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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Why Can't the Post Use Percentages in Discussing Proposed Cuts to the Military?

Why Can't the Post Use Percentages in Discussing Proposed Cuts to the Military?

Thursday, 21 July 2011 05:34

In a relatively lengthy article discussing potential cuts to the military budget, the Post never once told readers what baseline projected spending is, nor what the cuts would be as a share of baseline spending. The Post told readers that the military had prepared for cuts of $400 billion over the next 12 years, but now it seems possible that the cuts could be as large as $800 billion.

Wow! Those are really big numbers. And no responsible newspaper would ever print them without giving its readers some context, since virtually none of them will have any ability to assign meaning to these numbers.

The baseline budget shows that the government will spend approximately $9.5 trillion on the military. (This does not count veterans benefits and some other costs associated with maintaining the Defense Department.) The $400 billion in cuts would imply a reduction in the budget of a bit more than 4 percent. If the cuts reach $800 billion then the cuts would be a bit over 8 percent of the budget.

By comparison, the Gang of Six have proposed a reduction in the cost of living adjustment for Social Security that will reduce average benefits by close to 6 percent. The largest cuts would hit the oldest beneficiaries with beneficiaries in their 90s seeing benefit reductions of close to 9.0 percent. 

Comments (12)Add Comment
It's not even THAT much, IF at all real
written by John Puma, July 21, 2011 7:32
An estimate of the cost of the ENTIRE US perpetual war machine gives a figure of 53% of the budget. (Link below.) That was $1.5 trillion (with a "T" as in teabag) in the prior budget year. That's $18 trillion over 12 years.

That's twice the figure of the above article and reduces to absolutely insulting idiocy any notion that twelve-year, $400-800 billion cuts to the war machine, (if anything but a WA Po fanatstical head fake) are in any way to be considered a "shared sacrifice."

The 53% figure is obtained by considering
1) collected Social Security revenues to NOT be part of the general revenue total ( to reverse the slimy technique used since the Viet Nam war to underestimate the fraction of the total budget consumed by our imperial adventures.)
2) the REAL pentagon budget to include " ... Pentagon budget request of $708 billion, plus an estimated $200 billion in supplemental funding, )called 'overseas contingency funding' in euphemistic White House-speak), to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some $40 billion or more in 'black box' intelligence agency funding, $94 billion in non-DoD military spending, $100 billion in veterans benefits and health care spending, and $400 billion in interest on debt raised to pay for prior wars and the standing military."

written by izzatzo, July 21, 2011 7:33
WaPo also reports that the increase in solar temperatures of the sun will be hot enough to boil off all the water and end terrestrial life.
written by PeonInChief, July 21, 2011 11:31
It should also be noted that the vast majority of very old (above 85 years) SS recipients are women, and that SS is often their only source of income, as many pensions die with the spouse.
@PeonInChief: Should it really be?
written by Valar84, July 21, 2011 12:59
You said that it should be noted that the vast majority of the oldest Social Security recipients were women... why? Why should that be noted? Are women's live of higher value than men's? Because that's what you seem to be implying by your comment, that this is worse because it would affect more women than men.

The rest of your comment, about how, for many recipients, Social Security is their only income is indeed something that should be noted. A 6% cut for the overfed military or a similar cut to the rich bankers and investors (though that isn't on the table unfortunately) is not that hard to digest... A 6% cut to someone who struggles to make ends meet on Social Security is nearly disastrous. That's because there is little fat to cut, they're already down to the bone.

But I question the need and usefulness to make the gender of these people the first and principal consideration.
@ Valar84: What should be noted?
written by Jeff Z, July 21, 2011 1:14
Of course it should be noted. It simply highlights the fact than many of these cuts are not sex and gender neutral. Women tend to live longer than men. People of that age largely worked in an era when women, ideally, did not work outside the home, so that the husband was the breadwinner. In that same era pension benefits, if you had them, were decent. If the pension dies out with the husband, then those proposed cuts have a direct impact on people who A) have done nothing wrong except play by the rules, and B) who are largely voiceless in these matters, and who thus make easy targets.

Should we also highlight in such stories that women tend to predominate for single parent households? That many are in dire straits because some of their ex-husbands will not pay child support or alimony?

Pissant meaningless cuts (from a budget perspective) that chop people off at the knees.

One again, journalism fails to evaluate.
@Jeff Z: Not very convincing
written by Valar84, July 21, 2011 1:43
While it is true that women, since they live longer and used to be housewives, are more likely to be amongst the very old recipients of Social Security, I still don't see why that should be something to be noted. It changes nothing to the situation these people are in that they are men or women. A 85 year-old retiree living only on Social Security is just as worse off if he is a man or a woman... actually it may even be worse if he's male, since women are known to maintain stronger social ties with family and friends so that they can rely on social assistance more than men.

Anyway, the point is, it doesn't matter at all what gender they are, they are still an extremely vulnerable population that would suffer much from such cuts. How they got to this point is irrelevant to the situation at end.

Why do we need to point out that those who will suffer are more likely to be women than men? What use is it? What is the point? Is it worse that there are more women than men in that group? Would cutting this be more acceptable if the people who would suffer from this were mainly men?
@ Valar84
written by Jeff Z, July 21, 2011 2:37
The SS cuts hit the most vulnerable in our society. On that we are agreed. The cuts are virtually meaningless from a budget perspective. We agree on that, too.

Here is why it is important. It is simply a fact. If a news source is documenting the cuts they ought to show who suffers as a result. Then the audience can make a more informed decision about what they want their government to do.

It is right for a news outlet to point out that defense contractors would take a hit if military spending is cut. Why isn't it right for the outlet to say that the older segment, predominantly women, will also take a hit? Why is it right for a news outlet to ignore this fact?

You can mention the fact without highlighting it.

It is also relevant from this perspective. You write
A 85 year-old retiree living only on Social Security is just as worse off if he is a man or a woman... actually it may even be worse if he's male, since women are known to maintain stronger social ties with family and friends so that they can rely on social assistance more than men.

That means the cuts will impose hardships on the social network. So it is not just the retirees who suffer. By ignoring the demographics the true impact is easily underestimated.
written by PeonInChief, July 21, 2011 3:08
Noting the importance of Social Security to women is, in fact, important. My mother noted some years ago that Social Security disappeared the "maiden aunt" who was forced to live with her relatives when her working years were done. Even if she had worked full time, she had no pension and little savings for an independent life.

While it is true that some men were in the same position, it was much more common for women to have to live with relatives. (And we can see how much women liked that by looking at the number of women who live on relatively little Social Security, and still don't want to move in with their relatives.)

I happen to think that the importance of Social Security for older women is an important point.
What means an average of 6% ?
written by AndrewDover, July 21, 2011 3:26

"The Gang of Six have proposed a reduction in the cost of living adjustment for Social Security that will reduce average benefits by close to 6 percent."

Are you claiming that the total Social Security benefits will be reduced by 6% ?

if not, an average of what ?
You hit one ...
written by OJC, July 21, 2011 8:23
...of my hot buttons; namely predicting what a deficit or surplus or almost anything will be in ten or twelve years. To say "... cuts of $400 billion over the next 12 years..." is meaningless. We know that the number will be wrong, just not exactly how wrong. If they were to give a range of expected values (in this case it might be 400-5000 bucks) with a reasonable confidence factor, say 95%, it might make sense, though it would not fit with current journalistic conventions. But as is, it's just chit-chat.
speaking of percentages..
written by apeescape, July 21, 2011 9:32
a little OT, but if we speak of these projections according to debt/GDP instead of absolute debt, wouldn't the parameters of the debate change?

The Republicans (mainly) are proposing massive level of cuts that literally would be "job killing™" that has a pretty good chance of lowering projected GDP (at least short term, likely medium term). This whole brouhaha over the debt ceiling is supposed to cut deficits (as opposed to spending), and I would think there is an optimal solution where we cut and increase revenues some, while maintaining a healthy comeback in the economy.

A debt/GDP measure directly measures the health of the economy. A plan that minimizes debt levels as opposed to debt/GDP levels make it much easier to say "we need big cuts!," instead of "let's cut while maintaining the integrity of the economy and social safety net." A lower debt doesn't necessarily translate to lower debt/GDP, and I think the latter should be the central focus.
Debt to GDP
written by Dean, July 22, 2011 5:04
Yes, this is the only meaningful number.

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Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.