@gregorysanders I've been mulling this over, and I read your essay j.mp/3oaM9G2. Humbly, I believe that you are wrong. Or, more accurately, you miss the point. Long thread follows 1/
@gregorysanders You may be technically correct that absolute debt levels, and especially interest payments as a share of GDP, are not correlated to economic growth or other key indicators of overall fiscal health. 2/
@gregorysanders Other countries (including the United States) have carried higher levels of debt relative to GDP, and that condition has not always resulted in ruin – though in a few cases it has. 3/
@gregorysanders Your point being that debt isn’t _necessarily_ a national security threat. It depends on other circumstances, including the underlying health and resilience of the economy. And an excessive concern for the debt can lead to short-sighted decisions with deleterious effects. 4/
@gregorysanders But that is not how I read Dwight David Eisenhower’s many warnings, or, more recently, Adm. Mike Mullen’s. 5/
@gregorysanders Eisenhower, in particular, was worried about the opportunity costs of high levels of government spending (including spending on the military) at the expense of other domestic priorities, including savings and investment in the private sector. 6/
@gregorysanders In that sense, Ike’s most important speech isn’t the military-industrial complex speech, but rather his “The Chance for Peace” of April 16, 1953: j.mp/2KD2zcD 7/
@gregorysanders “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. 8/
@gregorysanders “This world in arms is not spending money alone.
“It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. 9/
@gregorysanders (For those who wonder, @JohnIsmay re-ran the numbers 60 years later: j.mp/2KIouiO as I did in here j.mp/398pTZd ) /11
@gregorysanders @johnismay Eisenhower’s brand of conservatism is unrecognizable in the current era, but his concern for maintaining “balance” was genuine. As he famously said in his farewell address j.mp/2Yif7cV : /12
@gregorysanders @johnismay “each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs — balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage — /13
@gregorysanders @johnismay “balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.” /14
@gregorysanders @johnismay But that did not imply hostility to all forms of government spending – only spending that did not increase productivity, or which was not offset by adequate revenues. /15
@gregorysanders @johnismay He did not, for example, favor dismantling the New Deal or cutting Social Security, and he pushed through two of the largest public works projects in US history. He counted the interstate highway system and the Saint Lawrence Seaway as two of his proudest accomplishments. /16
@gregorysanders @johnismay But Eisenhower understood that fiscal discipline performs an essential _strategic_ function. It forces strategists to prioritize. It allows strategy to serve, in Frank Hoffman’s formulation, as an appetite suppressant. j.mp/3o4P6It /17
@gregorysanders @johnismay Without a sense of fiscal constraints, strategy becomes nothing more than a laundry list of nice-to-haves. Desire replaces necessity, so much so that we lose the ability to tell the difference. /18
@gregorysanders The problem is compounded by a budget-making process which grants the would-be recipients of tax dollars the privilege of defining their individual wants as “requirements” and then accumulating all of these supposed needs into an undifferentiated whole. /19
@gregorysanders In the real world, everyone can’t get everything that they want. But, in the fantasy world of “debt/deficits don’t matter” all believe that they _can_ have it all; or, at least, that someone else’s budget will be cut before theirs. /20
@gregorysanders @gregorysanders you are therefore correct to observe in your essay that the 2011 BCA “failed to prompt thoughtful tradeoffs and compromises in the main drivers of spending on the mandatory side of the budget” -- /21
@gregorysanders but a serious and bipartisan concern for maintaining some semblance of fiscal discipline might have. (And I’ll concede that “serious and bipartisan” things are rare these days) /22
@gregorysanders Put another way, if the players in the budgetary game believe that all the other players will be required to make difficult choices, they will be more inclined to make some themselves. /23
@gregorysanders And if elected officials were actually forced to choose between tax hikes, Social Security and Medicare cuts, or less military spending -- military spending would get the axe. /24
@gregorysanders That’s how I read Mullen from 2010 j.mp/39Ugxzv - a prediction based on a reasonable political assessment (domestic spending is more popular than foreign adventures), not a highly contestable economic one (high levels of debt lead to collapse). /25
@gregorysanders Recent polling confirms that Mullen was right to worry. @EGFound found that “twice as many Americans want to decrease the defense budget as increase it.” And the leading justification for defense cuts is “a desire to redirect resources domestically.” j.mp/3sNH9uH /26
@gregorysanders In an environment of severe, or even merely significant, fiscal constraints, the Obama administration and Congress might have been compelled to revisit not simply the means available to execute the 2015 National Security Strategy but also the ends of that strategy. /27
@gregorysanders That was my advice to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015. j.mp/39UFIBV /28
@gregorysanders Instead, the two parties reached a tacit agreement to avoid addressing either so-called mandatory spending or military spending. /29
@gregorysanders @gregorysanders as you note, the sharp edge of the BCA – the dreaded sequester – came into effect only once, in 2013. In all other years, “Congress ultimately reversed its debt reduction policies by continuously increasing the budget caps on defense and non-defense funds.” /30
@gregorysanders Congress and DoD also took advantage of the fact that OCO was excluded from the BCA, producing still further mischief. @POGOBlog j.mp/3bZoG8x /31
@gregorysanders The strategic reassessment that might have taken place under an expectation of austerity never actually occurred. Unsustainable things stop, and sensible tends to win out over foolish. But that which is sustainable can also be foolish. j.mp/3c44P8k /32
@gregorysanders In closing, the quote attributed either to Winston Churchill or physicist Ernest Rutherford, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money; now we have to think,” is accurate. j.mp/2NkjJg6 /33
@gregorysanders But, sadly, the competing dictum is true as well. “Those who never worry about running out of money rarely have to think.” /34
@gregorysanders And that is why @gregorysanders I will – again, humbly – reject your advice, though I sense it was well-intentioned. Ignoring the debt is a national security threat. FIN/

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