Glennzilla Is Wrong Sometimes Too

Glenn Greenwald Wrong

Greenwald Does Have a Blind Spot.

I wrote in the previous post draft that Glenn Greenwald seemed to be always right - defined as agreeing with me. I eventually edited it out, but just the thought traveled the ether to Brazil and gave the bad mojo to him nonetheless; the very next day he was wrong. On the internet. The horror!

His blind spot turned out to be economics related. Imagine that. The post was The decade's biggest scam. It opens:
The Los Angeles Times examines the staggering sums of money expended on patently absurd domestic "homeland security" projects: $75 billion per year for things such as a Zodiac boat with side-scan sonar to respond to a potential attack on a lake in tiny Keith County, Nebraska, and hundreds of "9-ton BearCat armored vehicles, complete with turret" to guard against things like an attack on DreamWorks in Los Angeles.  All of that -- which is independent of the exponentially greater sums spent on foreign wars, occupations, bombings, and the vast array of weaponry and private contractors to support it all -- is in response to this mammoth, existential, the-single-greatest-challenge-of-our-generation threat:
"The number of people worldwide who are killed by Muslim-type terrorists, Al Qaeda wannabes, is maybe a few hundred outside of war zones. It's basically the same number of people who die drowning in the bathtub each year," said John Mueller, an Ohio State University professor who has written extensively about the balance between threat and expenditures in fighting terrorism.
That's the threat in the name of which a vast domestic Security State is constructed, wars and other attacks are and continue to be launched, and trillions of dollars are transferred to the private security and defense contracting industry at exactly the time that Americans -- even as they face massive wealth inequality -- are told that they must sacrifice basic economic security because of budgetary constraints.

Despite these increasing economic insecurities -- actually, precisely because of them -- the sprawling domestic Security State continues unabated.
Yeah, that's a scam alright. However, with the last sentence, he starts to lose me. I can't figure out how security state spending continues because of personal economic insecurities. Americans without basic economic security - one in five people - don't influence any federal purse strings, much less those for national security state spending. Is he relying on the old voting-against-economic-interests saw: What's the Matter with Kansas? Or maybe that economically insecure Americans buy the illusion of national security in order to feel in control of some type of security? Doesn't make sense to me.

After a short detour discussing the effects budget cuts will have on national security state spending (not much, of course), he selectively quotes from a National Defense article, Homeland Security Market ‘Vibrant’ Despite Budget Concerns:
Polls still show that there is increasing public concern about another terrorist attack. It is this fear and an unrealistic American perception of risk that will continue to propel some aspects of the market, analysts say. . . .

Small-scale attacks, whether successful or not, will continue to prompt additional spending
, the market analysts at Homeland Security Research Corp. say. They point to the failed 2009 Christmas plot of a man trying to blow up a flight to Detroit with explosives sewn into his underwear and the attempted car-bombing in Times Square early the next year. Though unsuccessful, these events led to immediate White House intervention, congressional hearings and an airport screening upgrade costing more than $1.6 billion.
First, the bolded text should be "the market analysts at Homeland Security Research Corp. say." You can't take anything anyone called a market analyst says at face value. Especially from a generic named research corp. in a military trade journal. Come on, Glenn! Second, even if you take this quote at face value and think voters can influence national security state spending, then this quote blames emotional insecurity - not economic insecurity - for the spending. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Finally, Greenwald makes just a garden variety economics mistake: "The LA Times, while skillfully highlighting these wasteful programs, depicts them as some sort of unintended inefficiencies." He quickly shows that the spending isn't actually unintended inefficiencies with his almost-trademarked spiel of how the terrorist threat is the pretext for the spending, not the problem to be solved by the spending. Yeah, that's right. But he ignores his claim that they are wasteful. That's where the economics comes in.

The basic economic insight is that all spending, including government spending on things it doesn't really need, is income for somebody. Basically, the U.S. has a national industrial policy, it's called defense and security contracting. And we have a national employment policy, it's the people employed in the National Security State, including civilians, the military, and the combination of the two, mercenaries. The over $1 Trillion dollars per year America spends on national security is income for a whole lot of people.

The waste comes in only when you compare the spending chosen to what it could have bought instead. The most economically productive use of the money would be building a 21st Century infrastructure, providing great public education, and free healthcare for all. But that's not going to happen, is it.

Well, at least I can take satisfaction from fisking an interwebs giant. It's not any kind of security, but it's something.


bone dog said...

Hey, nice to see you don't agree with Glenn every time!

Norwegian Shooter said...

Hey, bone dog! I think it's clear Glenn and I closely agree on the topics he focuses on. But a lot of that is from his convincing arguments, so it's not only a great minds think alike deal. What's unusual is he sticks to his topics like a laser. I'm sure if he wrote more about economics, many more points of disagreement would emerge.