The money the military spends on R&D today impacts the defense capabilities of the country decades from now.
Military spending, according to one theory of international relations, is directly tied to the necessary downfall of world powers. But as a Brookings report out last week makes clear, that doesn't mean wantonly slashing defense budgets is the way to go. In fact, there's reason to believe cuts currently on the table could have a disproportionate impact on the U.S.'s military edge.
Immanuel Wallerstein's theory of world-systems analysis holds that countries achieve hegemony by being very efficient at economic production. But maintaining hegemony involves what he calls the "expensive and abrasive" attempt to carry out a "political and military role." As soon as other states catch up in economic efficiency, the hegemonic power's "political clout" goes, and the state starts actually having to use its military instead of relying on threats. As Wallerstein explains, "Its use of military power is not only the first sign of weakness but the source of further decline."
In the current climate of budget cuts, therefore, it seems natural to want the country to scrap a few F-16s instead of, say, the public school system. Give our troops proper tank and body armor, runs the classic (and generally liberal) refrain, but ditch the "nano hummingbirds" -- and let's get rid of a few more warheads while we're at it.
Of course, it's more complicated than that, as most people acknowledge, and last week's Brookings report does a better than average job of explaining why.
This summer, when Democrats and Republicans finally reached their debt ceiling deal, it included $400 billion worth of cuts on national security. But due to other cuts on the table, we could be looking at roughly $1 trillion total. In short, it's a post-war pullback, and though the size of it, according to the Brookings report, "is not unusual by historical standards," it's happening in the midst of China's rise, North Korea's leadership hand-off, the menace of a nuclear Iran, and continuing unrest in the Middle East. But that's not even the main point of the report.
What the report highlights is that "the current wave of defense cuts is also different than past defense budget reductions in their likely industrial impact, as the U.S. defense industrial base is in a much different place than it was in the past." Cutting-edge technology is a big part of the United States' edge, both in actual conflict and as a deterrent, and thus what the signatories of the Brookings piece seem particularly concerned about is the procurement budget -- part of the so-called "investment accounts" -- along with research and development.
Right now, "Reagan-era weaponry is wearing out, and the recent increase in procurement spending has not lasted long enough to replenish the nation's key weapons arsenals with new weaponry" -- we've mainly been focusing on "filling certain gaps in counterinsurgency capabilities." Meanwhile, "unlike the period just after the Cold War, there are no obvious surpluses of defense firms, such that a natural paring process will find the fittest firms and ensure their survival."
In other words, the defense industrial base may be inefficient, but cuts won't make it fitter -- just leaner. The scary part about that is that industrial base health is a long-term thing, and the money the procurement budget is spent on today winds up determining the defense capabilities of the country much further into the future than, say, troop numbers in Afghanistan.
So how do you address that? The Brookings report puts out 10 questions to consider "as presidential candidates and other national leaders develop their platforms." They include ideas like fixed-price contracts, which signatory Dr. Robert Haffa, formerly of the Air Force and currently principal of Haffa Defense Consulting, explained to me over the phone are an attempt at making the defense industry more like other markets. But this is probably impractical -- when companies gives estimates in competing for contracts, they really have no idea what a given plane, for example, might cost to make.
Another idea is reforming regulations to make it easier for new companies to enter the defense contracting market. "It's difficult for a firm, an IT firm particularly, to sell to the Department of Defense because of all the regulations that attach themselves to every competition the Department of Defense takes on," Haffa explained. "It takes a huge amount of proposal money just to compete for a major program, and you have to be very knowledgeable about those regulations."
Reform, of course, takes a while, and the procurement and research and development budgets are likely to be slashed precisely because, as Haffa pointed out, "that's where the fast money is. They can be cut right now and have fewer F-35s."
But the message from the Brookings piece and its signatories is that this is, in a sense, simply externalizing the time cost, because we'll be living with the consequences of quick cuts for years to come. Defense spending is more like entitlements than ideologues on either side might like to admit. Reform is tricky, and quick fixes are tempting. Ultimately, the quick fixes are a type of punt. And that's exactly what modern political systems tend to reward.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
There’s a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort. It’s wrong.
A 38-year-old woman living in Everett, Washington recently told me that nine years ago, she had a well-paying job, immaculate credit, substantial savings, and a happy marriage. When her first daughter was born, she and her husband decided that she would quit her job in publishing to stay home with the baby. She loved being a mother and homemaker, and when another daughter came, she gave up the idea of going back to work.
Seven years later, her husband told her to leave their house, and filed for a divorce she couldn’t afford. “He said he was tired of my medical issues, and unwilling to work on things,” she said, citing her severe rheumatoid arthritis and OCD, both of which she manages with medication. “He kicked me out of my own house, with no job and no home, and then my only recourse was to lawyer up. I’m paying them on credit.” (Some of the men and women quoted in this article have been kept anonymous because they were discussing sensitive financial matters, some of them involving ongoing legal disputes.)
The latest (very funny and very political) episode of the performer’s sketch show doubles as a call to arms.
Last night came the airing of Amy Schumer’s long-anticipated show about gun-control. Things kicked off with “Welcome to the Gun Show,” which found Schumer playing the role of an HSN-style stuff-seller, all smarm and schlock and pseudo-mullet. First, she and her co-stuff-seller hawked Steve Irwin commemorative coins. But, then, they moved on to guns. They sold the virtues of guns—“make perfect stocking stuffers,” “they’re great for every age group,” etc.—and pointed out that anyone can get a gun on the Internet or at a gun show. (Even a guy with “several violent felonies” and “a suspected terrorist on the no-fly list.”) Act fast: don’t think about it, a chyron encourages.
Garry Marshall's patronizing 'holiday anthology' film boasts a star-studded ensemble, but its characters seem barely human.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Mother’s Day, a misshapen Frankenstein of a movie that feels like it escaped the Hallmark headquarters halfway through its creation and rampaged into theaters, trying to teach audiences how to love. The third in Garry Marshall’s increasingly strange “holiday anthology” series, Mother’s Day isn’t the rom-com hodge-podge that Valentine’s Day was, or the bizarre morass of his follow-up New Year’s Eve. But it does inspire the kind of holy terror that you feel all the way down to your bones, or the revolted tingling that strikes one at a karaoke performance gone tragically wrong.
While it’s aiming for frothiness and fun, Mother’s Day is a patronizing and sickly sweet endeavor that widely misses the mark for its entire 118-minute running time (it feels much longer). The audience gets the sense that there are many Big Truths to be learned: that family harmony is important, that it’s good to accept different lifestyles without judgment, that loss is a natural part of the circle of life. But its overall construction—as a work of cinema—always feels a little off. One character gets a life lesson from a clown at a children’s party, and departs with a hearty “Thanks, clown!” Extras wander in the background and deliver halting bits of expositional dialogue like malfunctioning robots. Half of the lines seem to have been recorded post-production and are practically shouted from off-screen to patch over a narrative that makes little sense. Mother’s Day is bad in the regular ways (e.g. the acting and writing), but also in that peculiar way, where it feels as though the film’s creator has never met actual humans before.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
Of course it would be daunting to solve the conflicts the Islamic State feeds on. But that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, the mission.
Stephen Biddle and Jacob Shapiro’s recent Atlantic article, “America Can’t Do Much About ISIS,” advocated containing the Islamic State and questioned America’s ability to destroy the group. The first problem with this analysis is how the authors define “destroy ISIS.” They compare the amorphous fight against al-Qaeda with the one against ISIS, discussing how to get at the roots of its terrorist ideology and fix the ungoverned space that provides its sanctuary. This leads them repeatedly to conflate destroying ISIS in its current form as a quasi-state with the monumental task of resolving the Syrian Civil War and the Sunni-Shia split in Iraq. To the contrary, if the mission is properly defined, America can destroy ISIS, and must.