Many on the left, including some of my own readers, seem to think that the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation are practically twins, just two cogs in the right wing movement that they (and I) despise. Naomi Klein famously lumped them together along with the American Enterprise Institute as neo-con groups pushing an aggressive military policy to benefit big business:
“Only since the mid-nineties has the intellectual movement, led by the right-wing think-tanks with which [Milton] Friedman had long associations-Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute-called itself ‘neoconservative,’ a worldview that has harnessed the full force of the U.S. military machine in the service of a corporate agenda.”
As I pointed out at the time, she was painting with a brush so broad that you could sell ad space on the side of it. In reality, Milton Friedman opposed every post-WW2 military adventure the U.S. engaged in, as has the Cato Institute, and both have advocated significant cuts in defense spending. They are the precise opposite of neo-cons when it comes to the military and foreign policy.
David Boaz of the Cato Institute demonstrates that once again by hammering the Heritage Foundation for misleading readers about proposed cuts in defense spending. Heritage used this graphic to show that defense spending had supposedly fallen far below the historical average as a percentage of federal spending:
And he explains why this is absolutely misleading:
In fact, Pentagon spending in real, inflation-adjusted dollars has roughly doubled since 2000 and is up about 50 percent since 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War. (And note that the recent figures don’t include the cost of the ongoing wars.)
That’s right. Not only is Heritage looking at an irrelevant figure — defense spending as percentage of the federal budget rather than in inflation-adjusted dollars — they aren’t even including the cost of two wars that have cost more than a trillion dollars.
Obviously, the big story in the federal budget over the past 40 years is the dramatic rise in spending on transfer payments. Does the Heritage Foundation really want to suggest that when spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid rises, military spending should rise commensurately? That when President Bush creates a trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug entitlement, he should also add a trillion dollars to the Pentagon budget to keep “Defense Spending as a Percentage of the Federal Budget” at its previous level?
Cato and Heritage scholars have often differed on U.S. foreign policy and the defense budget that it implies. But surely neither group would actually suggest that U.S. national security should be measured by the relationship of military spending to entitlement spending. Surely we would agree that military spending must be sufficient to ensure U.S. security and not tied to some extraneous factor. So I invite the creators and promoters of the above chart to explain exactly what they think it proves.
It proves how dishonest the Heritage Foundation is when working diligently in the service of the defense industry.