From an article by Herbert Stein, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in The AEI Economist (November 1987), a publication of the American Enterprise Institute:

The public has a grossly exaggerated view of how big defense spending is.

A recent poll showed that 57 percent of the people thought that defense spending took more than 20 percent of gross national product. Twenty-three percent thought it took more than 40 percent. Only 6 percent knew the correct answer, which is that defense is less than 10 percent of GNP (actually it is less than 7 percent).

Such misinformation affects public attitudes toward defense spending, and that affects the attitudes of those in Congress, even though they presumably know better. A better appreciation of the facts must be established.

Under the guidance of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings we have fallen into the habit of thinking that whenever the budget deficit needs to be cut the defense budget should be cut by the same percentage as the nondefense budget -- excluding certain pet nondefense items like Social Security. This practice would be a particularly senseless application of a more general, but also fallacious, idea that the cost of more spending for defense is less spending for "nondefense" in the budget, whereas the real trade-off is between defense and the least valuable part of the 93 percent of the GNP that goes for all nondefense purposes, private as well as public.

Decisions about the defense budget need to be liberated from this arbitrariness.