuses of you of setting up a straw man–point him to Boot.  He’s the real deal.   

As Justin noted, here’s Boot making ”the Case for American Empire.”  And here he is telling us that “Empire” is the right term:

“No need to run away from the label,” argues Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York: “America’s destiny is to police the world.”  

Here’s Boot offering America’s occupation of the Philippines–with its 200,000 dead civilians–as a success, and as reason for hope that Iraq will be a success as well.  Here he is suggesting that China may be looking into “creating man-made earthquakes” as a way of fighting an asymmetric war against the United States.  (There’s a threat to keep you up nights.)  So threatening is the world we live in, in fact, that it’s time to ”Forget privacy, we need to spy more.” 

But for classic Boot, you can’t beat this LA Times column from last summer, in which he declares that General Curtis LeMay was one of the “greatest peacemakers in modern history,” a proper candidate for a Nobel Peace Prize.  It’s an odd choice.

  As head of the air war in Japan during WWII, LeMay ordered the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 civilians; as well as the bluntly named “Operation Starvation” designed to destroy Japanese food supplies.  “I suppose if I had lost the war I would have been tried as a war criminal,” LeMay said later.

Well, “they” started it, some will say.  But if deliberately killing large numbers of civilians doesn’t disqualify one from “peacemaker” status, then how about trying to start a nuclear war?  As head of Strategic Air Command in the ’50s, it was LeMay’s view that the United States should strike the Soviet Union while America retained nuclear superiority.  If the weak-willed civilians wouldn’t sanction preventive war, he hoped to provoke an incident that would allow him to deliver his “Sunday Punch,” unleashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and causing an estimated 60 million Russian dead.  Without authorization, in 1954 he ordered B-45 overflights of the Soviet Union, commenting to his aides, “Well, maybe if we do this overflight right, we can get World War III started.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, LeMay repeatedly challenged President Kennedy’s courage, urging him to approve airstrikes.  That action might well have led to the nuclear exchange LeMay dreamed of.   All in all, it’s not surprising that some people identify LeMay as the model for General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, a movie that according to Fred Kaplan, author of Wizards of Armageddon, got a little too close to the truth for comedy. 

In the column linked above, “Messed up Are the Peacemakers,” Boot suggests that modern-day peace activists have questionable priorities and bizarre affections.  Maybe so.  But he’s hardly in a position to criticize them.

Unsurprising News from the Pentagon

The Washington Post reports yesterday on cost overruns for weapons procurement. “It is not unusual for weapons programs to go 20 to 50 percent over budget, the Government Accountability Office found.”

That’s for sure. As I’ve documented, it’s not unusual for weapons to more than double in cost. I’m talking about the F/A-22 Raptor, the V-22 Osprey, the CH-47F helicopter, the Patriot missile, and on and on. See here, and see the discussion in Downsizing the Federal Government.

The same pattern occurs in federal highway projects, energy projects, and many other government endeavors.

Part of the reason this occurs is that contractors and government officials have a quiet understanding that the initial cost numbers that are used to get projects launched should be low-balled. Both sides know that later on, after projects are underway, excuses can be found to raise the price tag. “The scope of work has expanded.” “We couldn’t have foreseen those additional problems.” “The mission requirements have changed.” “There are new regulatory requirements.”

It doesn’t really matter. Once the money is flowing to certain states and jobs are at stake, no member of Congress has an incentive to be frugal with taxpayer money. 

Atlanta Shooting Update

Several weeks ago an elderly lady was shot dead by police in another drug raid gone bad.  All too often these events are just swept under the rug.  In this case, the prosecutor is saying the right things:

“The death of Mrs. Johnston constitutes one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur in Fulton County,” Howard wrote. “I will not rest until every person responsible for her death is held accountable. …

“When homicides occur in Fulton County, whether committed by a civilian or a law enforcement official, it is the obligation of the District Attorney’s Office to take the appropriate legal actions.”

Looks like one officer will face charges and the investigation is still on-going. 

Experience shows that the publicity brings close scrutiny, and that helps to prod police departments and prosecutors into action.  I doubt there would have been much publicity if the shooting victim had been a 22 year old black male with a “criminal record,” such as drug possession.  Still, this case might set a favorable precedent for how such incidents ought to be handled.

Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

Not Overstated

Last year, Jagadeesh Gokhale and I estimated [pdf] that state and local governments were sitting on about $1.4 trillion of promised, but unfunded, health care costs for their workers.

The Economist kindly discussed our estimate in their November 18 issue, but noted: “Even if Messrs Edwards and Gokhale have overstated the problem …”

It turns out that we hugely understated the problem for at least one state. We had New Jersey down for $20 billion, but news from that state today indicates that taxpayers may get hit with a $78 billion tab for state worker health costs unless are reforms are made (or $8,500 for every resident of the state).

New at Cato Unbound: Alan Reynolds’ Income Distribution Heresies

In a speech yesterday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke worried that rising income inequality may make Joe and Joanne Lunchbox “less willing to accept the dynamism … so essential to economic progress,” which would be bad. ”Bernanke Warns of Economic Inequality,” Forbes’ headline tolls. 

Bernanke is evidently sold on what economists call the ”skill based technical change” hypothesis, which basically says that new technology has increased the productivity, and thus the wages, of high-skilled workers faster than it has for low-skilled workers. Bernanke sagely advises us not to look to globalization as the source of increasing inequality, and urges a broader diffusion of the kinds of skills that really pay off in today’s economy.

But is there actually something to be worried about? Is income inequality really widening at all? Are the incomes of the wealthiest increasing faster than those of the rest of us?

As it happens, those are the question of this month’s edition of Cato Unbound, “Interrogating Inequality,” which kicks off today!

It turns out these questions are a lot harder than they seem, and the answers turn on which set of government statistics — each with its own special biases — one consults. In this month’s lead essay, “Income Distribution Heresies,” Cato’s own Alan Reynolds — who set off a firestorm of controversy with a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month disputing the received wisdom about growing inequality — clarifies and refines his argument that massively increasing income inequality is an illusion. Replying to Reynolds, we’ll have the Brookings Institution’s Gary Burtless, University of Oregon economist and econ-blogger Mark Thoma, Cornell University inequality specialist Richard Burkhauser, and the Germano-Italian econo-duo Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri, of the Universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota (and the Minneapolis Fed), respectively.

So … is the specter of rising income inequality a statistical quirk or not? What’s really going on, income distribution-wise? Why not pay more attention to the wealth and consumption numbers, in any case? Only Cato Unbound readers will really be in the know.

Max Boot as Oracle

Max “Case for American Empire” Boot’s latest LA Times column walks us through a seminal text in counterinsurgency, David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, in the course of describing the “Keys to a Successful Surge.”

Since the ideas are mostly Galula’s and not Boot’s, the column is decent, but this seems as good an occasion as any to recall that Boot was arguing that victory in Iraq would be quite easy as recently as 2003.  This was his take then:

Formal empire is passe, and Americans have little enthusiasm for it. Promoting liberal democracies with U.S. security guarantees is more our style. In Iraq, that means purging the Baathists, providing humanitarian relief, starting to rebuild, and then setting up a process to produce a representative local government…

This means using American troops to secure all of Iraq. It will be insufficient to set up a peacekeeping force whose authority extends only to the capital. It will be unacceptable to say that peacekeeping is not a job for the U.S. military. Since the United States is committed to a “unitary” Iraq, it will have to commit sufficient force to make this a reality. This probably will not require the 200,000 troops suggested by Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, but it will require a long-term commitment of at least 60,000 to 75,000 soldiers, the number estimated by Joint Staff planners. (emphasis added)

So in 2003, Max Boot was arguing that 60-75,000 U.S. troops could provide security all across Iraq, while simultaneously “purging the Baathists, providing humanitarian relief, starting to rebuild, and then setting up a process to produce a representative local government.”

Why should anyone be listening to him now?

Goldman Sachs Predicts Recession if Bush Tax Cuts Expire

The Congressional Budget Office predicts a budget surplus in 2012, but only because it assumes the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011 (a reasonable assumption) and that this will lead to a flood of new tax revenue (a very unreasonable assumption). A TCS Daily column by James Pethokoukis notes that this leads the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs to predict a recession in 2011:
Deficits are often used as reason for higher taxes, such as in 1993 and 1982. But to believe in higher taxes as sound economic policy in coming years, you also have to believe in the CBO’s cheery forecast that hundreds of billion of dollars in new taxes will have little or no effect on economic growth. Now you don’t have to be an acolyte of supply-side guru Arthur Laffer to find that sort of “static analysis” a little weird. Most Americans probably would. So, apparently, did the economic team at Goldman Sachs, the old employer of Robert Rubin, President Bill Clinton’s second treasury secretary. Thus the firm’s econ wonks decided to try and simulate the real-world effect of letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010. Using the respected Washington University Macro Model, Goldman reset the tax code to its pre-Bush status, assumed all tax cuts expired, and watched how the economy reacted as 2011 began. What did the firm see? Well, in the first quarter of 2011 the economy dropped 3 percentage points below what it would have been otherwise. “Absent a tailwind to growth from some other source,” the analysis concludes, “this would almost surely mark the onset of a recession.”