Remember chained CPI? It’s every conservative’s favorite measure of inflation. The government’s statistical boffins like it because they say it measures inflation more accurately, and conservatives like it because it reduces future Social Security inflation adjustments. Everyone likes it!
Since it’s so popular, Winslow Wheeler decided to apply chained CPI to historical Pentagon spending. The result is the green line in the chart below:
In a nutshell, what this shows is that even after the recent decline following the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending in 2015 will still be higher than it’s been in the entire rest of the postwar period, aside from a single year at the height of the Reagan buildup. This is especially remarkable considering that in 2015 we won’t be fighting any wars and we won’t have a single major military competitor anywhere on the globe.
Should we measure defense spending instead as a percentage of GDP, as the Pentagon itself likes to do it? That’s appropriate for some things, but it’s really not here. The fact that our GDP has grown doesn’t make the country any more expensive to defend. Nor is this an example of Baumol’s disease, since we’ve considerably reduced the number of people in the armed forces over the past two decades.
Basically, we spend a boatload of money on defense, and the size of the boat has been steadily rising for more than 50 years. Policywise, Wheeler’s conclusion is pretty simple: “Current military spending is lapping at historic highs, not lows.”