Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Looks like some ‘declinism’ proponents can’t get anything right.
2 days ago, AT (a widely-known conservative e-zin to which I occassionally contribute) published an article written by Andy Maheshwari, a proponent of the thesis that America is in a decline spiral while China is destined to become the world’s top dog. He backed up his assertion with false arguments, such as the idea that China’s high-speed rail network makes its infrastructure superior to America’s, that military spending is bankrupting the US (a common myth), etc.
In a blogpost written and published yesterday, I debunked some of his arguments (the most ludicrous ones), remaining firm, but polite.
But it wasn’t more than several hours before Mr Maheshwari hastily wrote an angry response full of factual errors and offensive statements (e.g. accusations that I’m unable to think, let alone to think logically) in which he does not title me “Mr Mazurak”, and calls me simply “Mazurak”, instead. Yet, he called my refutal a “juvenile response”.
But let’s ignore his arrogant style, his angry tone, and his offensive statements. Let’s debunk only his factual errors. The problem is: they are legion. Like his original article, his response to my refutal is full of factual errors.
So, his first claim is:
“1. Mazurak starts by casting aspersions onChina’s official fertility rate of 1.8 children/woman by quoting CIA’s estimates of 1.54 children/woman. On what grounds Mazurak believes CIA is supreme authority instead of official Chinese census? In my article I quotedChina’s official census numbers. This does not make it a “factual error” which “begs correction”. Mazurak’s accusation that I am so naïve and un-informed that I do not even know the basic facts of replacement fertility (2.1 children/woman) is childish. I never contested China’s gradual aging. Why he would resort to such non sense is not clear.”
But I never accused him of not knowing the population replacement rate (2.1 CPW), I merely underlined it to underline the huge demographic crisis (yes, crisis – to call it anything else would be an understatement) that awaits China some 20-30 years from now. As for official Chinese data – why does Mr Maheshwari claim that the Chinese government is a trustworthy source of information, and why does he discount the CIA as less credible? The Chinese government routinely falsifies statistics on many issues (as do other Communist governments), so why believe it on demographics? China routinely falsifies its statistics on military spending, so why not falsify demographic data, too?
BUT even if Chinese data is correct, the Chinese total fertility rate is still well below the population replacement rate (2.1 CPW).
Almost every demographer admits (as does Fareed Zakaria) that China will, someday, face the 4+2+1 crisis: one child will have to support two parents and three grandparents. Or, as Mark Steyn has correctly said, “China (…) will get old before it gets rich”. The UN predicts that by 2050, America’s median age will be 36 but China’s will be 44 and Europe’s will be 53.
Then, Mr Maheshwari wrote:
“2. Total Population: We must consider [the] total population, not just birth rate.”
But I didn’t mention the birth rate at all. I mentioned the total fertility rate, which is a different thing: it shows how many children, on average, does a Chinese woman give birth to during her lifetime.
Mr Maheshwari then invoked Europe’s demographic problems, which I never denied (and never even mentioned). Why did he mention them is not known. They were, in any case, irrelevant to my blogpost, which pertained exclusively to the US and Asia. The US will fare very well without Europe, I can assure Mr Maheshwari of that. Fewer Europeans translates into fewer noisy complainers.
He also mentioned American nuclear families and contrasted them with Chinese and Indian multi-generational households, saying that “individualism works only if you are fruitful and multiply”.
Well, Americans ARE multiplying – at a rate of 2.06 children per woman (per the CIA World Factbook) – and also get a million working-age immigrants (who are desperate to find a job) every year. Just a decade ago, America’s population was less than 300 million people. Today, if the 2010 US Census is to be believed, the populace is 308 million people and the CIA World Factbook says it’s 312 million people. Unlike China, the US doesn’t have to fear a demographic death spiral. It should rather be worried about how to accomodate such a huge populace, and whether the current immigration rate is sustainable. (Hint: it is not.)
Of course, not all Americans are multiplying: most urban women have 0 kids or only one child. But small town/rural women are procreating and it’s normal for a rural American female to have at least 2 children. Thus, urban liberal women are dying out, while rural conservative women are multiplying, which is good news for me as a conservative.
Next, bullet trains. Mr Maheshwari has apparently read none of the studies I’ve cited, and still claims that bullet trains work great in Asia and Europe. He cited the Japanese and French high-speed-rail networks.
First, Japan. During the early 1960s, railroads were the only widely-available mechanized means of transport in Japan. But after the first Shinkansen lines were opened, railroads’ share of the passenger market began to decline and by the 1990s it collapsed to a dismal percentage. It still remains small. Data per Randal O’Toole of the CATO Institute.
As for France: the 100 million passengers figure pertains to the TGV fleet’s entire 26 year period of operation from 1981 to 2007. 100 million passengers divided by 26 years is less than 4 million passengers per year! Moreover, in France, the only profitable high-speed rail line (LGV) is the Paris-Lyon-Marseille line, which connects France’s 3 biggest cities. Other LGV lines are unprofitable. Furthermore, French and German travel patterns are not much different from American ones: 77% of Frenchmen and Germans travel by car, and less than 10% by train. In the EU-15 countries (the countries which were members of the EU before 2004), the COMBINED passenger market share of trains and buses is a dismal 8%! And this despite the onerous taxes on motorists and huge subsidies for railroads. The fact that Japan and Europe have wasted tens of billions of euros and yen on HSR proves nothing. Their subsidies to railroads are generous, but they’re utterly uneconomical.
Mr Maheshwari, “a total waste of money” is a generous term for high speed rail. This technology has failed abysmally to prevent railroads’ decline, just like you’ve failed abysmally to refute any of my points.
For unknown reasons, Mr Maheshwari claims that “Mazurak fraudulently claims I advocate high speed rail for US.”
I never made that claim. I merely said that he has advertised HSR as “proof that China is building worthy stuff”. As the evidence I’ve cited in both refutals shows, it is not worthy stuff, not even for China.
As for the cost of the Iraqi and Afghan wars:
Mr Maheshwari cited the ludicrous claims of the utterly-discredited liberal pseudoeconomist Joseph Stiglitz as “evidence” that the Iraqi and Afghan wars cost $3-6 trillion and the Iraqi war itself cost $3-4 trillion. This false claim, which Stiglitz has repeated again and again, and which he has “revised” upwards (i.e. falsified still further to exaggerate it even further), has already been refuted on AT long ago, by Randall Hoven, yet Mr Maheshwari claims that Stiglitz’ figures are credible. The truth is that they are blatant lies; the CBO says that the cost of the Iraqi war through August 2010 was $709 bn (over 8 fiscal years), so Stiglitz’ lowest figure was 323% off the mark.
Says Hoven: “The correct answer to my question, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is $709 billion. The Iraq War cost $709 billion. Why Carville, Bilmes, and Nobel-winning economist Stiglitz thought the answer was $3 trillion is anybody’s guess. But what’s a 323% error among friends?
The CBO breaks that cost down over the eight calendar years of 2003-2010. Below is a picture of federal deficits over those years with and without Iraq War spending. (…) The sum of all the deficits from 2003 through 2010 is $4.73 trillion. Subtract the entire Iraq War cost and you still have a sum of $4.02 trillion.”
So yes, the claim that the GWOT cost $3-4 trillion is a blatant lie – one already disproven on AT long ago. Unless one believes the CBO is deliberately lying and is less credible than an utterly-discredited liberal economist with an axe to grind.
As for the human cost: it’s been dramatic indeed, and as I wrote earlier, I oppose the Iraqi, Afghan, and Libyan wars. But as tragic as these human costs are, they are not even comparable to the costs of most previous wars waged by the US, including the War of 1812 (which James Madison started with the applause of Thomas Jefferson), the Civil War (620,000 KIA, hundreds of thousands of soldiers wounded, not even counting civilians), WW1 (114,000 Americans killed), WW2 (400,000 Americans killed, millions wounded), the Korean War (over 50,000 KIA), and the Vietnam War (59,000 KIA). Compared to these conflicts, the Iraqi and Afghan wars were nothing. The Civil War ruined half of the country, and the Vietnam War caused a second Civil War in cities and on campus. Moreover, Maheshwari has utterly failed to mention that I opposed, and continue to oppose, the Afghan, Iraqi, and Libyan wars.
Trying to exaggerate America’s military spending – like its other opponents – Mr Mehashwari wrote: “Counting only “Defense” budget is fraudulent and deceptive. You must count State Department, foreign aid largesse, Veterans benefits, military retirement etc.”
Firstly, the State Department’s budget includes the foreign aid budget. Both of them have nothing to do with the DOD (the DOS frequently quarrels with the latter). But let’s lump them and veterans’ benefits together with military spending, just for the sake of the argument.
According to official government data, in FY2010, America’s total military spending was $664 bn; the DOS’ budget was $27 bn; the VA’s was $53 bn; the DOE’s defense-related programs cost $16 bn. In total, that’s $760 bn, i.e. 21.(11)% of the total FY2010 federal budget ($3.6 trillion) and just 5.19% of GDP. And that is only if you count all of these nonmilitary items – the DOS, foreign aid, and veterans’ benefits.
Mr Mehashwari invoked the anti-military, utterly discredited NY Slimes newspaper (known for blatant lies about military affairs, the Middle East, and John McCain’s sex life) as credible sources of information, ignoring the fact that fewer and fewer people believe or read the NYT, with its readership shrinking precipitously. By the way, its defense budget and total military budget numbers are factually incorrect.
Despite Mehashwari’s claim, the Founding Fathers were not pacifists or noninterventionists. Most of them (including George Washington, John Adams, John Jay, and James Madison) supported a strong defense, and they even included a commandment for the Feds to provide for it in the Constitution. George Washington urged the Congress to “provide for the common defense”. They weren’t halcyon noninterventionists, either. Thomas Jefferson, often invoked as a leading noninterventionist, was the first US president to intervene abroad, in North Africa. His successor, James Madison, invaded Canada, putatively to punish the British for wrongdoings, and in reality because the War Hawks demanded Canada’s conquest. In 1812, Jefferson promised that the conquest of that country would be “a mere matter of marching”, although things turned out quite differently.
Robert Taft was an isolationist, not a conservative, and George Kennan was the author of the containment strategy, which involved a system of alliances and bases around the USSR – the ones which Mehashwari now decries as obsolete (most of them are). In any case, the claim that America is an empire is a blatant lie, as I proved on another occasion on AT.
Mr Maheshwari then invoked an utterly discredited book my Seymour Melman as proof. Well, if that’s where he gets his information from, I’m not surprised he makes ludicrous claims. Like the claim that America’s military spending causes a huge human and industrial cost (military spending does not cause huma costs – war decisions do) and is cancerous for the economy. It’s actually a tiny fraction of America’s economy, and the cost of the GWOT and overseas bases is a rounding error in America’s GDP. Military spending actually benefits the economy, as it brings about orders for products and thus “creates” jobs.
He then debunked a straw-man argument, which I never made: “Can anyone seriously believe Mazurak’s non-sense that technologically advanced South Korea with twice the population and 40 times the economy of third-world North Korea needs US to defend itself?” I never made such a claim. But North Korea has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which South Korea does not, and the South – like Japan – needs American troops as a psychological REASSURANCE that, if push comes to shove, the US will defend it from the DPRK and its ally China. Likewise, Japan doesn’t have nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. American troops are needed there as a visible sign that the US stands by them. Both of these countries have smaller economies, and vastly smaller militaries and defense budgets, than Communist China, a sworn enemy of Japan.
Another straw man claim: “And is it sensible to station troops in Korea, Japan, Europe and dozens of other regions 65 years after WWII?” But I never claimed it’s wise to keep them in Europe and the Middle East. I’ve repeatedly called for withdrawing them from both regions. As for Korea and Japan – it is wise to station troops there for as long as China and North Korea – longtime allies – threaten Japan, South Korea, and/or the US.
Mr Maheshwari apparently wishes to see greater federal spending on “the infrastructure” and “education”, combined with massive military spending cuts. But that would be a suicide. Military spending cuts will never balance, or even significantly reduce, the budget deficit.
Federal spending on “the infrastructure” and “education” is actually actively damaging, because it comes with strings attached and therefore enslaves state and local governments to the Feds, which allows the Feds to issue a myriad of diktats every year, all of which make the infrastructure and American schools worse, not better. And the federal government is actually the most wasteful, least efficient distributor of infrastructure and education funds.
As President Reagan and many others have observed, American schools have deteriorated significantly since the federal government became involved with them. Before the 1970s, every child was graduating knowing how to read, write and count, and very knowledgeable about history, geography, and science. Today, most HS graduates can’t pass a university entrance exam, and 20% of Americans can’t find the US on a world map.
The US spends more on education – in absolute numbers and per student – than any other country in the world, yet its students rank dismally in PISA rankings. The solution is not to cut defense spending and pump more money into schools. The answer is to end federal meddling with (and spending on) education and reserve that issue to state and local governments and to parents.
Mr Maheshwari asks whether the US would allow China to put troops on the US-Mexican border, rebuild New Orleans, and send American HS dropouts and drug addicts to schools and workplaces. The US doesn’t need China for that. The US-Mexican border would quickly calm down if a fence would be built and if the War on Drugs was ended. New Orleans has been (mostly) rebuilt, and hosted the 2008 Canada-US-Mexico Summit. As for HS dropouts and drug addicts – this is none of the federal government’s business. The private sector is the best job creator, parents are the best educators of children, and the number of drug addicts would shrink greatly if the War on Drugs was ended.
The federal government’s job is to protect the country, not to spend money on HS dropouts and drug addicts.
Mr Maheshwari is clearly ignorant of this. He asks, “Why shouldn’t our young people rebuild America instead of squandering it all in foreign wars and bases?” By “it all”, he probably means America’s national wealth. But, as I proved earlier, only 4.6% of America’s national wealth is spent annually on the military, and most of it is not squandered, but rather spent on America’s defense; less than 25% of it is spent on Afghanistan, Iraq, unneeded bases, and Libya. Plus, as I said, rebuilding America is the job of state and local governments (and the private sector), not the federal government, and America’s infrastructure is the best in the world. Mr Maheshwari also ignores the Constitution, which COMMANDS the federal government to provide for the common defense (vide Art. IV) but reserves all issues – except those explicitly authorized to the federal government – for state governments and the people. Defense is a Constitutional obligation of the federal government. The infrastructure is not, and neither is education. Both of them are reserved to the states and the private sector.
The federal government is the worst possible financier and manager of education and the infrastructure. Parents, the private sector, local governments, and state governments would manage it best and should pay for them. And the idea that Americans have to choose between a strong military on the one hand, and good schools and high-quality infrastructure on the other hand, is ludicrous. The US can afford to have all three – there’s no need to cut defense spending to provide for schools and the infrastructure – but these must be provided by the entities best suited to provide them: defense by the federal government, and the rest by state and local governments and the private sector.
Mr Mehashwari concluded his article thus:
“In India there is an old saying “Vinaash Kaale Vipreet Buddhi”, “when the time of destruction approaches, the intellect becomes self-destructive”. Mazurak’s warped thinking and attacks are provocative, but without any merit. Instead of attacking my article, Mazurak and his readers should think hard whether the founders were right, and who has America’s best interests at heart. If readers still get brainwashed in Mazurak’s lullabies, it will be a tragedy for US and all of us.”
My statements are not lullabies, they are statements of fact. As for my “attacks” – I attacked his claims, not himself. I attacked them because they’re factually wrong. The Founders were right, but the Founders did not support pacifism nor noninterventionism, and most of them supported a strong defense. Instead of lecturing me about the Founding Founders, he should study their biographies and their statements.
In any case, defense spending (or even total military spending) is not a threat to the Republic, its economy, or its public finances. Total military spending constitutes only 4.6% of GDP. It’s hardly a threat to the US economy.