Comments: What are they saying?

Anne- Let's take a look at some of his comments.

"since they tend to have been trained in the armed forces, with tax dollars, before leaving the military and becoming private soldiers-for-hire."...So, I suppose if they get trained in the military and go become, teachers or work for a non-profit, then that training with tax dollars is okay? But let's consider why there is a demand for contactors.

First, when the wall came down and Gulf War I ended, there was a cry for the "peace dividend." And the military took an approximate cut of around 35-40% (Army went from 780K active to 480K for example)..because we were going to be in a 'strategic pause'..and this thinking cut across both administrations, although took off when Les Aspin became the Secretary of Defense..But as we've seen (and people on both sides of the ideological spectrum warned) asymmetric world with a (relative) single global superpower is probably more complicated than the old US-USSR and China in the on-deck circle world..and for sure more personnel intensive..and this administration bought a bill of goods that technology and "precision strike weapons" could substitute for "boots on the ground." This Kind of War by T.R. Fehrenbach..last time I checked we didn't control terrain, resources, or populations by a F-15 at 15,000 feet..

So, the people went away, but NOT the functions..and guess which functions are the first to go..the "easy ones" such as logistics and other combat support...great in a conventional war with a front and rear area..not so easy in a non-linear, distributed environment with no "front lines."....and since Congress sets the military endstrength and I did not hear too man folks in the last 10 years saying we needed to add 100,000 more soldiers/marines at a cost of around 12B/year (according to the Pentagon's own analysis) get contractors..

Now, Hightower claims "A soldier doing comparable work is paid a fourth of that."..True if you only compare base salaries..Ah, if economic comparisons were so simple..But a Soldier has to be recruited, trained, equipped, housed (and if he has a family - more than likely in today's military - given family benefits), and provided a whole host of other benefits (medical, dental, retirement and VA benefits)..Now, it's true a contract company will try to pass some of those same costs on, but if you look at the entire Net Present Value of having a soldier with a probability X of staying to retirement, then the costs are NOT so clear cut..

In fairness, studies have shown in some cases it is still cheaper to have the government (either military or civilian) do the function..but add another wrinkle..time. Let's say Kerry wins and gets his proposed 2 more divisions of Active Duty soldiers..from the time he says "do it" to boots on the ground is at least 2 years..whereas the military if they throw enough money around can get a contractor to provide the capability in often 1/10 the time..

"By deliberately pushing outsourcing, union-busting and low-wage Wal-Mart jobs, our corporate and political leaders have created a huge pool of the working poor. These are the people who, out of necessity, will take Halliburton's paycheck, even though it means separation from family, 14-hour days seven days a week, and exposure to kidnapping, torture and death. Unlike soldiers, these contract workers are poorly prepared they get only one week of training.

If you look at "Hours and earnings in private nonagricultural industries, 19592003", I don't see how he reaches his conclusion..although he would be nice if he at least cited the facts from which he draws his conclusion. The gains recently in real terms have been minor to be sure, but median (not average) family income is up over the last 20 years..Now, it is true that macro comparisons can't capture effects on a specific individual, but I'd like to see Hightower's data on how many Haliburton workers he had data on felt their choice was Wal-mart or Haliburton. I've had two friends leave good (in my opinion) jobs because they got a 50K raise to do contracting that called for time in the Middle East..there's a premium to face risk..that isn't new.

What would be nice for Hightower to discuss is not the contractor vs soldier debate (because I don't see him advocating a 100K increase in endstrength to "insource" those functions), but a real discussion of why the military's top 10 spending programs contribute comparably little to the type of warfare and security environment (really- the probability is low we're going to face China or North Korea in conventional war) - Ah, but follow the money..the 3 different fighter aircraft, and multiple navy ships, and the ballistic missile defense programs...they are in both Rep AND Dem congressional districts..and neither Clinton nor Bush was/is willing to take on the big "platform" spending money..except maybe Bush cancelling the Army's Crusader, but all that money went right back to another artillery program..

Oh, and this is NOT new..look at Eisenhower's farewell speech on the military-industrial complex..

Anne - thought you might find this interesting relating back to the issue on the left "going on the offensive"..

Posted by Col Steve at June 10, 2004 12:05 AM

Ouch. I usually don't link to Hightower(I find his facts are sometimes a bit unreliable) but it's some consolation that I wasn't actually agreeing with him this time. :)

Thanks for the facts. Interesting reading.

Posted by Anne at June 10, 2004 09:00 AM

I agree with the question, when will Kerry start campaigning with passion and specifics? It's worth remembering that Clinton was told, in 1992, that there was no chance America would nominate him over Kerry. But Clinton took one look at Kerry and knew that Kerry was a loser - he lacked some essential spark that Clinton knew that he himself possessed. And of course, that was true - Clinton trounced Kerry in the primaries.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at June 10, 2004 04:22 PM