Saturday, July 28, 2007

CIA World Factbook Deletes facts--on military spending

I went to get a link on the military spending chart in the CIA World Factbook and noticed it had changed from dollars spent to percentage of GDP, so it now looks like this:

Wow! Our military spending looks pretty modest there--less than Greece or Chad.

In the old dollar chart, we were number ONE and spent eight times as much as number two, China. I happened to have a screenshot of it on my hard drive:

I can see why some would argue that the dollar figure is misleading. We have higher labor costs to pay our soldiers, and our weapons are a lot more expensive (although the weapons expense in some cases like aircraft and electronics do give us a qualitative edge). But the GDP percentage is even more misleading. The casual observer might assume that Yemen or Syria could put up a good fight against us or even invade us since they spend so much more of their GDP than us when in reality we could wipe out most of their military in an afternoon of airstrikes (occupation would be another matter).

It would be hard to sell wars without that misperception though. If someone realized that our military spends more on toilet paper than the boogey man of the month spends on their whole military, they might not get scared. The same is true about nukes. Whenever the Bushies or Congress talk about the nuclear "threat" from Iraq, Iran, or North Korea, they conveniently leave out that we have 10,000 nuclear warheads and if any of those countries nuked us or gave nukes to terrorists who did, we could burn that country off the map and have enough left to kill everyone on earth five times. We forget that, but the rest of the world doesn't.

If the CIA thought that the dollar figure was misleading, they could have corrected that with caveats and MORE information like troop levels, number of aircraft carriers, and so on that can be found in public domain sources anyway. I suspect this change wasn't the CIA's idea though. This is the kind of statistical slight of hand a public relations firm would come up with and in fact when a flak for drug companies was asked why Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other country, especially since our tax dollars help pay to develop the drug, the flak said, "Well, Americans pay a smaller percentage of their income on drugs than most other countries," as if the drug companies were selfless non-profits charging based on ability to pay.

I hope when the Bushies are gone this kind of obfuscation will go with them.

1 comment:

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