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Military Bureaucracy, the F-35, and the "Price of Freedom"


Back when I was an undergrad, I took a class called something like "The Politics of National Defense." This was not a class about international relations, but about the bureaucracy behind the U.S. Military. It was taught by a retired Army officer. Thus began a long education about how government bureaucracies function, and it quickly became clear that all those chest-thumping military enthusiasts who think the US Military is some kind of well-oiled machine helmed by brilliant minds live in a fantasy land. But you certainly don't need to take a college class to figure this out.

The U.S. Military is, simply put, a more deadly version of a VA hospital or the DMV. Strangely, people who criticize government for waste, fraud, and inefficiency, often imagine that the situation is different with the armed forces. But in reality the military is characterized by infighting among the branches, massive waste, backroom deals for favored contractors, political ambition among the generals, sycophancy, and extreme short-term thinking. To the extent that it has achieved military success (it hasn't won a major war in 70 years), success has been due to the advantage gained by the sheer volume of dollars that can be poured into military hardware, thanks to the wealth produced by an industrialized relatively free-market system.

The beleaguered taxpayers, who already pay through the nose for all that military expense,  are then told - to add insult to injury- that in addition to the huge sums they pay in federal taxes, that they should thank the thieves who extracted the money. That is, the taxpayers are lectured about how "freedom isn't free" and that they should be thanking the US government for being so generous. In fact, it is the military and its personnel who should be getting down on their knees and thanking the taxpayer for making US military operations such low-casualty affairs.

The reason that the US suffers so few casualties in combat is that the US always has the military enemies massively out-gunned. It is not better strategy or the alleged razor-sharp efficiency of well-trained forces. It is, in fact, the air support, drones, armored vehicles, limitless ammunition, limitless gasoline, and overwhelming wealth of the military that makes military operations far less deadly for American soldiers than for anyone else. This in turn makes endless militarism more politically palatable because it keeps casualties, even in full-blown wars, so relatively low. The fact that it is all made possible by the the American worker, who slaves away at his humdrum job to send a third of his income to the feds, is of course totally ignored on Memorial Day, Veterans day, or the other official days of Reverence Toward Government.

We might also mention that when tax revenue comes up short, as it always does, the central bank can be relied upon to make up the difference, thus ensuring that the gusher of federal money never stops. And what happens to that money? Much of it is wasted on worthless military garbage like the F-35, and on politically powerful military contractors who produce such things, such as Lockheed Martin.

In this video from last year, Pierre Sprey, co-designer of the F-16, explains how the F-35, which costs $200+ million per plane, exists for no reason other than to spend money on politically well-connected crony capitalists:


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Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for the Mises Wire and Power and Market, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in public policy and international relations from the University of Colorado. He was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.