Creeping Mobocracy in Versailles on the Potomac (I)
September 24, 1999
The Framers of the Constitution, being men of property, were acutely aware of the central vulnerability of any democracy: rule by a mob inflamed by passions of ambitious politicians intent on buying votes.
Their studies of how Rome and Greece went into terminal decline led them to construct a system of checks and balances to prevent the factional chaos of Mobocracy from becoming a reality. Part of their opposition to a large standing Army came from their analysis of the Roman experience, where the magnificent legions degenerated into a self-serving, power-hungry faction that sold its services to highest bidder and thereby placed its own interest before that of Rome and contributed materially to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
The melding of rapid communications, the age of spin, and special interests has created a post-information morality that is sowing confusion and disorder, debasing our politics, and is now threatens to replace the Miracle of Philadelphia with Mobocracy. Nowhere is this threat more clear than in the machinations of the military - industrial - congressional complex, or the MICC. The end of the Cold War left the MICC without its primary reason for existence, and the 1990s have seen it struggle to survive by putting its own interests ahead of the nation it purports to defend.
The across-the-board military pay raise just passed overwhelmingly by the Senate is a splendid case to illustrate how data-free analysis and analysis-free decision making are insensibly replacing checks and balances in Versailles. Let us examine this mobocratic phenomenon in the context of the three References to this message. Bear in mind, we are talking about a very substantial commitment of scarce resources into the future, because the pay hike will cost $13.7 billion over the next 5 years and $40.2 billion over the next 10 years. The avowed purpose of the pay raise is to stop people from leaving the military in such alarming numbers.
To their credit, two powerful Senators (Pete Domenici, Chairman of the Budget Committee and Ted Stevens, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee) were concerned enough about the future consequences of this current decision to ask the General Accounting Office to assemble the data needed to understand why people are leaving the military [see Comment #320].
That report took the form of a survey of 1,000 members of the military and was the subject of my last comment. Reference #1 is a news report of that survey by Tom Philpott. He confirms the information in the Domenci press release [see Comment #320] namely that pay is NOT the primary reason why people are leaving the military, with the exception of some of the enlisted personnel in the lower ranks.
Readers who want to verify Philpott's interpretation can obtain the report by calling (202) 512-6000 or place an order by fax to (202) 512-6061. The report number is GAO/NSIAD-99-197BR and its title is "Military Personnel: Perspectives of Surveyed Service Members in Retention Critical Specialties."
In Reference #2, Otto Kreisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune does not mention the GAO study or the fact that there was no debate over the proposal, but he does report that the Senate overwhelming passed the pay raise by a margin of 93 to 5 (following the house vote of 375 to 45) as part of the $290 billion Defense Authorization Bill. [Domenici and Stevens both voted for the raise, the results of their study notwithstanding.]
Margins like 93 to 5 carry the stench of Mobocracy. Let's look a little deeper to see who the Congress is trying to buy the loyalty of. Kreisher also tells us a Marine Corps corporal, with three years' experience, will receive an added $63.60 to their monthly pay check. A Navy lieutenant or Marine captain, after six years in the military, would garner an extra $161.40 a month, or two and a half times as much as the corporal. Field grade officers and generals will receive even larger pay raises and officers in critical specialties, like pilots, will get whopping re-upping bonuses to boot.
Now compare this pattern of raises to results of the GAO's survey. The GAO reported that pay is more of a determinant of dissatisfaction in the enlisted ranks than in the officer ranks. But this raise gives the largest increases to officers, particularly those in higher ranks or bonuses for those with critical skills, like pilots (who already get extra pay for doing something they love). Moreover, the GAO survey tells us officers are more dissatisfied by work-related factors, such as shortages of spare parts, time away from families, and the screwed up medical care system (which everybody seems to hate) than with their pay.
To make matters worse, the US military has too many officers. It has one of the world's most bloated officer to enlisted ratios, and that ratio is now at an all time high. (see Comment #s 23, 212, & 238).
But there is even more! Referring back to Reference #1, Philpott ends his report with a little bomb. The pay raise bill takes the lid off of double dipping. Military personnel who have already LEFT the military but are still feeding at the government trough as civil service or congressional staff employees will no longer be subject to a cap on their total salary. This little goodie amounts to an average pay raise of $9,800 per year beginning on October 1. This equates to giving $816 per month to a person who has already left the military, or 5 times as much as will be given to the Marine captain or 12 times what will be given to the corporal to keep them both in the military.
With leadership like this, it is easy to see why younger people are punching out. It is also easy to see why the Courtiers in Versailles on the Potomac continue to produce Armed Forces Day posters that forget to include people [see Comment 273 and 237 or go to
Putting this together, we have a classic case of the data free analysis and analysis free decision making that is a crucial precondition for the emergence of Mobocracy: The Senate voted 93 to 5 for a bill that included an expensive pay raise that targeted the largest raises at the very group that says pay is NOT a problem and then gave a whopping increase for people in the civil service and on the Congressional staff who had ALREADY LEFT the military by retiring. Moreover, it passed this bill only a few days after its own investigative arm gave it raw data suggesting that pay was not the major source of dissatisfaction among the members of the group targeted for the largest raise.
This may be merely the dawn of Mobocracy in the 21st Century. Presidential candidates are gearing up to buy off every part of the MICC. Reference #3 is but one example in the bidding war that is about to explode. Frank Bruni tells us how Governor George Bush will buy the support of the MICC with his defense policies. Bruni reports that, if Bush is elected President, he will add $20 billion to the R&D budget, he will demand that 20% of procurement will be devoted to new technologies both of these policies will be a cornucopia for the MICC … and he will ADD another $5 billion to increase pay over that just approved by Congress!
The best way to end this dreary story is to use the words of an Army Sergeant in a recent: "As in the case of this much ballyhooed 4.8% pay raise. The bulk of the pay raise is concentrated to field grade officers, O-4 through O-5. Sounds like some manipulation to try to retain some of the pilots that are jumping ship. For myself, as an E-6 over 18, it means approximately $30.00 a month more, or 0.3%. Both I and the IRS are laughing all the way to the bank."
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