Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Defense Expenses: Civilian-based versus Military

The following is republished from Civilian-based Defense, Winter 1993-94, vol 8, number 6

Defense Expenses: Civilian-based versus Military

Paul Emile Anders

Whether a particular country adopts civilian-based defense (CBD) depends not only on the public's views and information about CBD. It also depends on its information about other defense options, especially the military.

A particularly relevant piece of information about any option is its cost. A survey by the organization FAIR during the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign helps us gauge voters' information about the cost of defense.

FAIR surveyed 601 citizens at random who indicated that they would probably or definitely vote. On the average they tended to have more years of education than the average American.

Justin Morgan and Michael Morgan, who conducted the survey, wrote:

We asked respondents what the federal government spent more on in 1992: foreign aid, the military or welfare. The most popular answer, given by 42 percent, was foreign aid. In fact foreign aid consumes a tiny proportion of the budget—just 1 percent, according to the Senate Budget Office. (Of the developed countries, the U.S. spends among the least on foreign aid, per capita.)

The second most popular answer, at 30 percent, was welfare, which consumes just 5 percent of the federal budget, while military spending was named by only 22 percent of our respondents—even though, at 21 percent of the budget, it is by far the largest of these three items, more than four times larger than welfare spending.

Apparently most voters think that a military defense costs only a tiny fraction of what it actually costs. CBD would be relatively inexpensive. Supporters of CBD need to make the public aware of its potential advantage.

The End

Addendum 28 April 2011

Ignorance about U.S. government spending on defense still abounds. In February 2011 Bruce Bartlett reported that “A Nov. 18, 2010, Pew poll asked people which of these four programs the government spent the most on: national defense, education, Medicare or interest on the debt. Only 39 percent correctly answered national defense.” Many are also still misinformed about foreign aid. “A Nov. 30, 2010, poll by found that when people were asked what percentage of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, the mean (average) response was 27 percent and the median was 25 percent. When asked how much of the budget should go to foreign aid, the mean response was 13 percent and the median was 10 percent. Actual spending is well under 1 percent.” Bartlett adds, “More Republicans underestimated defense spending than Democrats, which may help explain the former’s consistent support for higher defense spending.” But just having the correct information has a limited effect on peoples judgments: “Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens examined the effect of political ignorance on political opinions and found that giving people correct information had little impact on their political judgments.”

(All quotations from “Voter Ignorance Threatens Deficit Reduction,” Bruce Bartlett,” The Fiscal Times, February 4, 2011, at

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