FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brooks stumbles in her "Socialist Military"--are we getting punk'd by Foreign Policy?

UPDATE:  I have decided to cut Brooks some slack.  The more I read her initial blog posts, the more I think readers must view her writing as a research-project-in-work.  Brooks is beginning her posts with a research question and a thesis statement of sorts that will no doubt be revised and fine-tuned in the coming months.  She is very open to comments/emails/critiques and I am confident her research sources and analysis will continue to improve.

Original Post:

Rosa Brooks' Welfare State: Meet America's Socialist Military annoyed me to no end because her analysis was so arbitrary and meandering.  Reading her follow up blog posts and her lack of research rigor (she uses USA Today as a source), I have to wonder whether we are getting punked by Foreign Policy??  If, however, FP's aim was to drive readership and begin a dialogue on military spending--WELL DONE.

Her basic thesis was (from what I could tell) that,

"These days, the same could be said of the American military. Is the military different from the rest of us? Yes -- it has more money."

And while she stated she was only looking for the facts, she obviously skewed those facts to favor her hypothesis.  There were two commenters that most aptly captured the main issues with her article.

Here's googooyou's (an unfortunate screen name that should not distract from his insight) great comments :

1. CBO caveats comparing military to federal civilian compensation and rightly so.  The biggest glaring example is that military are salaried whereas civilians are hourly.  Let's punch the time clock to see what soldiers actually are paid on an hourly basis and then see where compensation falls.  Interesting that the CBO report cited did not include postal, legislative, and judicial employees and excluded warrant officers from the military.
2. CBO in this report also analyzed enlisted soldiers versus federal civilians with high school diploma.  Given that today's enlisted personnel by the time they are NCOs will have a college degree, let's then make an accurate comparison of their pay for years in service and college degree versus federal civilian with college degree, and let's see how much less they actually make in comparison.
3. CBO's officer comparison is also off, since most officers will have a master's degree, so let's actually compare salaries of federal employees with master's degrees versus straight bachelor's.  Also, considering my small scope on things, having had many GS14-GS15's work for me who have half the time in service and less education than me, making more than me sure seems to go against what CBO is reporting here. Not to mention my comrades in State and other Agencies who make more than me with less time in service.
4. CBO reports are biased, not because CBO is necessarily biased, because CBO only goes off the parameters requested by the asking party.  In this case, it was from Dem Whip.  At least CBO dedicates an entire page to explaining reasons why comparison is difficult, although it makes some stupid assessments about intangible benefits like solidarity offsetting real costs of things like moving your family every 1-3 years.
5. Let's get a real estimate of what soldiers' compensation should be by just looking at what the government is willing, rather has to pay, security personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc as well as what the government has to pay federal civilians in those areas, then compare against military pay.  Let's start with security personnel making $160-$200 per day versus E-5 and below pay/compensation.  For equivalent college educated personnel at State and other Federal Agencies with the 75% plus compensation and other amenities on top of regular pay, versus junior office with equivalent college education.
6. Just because there are noncash benefits does not mean that all soldiers are able to use them.  Given housing costs in various areas, it is cost prohibitive to go to the commissary.  I also disagree with the cost comparison of the commissaries since I don't know where they get the figures since it seems where I shop on the economy is cheaper than the commissary, even if going to one wasn't cost prohibitive.  Plus, the commissary is famous for saying that you don't pay tax, but there is a surcharge, not to mention the baggage fees.  Same applies for recreation centers etc.  Medical care is a whole different animal considering, as anon12 said so well, it isn't so much a benefit as it is a requirement for readiness.  Given that it takes so many appointments to get anything done in the military health system these days, the costs seem to be more administrative bureaucratic ones rather than quality health care.  That cost should not be spread across as some compensation to military personnel.  I'd really like to see how CBO or other people actually calculate noncash benefits, because this is where the real fluff goes when trying to compare.

The English major in me loved Morgan Rock's comments:
I think the author needs to have a talk with her husband.  It seems she has a misunderstanding of the term "dangerous job".  I don't really understand how anyone with the slightest bit of understanding about the way the military works could write this article.  It seems like the kind of thing I would have seen over a decade ago in my high school AP english class... as an example of how not to write well-reasoned, coherent analysis pieces.  The title barely makes any sense in context with the article, and there doesn't seem to be one actual argument or theme to the whole thing.

Here's what I saw in the article (not all inclusive):
- The military gets too much money
- The military gets much more money than the State Department
- The military's benefits are unjustly higher than those in other civilian professions
- Civilians don't understand the military
- Civilians reflexively revere the military, with reverence approaching that of religion
- The military is being asked to do too much
- The military is overworked and deployed too much, too often
Which of these statements are the primary point of the article?  How does she reconcile the contradictory ideas?  Why should civilians NOT revere the military?  How SHOULD the military be compensated (or should civilians get the same "unsustainable" social programs)?  Good lord, this article is a mess.


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