Monday, September 24, 2007

Mohair and Mercenaries

Mohair is the fine wool made from a certain breed of goats. Evidently it is very warm, comfortable, lightweight and has good water repellent properties that made it a desirable fabric for military uniforms during the early Cold War. Congress decided to subsidize its production to ensure a large domestic supply in case the US Army needed to remobilize ten million men to fight on the plains of North Germany. And then came polyester, rayon and nylon --- cheaply and securely replicating many of the desired features of mohair. And then it took Congress thirty years to elimianate the subsidy, and another five years to reinstate it.

Congress is slow to cut any programs because of a basic public action problem --- a miniscule, vocal group that collects the concentrated benefits of the program will scream bloody murder and threaten the poltical careers of supporters of any attempt to reduce those benefits, while the diffuse savings barely are recognized by the greater public. I'm not picking on mohair, this is common behavior and explains quite a good deal of the federal budget. This behavior is weaker with state and local budgets as borrowing capacity is lesser, and there often is a balanced budget requirement, but I digress on the joys of public finance.

I bring this up as I was reading John Robb's argument that private military contractors/mercenaries are a cost efficient and effective use of a state's resources for national security policy. He raises a contigent expense argument and I think history is a bit unkind to it in practice despite sounding great in theory:
Unlike the hordes of bureaucratic Defense contractors that will permanently infest the halls of the DoD, private military companies field mission specific employees. IF there is a withdrawal from Iraq, there will be bust in the PMC industry as firms quickly shed employees.
It took the end of the Cold War for Lockheed, McDonald Douglas and Boeing to shed employees in their tactical aviation construction programs, and we still are seeing the F-22 being produced. The DDG-51 series of air defense destroyers are overkill for almost all threat environments, but the production run has continued partially as a job protection/skill preservation measure. The C-130J has continually been forced onto the Air Force by Congressmen and women who represent its major assembly plants. Large scale expenditures are extremely difficult politically to cut much less eliminate. Blackwater will have major political champions from both of the North Carolina Senators and several Reps from both parties as Blackwater employs many of their constituents. Other PMCs will have locally interested political players who fear the local employment repercussions.

There is a very self-interested profit motive of prolonging the war for as long as possible in order to continue to collect large fees for the PMCs. The leadership of the PMCs and their shareholders have an intense profit motive to ensure large scale future deployments being paid for by the richest country and deepest pockets. They'll most likely use the same political process to ensure concentrated benefits continue as the mohair producers of America have for the past fifty years. So I have a hard time seeing contractors being cheaper on the contigent labor pool grounds.

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