5.56×45 Load Data

Volumes have been written about the M16 and the ammunition ran through it. I’ll add my two cents in here and there, but for the most part this is just a blog post to give reference data.

Powder: 28.5 gr of WC844 or 26.5gr of CMR 170 (H335 is canister grade WC844)
Bullet: 55gr FMJBT, G7 BC 0.122
Brass: Arsenal Brass
Primer: Milspec Small Rifle, crimped
Pressure: 50k CUP/54k PSI
Velocity: 3250 fps (20″ barrel) 15 feet from muzzle

Note: 54gr tracer bullets associated with M193 ballistic trajectory use the same charge of WC844. Also CMR 170 at 26.5gr or IMR 8208M at 25.3gr can be substituted.

Powder: 26.1gr of WC844
Bullet: 62gr SS109 type, G7 BC 0.151
Brass: Arsenal Brass
Primer: Milspec Small Rifle, crimped
Pressure: 50k CUP/54k PSI
Velocity 3050 fps (20″ barrel) 78 feet from muzzle

Note: 63gr tracer bullets associated with M855 ballistic trajectory use a reduced charge of WC844 at 24.7gr.

Powder: SMP842 (CFE223 may come close)
Bullet: 62gr copper with steel nose, G7 BC 0.166
Brass: Arsenal brass
Primer: Milspec small rifle, staked
Pressure: 62k PSI (HOT!!!)
Velocity: 3150 fps (20″ barrel)
NOTE: M855A1 duplication may not be safe in your firearm.

Mk262 Mod0 and Mod1
Powder: Non-Cannister Grade St Marks ball powder: Closest match I’ve found is PowerPro 2000-MR
Bullet: 77gr Open Tip Match with crimp groove (Mod1) or no smooth (Mod0) G7 BC 0.190
Primer: Milspec Small Rifle, crimped
Velocity: 2850 fps (20″ barrel) 15 feet from muzzle
NOTE: Mk262 duplication may not be safe in your firearm. Much like the Mk248 Mod1 load for the 300 Win Mag, I don’t recommend duplicating Mk262 Mod1 as it is really hot, and frankly it isn’t necessary to get to that velocity/pressure level to get good long range performance from an AR. M855A1, Mk262 and Mk248 were intended for combat use, not reloading the brass.

Now, all of this is “interesting” but not really relevant to civilian interests unless you find that you have a rifle which really shoots a milspec load really, really well and you want to duplicate it. However, for hunting and target shooting there are better bullets available, even cheap 55gr soft points are going to be more consistently lethal than military ball ammunition because they have zero yaw dependency for wounding. The 77gr SMKs are a decent choice for target work, but are expensive which is why I shoot a lot of Hornaday bullets (just as good for what I need them to do).

I don’t know of any handloader that crimps in the primers to help handle the additional pressure of a hot day with a hot chamber, with temperature sensitive powder. This is why I don’t recommend duplicating M855A1 or Mk262 loads, they are loaded in virgin brass with crimped and staked primers for a reason. Black hills even started producing a safer version of Mk262 with a more reasonable velocity for the civilian market (good for them).

Always be safe in you load workup.


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Condition 3 failure alternative analysis.

If you are in a business where you are likely to be on the pointy end of violence, you should carry with a round in the chamber. Cop, security guard, convenience store clerk, bank teller (if allowed by employer), are all professions where you should be carrying in a top notch kydex holster (or other type of holster that won’t deform and get floppy), and you should be regularly practicing your draw from concealed.

If you go read the article here, it sounds like the difference between life and death was carrying a round in the chamber versus not. I disagree for points that will be made aftter this linke:

Why do I disagree? Because the man in the apron died because he failed to 1) use any cover or concealment. 2) did not wait for an opportune time to engage, 3) tried to draw and rack faster than someone could pull a trigger, 4) moved towards the bad guy making himself an easier target. He died because he did everything else wrong too, not just carry in condition 3.

If you haven’t done this exercise before, get a buddy you trust, with an airsoft pistol or laser training pistol, try to draw and shoot before your buddy who has a gun on you just outside of reach range. For those who have graduated ECQC, they’ve already done this and found that it worked just as well as the guy who carried in condition 3 in the video.

The truth is at halitosis range and just beyond, you need many more tools in your toolbox than a round in the pipe. Being on the right side of the law has no bearing whatsoever at whether you survive a violent encounter. Now remember, I’m not saying that everyone should carry in condition 3, I’m only saying that I’m not going to try to shame people into the constant training regime necessary to SAFELY carry in condition 1. Remember, the number of “accidental shootings” in the US is massively in excess of the homicide rate in the United States, because you can’t train your way to perfect safety (although you can train your way out of being a dumbass).

Remember, if you end up in a violent encounter, be smarter than the other guy. Talk as long as you need to so that when you decide to engage in violence that the conditions are set so you have maximized your chances for success. If you carry with a round in the pipe, and train religiously to draw and put lead on target from standing, sitting, and laying down, be sure to add some “verbal jiu jitsu” to your toolbox so that you can set conditions for when you have to be overwhelmingly violent.

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Strep, Necrotizing Fasciitis, and Illegal Immigration

The TL:DR version of the stories linked below is that illegal immigrants have been carrying flesh eating bacteria into the United States since at least late last year. A US Army trainee from California lost his leg to the disease, and an 8 year old child in CBP custody died from the disease.

These sort of stories are tragic, and unfortunately highlight the risks of an unsecured border. Thankfully these stories are still relatively rare, so the actual risk is still thankfully low, however the cost of this is not “zero.”  The cost of treating illegal aliens in custody is not zero. The cost of treating the trainee from the San Joaquin valley is not zero. So despite low personal risks, there is a burden on the taxpayer.

There is a moral argument to be made that the United States is rich enough to bear the burden, but there is an equally moral argument that you have a personal responsibility to no bring a life threatening illness into contact with other people and risk their infection.

My take? Border security is a separate issue from immigration reform, and both are pretty desperately needed.


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The Legacy of Vietnam, and possibly the War on Terror

The anniversary of the war in Vietnam came and went again this year. The population of veterans who actually served in Vietnam continues to dwindle due to the inevitable march of time. But in terms of events that shaped the future, Vietnam is an interesting point in the cold war, and for those veterans who served there my words here may bring some sense of closure.

Vietnam was a wake up call to a generation of military leaders. Along with other actions like the 6 Day War and Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, Vietnam demonstrated that military training designed to “fill units” with bodies was not sufficient to meet the national security needs of a modern state. Out of Vietnam came the combat training centers at Fort Irwin, Fort Polk, and for a while Camp Robinson, Arkansas, and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany. Without Vietnam the US Military would have stuck with the same model of training large numbers of drafted civilians in minimal time to fight the war of attrition that fought to victory in WWII, and to a ceasefire in Korea. The Air Force established “Red Flag” to help inculcate new pilots to the realities of a complex threat environment with AA, SAM, and enemy fighter jets all in the mix. The Navy established the “Top Gun” school for the same purpose.

The lesson learned, we would never again willingly deploy untrained units or personnel to fight.

Vietnam was also the birthplace of the legitimacy of “unconventional warfare” which would eventually grow into the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) after the Goldwater-Nichols Act in the 1980s. The particular unintended consequences of creating a globally deployable special operations force may have been highlighted in the “Global War on Terrorism” but that is the mistake of my generation, giving politicians such an “easy button” without anticipating that it would become so abused.

The lessons brought back to the military from the jungles, rivers, airspace, and blue water oceans of southeast Asia were what shaped the success in Desert Storm.

And then, the actual goal of Vietnam, keeping the world safe from the scourge of Communism, was realized with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the embrace of China to become “Capitalist Communist” in order to avoid the same fate as the Soviet Union. It wasn’t a complete victory, but it was a victory as the only nations still clinging to a communist style planned economy such as North Korea and Venezuela, are reaping the obvious economic consequences of such foolishness.

I believe Vietnam wasn’t a loss of a war, just one battle in a much bigger effort we called the “Cold War.” It was, unfortunately the only action large and eye opening enough to break the US Military out of the WWII mindset, and abandon such doctrine as “Active Defense” and move to “Air Land Battle” forcing the Army and Air Force to play nice together as sister services (even before Goldwater-Nichols required that jointness).

So I want to say “Thank You” to those who came before me, and passed on the hard lessons learned. Whether a volunteer or draftee, those who served in Vietnam passed on a legacy that I personally, and millions of others who have served since then, have benefited from. What you paid in blood, sweat, pain, and sacrifice was not wasted.

I write this because as a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have none of the “decisive victory” of WWII, we are also in the process of learning the hard lessons all over again. It is impossible for the US military in its current form to simultaneously be prepared for both large scale combat against a peer combatant, and prepared for a constabulary “nation building” stability mission. There isn’t enough training time, or the right training opportunities to make that happen. Too many training distractions, too few resources to make the people who need the training the most, which is the “grunt on the ground”, capable of the proper discernment between violence and civil engagement. This is a lesson that we learned in Vietnam, and relearned in the “Global War on Terror.”

Time moves on, and experience transitions out of the military. The best we can do is pass on the torch of knowledge while we can, because experience is only gained the hard way.

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Gun Control Debate Ignores Black People?

Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything” weighed into the gun debate again, with a huge part of the schtick an illogical appeal to emotion about Philando Castile to justify the position that Blacks do not enjoy the same rights as whites. You can watch it all here if you like:

Now, this sparked the obvious comments like:

Philando Castile killed in Falcon Heights Minnesota by police officer, Jamal Robertson killed by a police officer in Chicago, and Emantic Bradford Shot and killed by police in Alabama. All three of these men were literally good guys with guns but shot and killed by the police simply because they were black men who legally carried guns.

But what is missing is any sort of statistical analysis, are black concealed carry permit holders killed by police at a greater statistically significantly different rate than white concealed carry permit holders? Throwing three names up there that happened with three very different circumstances isn’t helping. Both Jemel Roberson (not the mistakenly named Jamal Robertson) and Emantic Bradford were obvious mistakes by the police responding to an active shooter scenario, one was a bar shooting, the other a mall shooting. Of the two, the shooting of Roberson is the most egregious since he was wearing a high visibility vest and performing his job as security. Bradford, responding to the mall shooting unholstered his pistol and was shot by responding officers. Tragic yes, but hardly unique.

But it is not just black people being shot for having a concealed carry pistol, Eric Scott was executed by the Las Vegas Police and never held accountable either. Unfortunately, all of those anecdotes, are just that, anecdotes. And the plural of “anecdote” is NOT “data.”

So what does the data say? First, statistically there is no difference in the likelihood of being shot by a black cop or white cop if you are a black suspect.

Black Cops equally as likely to kill a black suspects as white cops. https://psmag.com/social-justice/black-cops-are-just-as-likely-as-whites-to-kill-black-suspects

When controlling for confounding factors, blacks are less likely to be killed by police than whites or Hispanic/Latino. https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/fryer_police_aer.pdf

I know it sounds counter intuitive to say that blacks are less likely to be shot than whites once you control for confounding factors. However, if you look at all the other aspects of getting shot by police OTHER than race, and account for those such as urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor, education level, employed vs non-employed, you can see that for a white and black suspect with the same confounding factors, it is statistically safer for the black suspect. Unfortunately that is cold comfort, because what it means is that in order for the “blacks are overall 3.5 to 6 times more likely than whites to be shot by cops” to also be true (which it is at the raw statistical level) the confounding factors outweigh race in the risk equation.

Lets take a look at a few maps.


A measure of economic mobility in the United States. Red bad, Green Good.

If you align that data with this map, you can see some very interesting correlations.


Percent of African Americans by county. Note how much overlap between larger African American population aligns with decreased Economic Mobility in the previous map.

If I said that you were better off being Black in Seattle or Denver than being Black in Chicago or Atlanta, would you believe me?  Even if you don’t, I would ask you to really defend any position that describes the United States as only offering homogeneous opportunity and risk for black Americans. Things like education, neighborhood, and economic mobility are confounding factors against any race based measurement.

I should also point out that the upper midwest has some skewing factors such as sparse population and the shale oil boom. If you look at South Dakota you’ll see an area of dark red in the north and south of the state surrounded by areas of much better color options, and using that data I bet you can figure out where two large Indian Reservations are in South Dakota.

Now Adam Conover doesn’t talk at all about anything other than race in his presentation. Not income or education level, not location. Even the website mappingpoliceviolence.org has come to the conclusion that geography matters.

Unfortunately what they don’t tell you is that many of those shootings were in fact justified (which is why we don’t know their names as we do Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and Emantic Bradford). If you look at the total population for Oklahoma of 3.93 million, versus Georgia’s 10.43 million, and then notice that Blacks are much more evenly spread across Georgia rather than concentrated around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The 1.5 million people in Oklahoma City and almost 400,000 in Tulsa are almost half the population of the entire state. To explain Oklahoma City, the black population is around 225,000 and so a 7 point something on the scale provided translates to about 15 police shootings of black suspects every year. However, I’ve only been able to find 1 incident of police shooting an unarmed black man that rose to the level of Philando Castile unjustified, the shooting of Terence Crutcher who was evidently high on PCP and TCP, although comments will be open for others to provide input if they desire.

If we stop looking at broad state to state comparisons, you can find black/white disparities. For example, this comes from a study done in that racist enclave of New Have, Connecticut: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5614457/

First, relative to Whites, Blacks in our study were at an economic disadvantage, as demonstrated by their lower income and education levels. Consistent with these findings, in 2011, Black men were unemployed at a rate of 25% in the city of New Haven compared to 12% for White men (). The median income for Black families was US$37,547 compared to an average White family income of US$77,443 (). It is reasonable to suggest, as others have (; ), that the involvement of Blacks in the drug trade may be at least partly a response to their poverty and lack of employment opportunities. To ensure Black drug offenders will fully benefit from criminal justice diversionary, prison, or reentry programming, it is important to be cognizant of the economic reasons for their involvement in the drug trade and address their economic needs. Accordingly, investment in quality inner-city education, youth programming, and effective job generation, training and placement should be an important part of efforts to address crime prevention and recidivism.

Second, Blacks were more likely to be charged with possession and sales, while Whites were more likely to be charged for illegal activity related to drug use, such as stealing to support their drug habit. Yet, Whites and Blacks in our study both reported the same degree of drug sales. Drug sales may be more visible in inner city, overcrowded Black neighborhoods where they are more likely to take place outdoors (). Recent research in the ecology of crime has focused our attention away from individual characteristics and social capital within neighborhoods to the characteristics of neighborhoods themselves, such as the activity level on streets (). The widespread and well known over-policing of Black neighborhoods during the war on drugs (, , ) can further stigmatize and disillusion those in contact with police, and lead to more law-breaking () and punishments beyond their sentences. For example, with regard to the latter, to the extent that Blacks in our study were more likely to be incarcerated on charges explicitly labeled as drug-related, Blacks would also be more likely to suffer the collateral consequences specifically associated with drug charges, such as exclusion from certain forms of financial aid, housing benefits, and job screening scrutiny ().

To any residents of the racist enclave of New Haven, CT, I apologize as I’m sure it is actually a really nice town. But it serves to illustrate the “confounding factors” that surround police/citizen interactions, and how economic and educational factors are extremely important (although none of that helped Eric Scott who was a white, college educated man in America, so much for his privilege).

So I hope that this article has looked at the problem of getting blacks involved in the gun debate in a more healthy manner than fist pumping BLM and shutting down ambulances trying to save lives. It is important to ensure that the rights of every American citizen are equally protected under the law, if we don’t do that we have no legitimacy as a nation of laws. Unfortunately the factors that drive the disparity in outcomes are less to do with race and more to do with education, employment, income, and geography. Yes there are heart breaking stories and individual cases where you scratch your head going, “what the hell were the police thinking?” but as Eric Scott or John T. Williams illustrates, that isn’t exclusive to black Americans. Cops don’t get it right every time, and often don’t pay an appropriate penalty for getting it egregiously wrong when they do.

To be completely fair, police have a job that is often as much art as anything else. A police officer must assess a situation rapidly, and often they don’t have time to make a truly informed decision before acting on training. One police officer who was working security at a concert put a “hysterical man” on the ground before he figured out that it was a distraught parent looking for his son, another talked about his first encounter with someone having a diabetic episode and only learning how to differentiate that from drug/alcohol intoxication by on the job experience. There is no replacement for experience, and by definition experience is what you get right after you really needed it.

But, just because police have a difficult and challenging job doesn’t mean that we get to give them a free pass when they screw up. Otherwise we are not a nation of laws, but a nation of populations that have separate rights and privileges based on occupation.

As more black Americans exercise their second amendment rights we will see these issues keep coming up, Adam Conover chose to stir the pot without addressing the real issues of why there is an apparent disparity. If you want to address the disparity in police involved shootings, first we have to address the real issues of education and economic mobility rather which we can change, rather than “race” which we cannot change.


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Sniper Ammunition Load Data, 30 caliber family

American military snipers have used all sorts of ammunition over the years. In WWII the 30-06 loads available seemed to do the job, but most often were just accurate lots of standard ball or armor piercing ammunition. It wasn’t uncommon prior to WWII that an accurate lot of M1 Ball (173gr FMJBT with crimping cannelure) was issued as the “National Match” ammunition with no special markings on the brass. It wouldn’t be until after WWII that Frankford Arsenal and later Lake City Ammunition Plant, began producing match ammunition for the 1903s and M1 Garand rifles used for service rifle matches.

Mil spec M1 Ball National Match
Bullet: 173gr FMJBT (with crimp groove)
Powder: IMR4895
Primer: Milspec Large Rifle
Brass: NM marked milspec brass
Velocity 2595 fps @ 78 ft.

Mil spec M72 Match
Bullet: 173gr FMJBT (M1 ball profile without crimp groove)
Powder: Between 46 and 50gr of IMR4895 depending on lot
Primer: Milspec Large Rifle (a CCI #34 will work)
Brass: NM marked 30-06 brass
Velocity: 2640 fps +/- 30 fps @ 78 ft.
Pressure: 50,000 CUP

M2 Armor Piercing
Bullet: 168 grain armor piercing (black tip)
Powder: IMR4895
Primer: Milspec LR
Brass: Arsenal and year marked milspec
Velocity: 2715 fps @ 78 ft.

The M72 match load came well after the end of major hostilities in the Korean war, but was just in time to see the beginning of Vietnam. It has been said that Carlos Hathcock used M2 AP ammunition in Vietnam as it shot very consistently when match ammunition was not available. At the same time the USMC and US Army were developing the M40 and M21 sniper rifles, which would serve alongside the older M1 Garand sniper variants, and the Winchester M70 target rifles pressed into service as sniper rifles in Vietnam.

The transition to the shorter 7.62×51 standard made it really simple to create a match/sniper round by slapping together the best components for the M72 match bullet gave the “XM118″ and then M118 load. The M118, M118SB, and M118SB, Match, were all essentially the same load with different labels.

Mil spec for M118, M118 Special Ball / Match
Bullet: 173 grain FMJBT (M1 ball profile without crimp groove)
Powder: 44 grains WC846 or 42 grains IMR 4895 (lot adjusted for velocity)
Primer: Milspec LR (#43 unstaked, #36, or #34 staked depending on year of manufacture)
Brass: Milspec marked M118
Velocity = 2550 +/- 30 fps @ 78 ft.
Pressure = 50,000 psi max average, copper (aka CUP)
Accuracy = Carton – 3.5” mean radius @ 600 yards

By the early 1980s the M118 load was starting to show the age of the production line, and accuracy began to drop off. So a true “match only” load was developed around the highly accurate Sierra 168gr Match King bullet (the same bullet Gary Anderson used to win a gold medal in the Olympics). It was in the 1980s that the US Army adopted the M24 sniper rifle system, the first non-service rifle sniper rifle mass fielded to the operational Army.

Mil spec for M852 Match
Bullet: 168gr Sierra Match King hollow point boat tail
Powder: 42 grains IMR 4895
Velocity = 2550 +/- 30 fps @ 78 ft.
Pressure = 50,000 psi max average, copper (aka CUP)
Accuracy = Carton – 3.5″ mean radius @ 600 yards

Unfortunately the international ban on “expanding or hollow point ammunition” made a legal ruling that M852 ammunition was “not for use in combat” until a further legal review clarified the difference between “open tip, match” and “hollowpoint” where M852 was authorized for use in war, so M852 was issued for competitive match use, and M118SB was issued for real world use. Unfortunately, even after the change that authorized M852 for real world use, the 168gr Sierra Match King bullet is not the best choice for 600 to 1000 yard work for snipers, and so development began in what culminated as the M118 Long Range cartridge, which has served the US military well in many different conflicts.

M118LR (best guess from pulled components)
Bullet: 175gr Sierra Match King
Brass: Milspec marked LR
Primer: Milspec LR
Powder: Reloader15 (reported 43.0 grains)
Velocity = 2580 fps (78 feet from muzzle)
Pressure = 50k psi, copper (aka CUP)
Accuracy = 3.5″ mean radius at 600

However, during the “War on Terror” the problem of consistent long range accuracy under wildly varying temperature conditions prompted a search for an improvement to M118LR, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane (NSWC Crane) developed the Mk316 Mod0 load for the special operations community to provide more consistent performance in highly variable temperature conditions. A complaint one sniper gave me was that he couldn’t leave a round of M118LR in the chamber of his M110 (the military designation for the Knight’s Armament SR-25) as it would cause the brass to get stuck (most likely due to the Reloader 15 powder getting hot and increasing chamber pressure to an unacceptable level).

Mk316 (data pulled from one lot label and DTIC data)
Bullet: 175gr SMK
Powder. 41.745 gr IMR4064
Primer: Federal 210M match primer, unstaked
Brass: Federal match brass
Velocity = 2640 fps +/- 15 fps @ 78 feet
Pressure =50k psi, copper (aka CUP)
Accuracy = 1 MOA out to 1K

The SOF community, wanting more performance than the 7.62×51 cartridge can muster, looked for a bigger option in the form of the 300 Winchester Magnum. At the time of development the legal review allowing open tip match projectiles in combat had not been signed, and so rather than reuse the old M1 Ball profile FMJ, they chose initially a 180gr Sierra Match King bullet with the tip burnished close, but performance was poor and since those bullets are not available on the civilian market anymore I’m not bothering to list that load data. However, to meet the requirements of no open tip bullets, the venerable Lapua D46 bullet. This ammunition appeared in the early 1990s.

A191 300 Win Mag load
Bullet: Lapua D46, 185gr bullet
Powder: IMR4350 propellant
Velocity: 3,000 fps (from 24″ barrel)
Brass and primer type unknown, but likely whoever HSM’s supplier was at the time.
Accuracy standard, no greater than 6″ extreme spread at 600 yards.

However, not satisfied with that level of performance, and with change of legal opinion allowing snipers the ability to use modern match projectiles without committing a war crime, NSWC Crane continued to develop a solution and came up with Mk248 Mod0 built around the 190gr Sierra Match King.

Mk248 Mod 0 300 Win Mag (duplication load from a source I trust)
Bullet: 190gr SMK
Brass: Federal Brass
Powder: RL-22 powder 73.5 grains
Bullet: SMK 190 3.465″ OAL
Primer: Federal 215M primer
Velocity = 2,950 fps
Accuracy standard, no greater than 6″ extreme spread at 600 yards.

While the war on terror used a lot of the Mk248, working with allies who were armed with the formidable Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum, Timberwolf, and Sako TRG-42 in the 338 Lapua Magnum cartridge, SOF got a case of jealousy and started looking at their own solution to a longer range sniper cartridge. NSWC Crane went back to the drawing board and came up with a solution that extended the range of the 300 Win Mag sniper systems in use, without the need to rebarrel to the 338 Lapua.

Mk248 Mod 1
Bullet: 220gr SMK
Brass: Federal
Powder: H1000
Primer: Federal 215M
Velocity: 2,830 fps
Accuracy: no greater than 6″ extreme spread at 600 yards

So that brings us up to the present. 7.62×51 is still being issued, but now mainly to Designated Marksmen rather than Snipers who have universally swapped over to the 300 Win Mag. Except for SOF, which has now put out feelers for the 6.5 Creedmoor in a gas gun setup, because having ballistics similar to the 300 Win Mag with recoil less than 7.62×51 is a very good thing for a sniper to have in most cases. But since the 6.5 Creedmoor isn’t part of the 30 cal family, and since I don’t have any data on any potential loads to be accepted, I’ll refrain from speculating.

As a side note, the different accuracy standards in “mean radius” and “extreme spread” are two different ways to measure accuracy. Mean spread means the Army wrote the standard, and extreme spread means the Navy wrote the standard. In my experience it is much easier for handloaders to calculate extreme spread (just needs a ruler or other measuring device) rather than an excel spreadsheet to XY plot all the impacts.

Comments are open.

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Trade Deficits, do they matter?

My right wing friends are crowing about how the trade deficit increased despite Trump’s best effort, and my left wing friends are crowing about how the trade deficit increased despite Trump’s best efforts… They just crow for different ideological reasons.

So why is that everyone gets so upset? Simply because they just do not understand the economics here unfortunately. Imports do not subtract from the domestic economy at all. They do not, trade does not, change the number of jobs in the economy, it only changes which jobs are done. It’s not even true that the money, the demand, leaves the country and doesn’t come back. For if we run a trade deficit then we must, in an exactly equal amount, run a capital surplus because the balance of payments really does balance. So, if we buy more imports than we sell exports then foreigners must be investing more in the US than we are investing outside it.

And no, there are no exceptions to that.

So, the trade balance, the trade deficit, doesn’t matter in the slightest. Yet all too many people get very heat up about it which is why we have to note it. Rather than ignore it as we should.

In a purely economic sense, absent any other factors, Tim Worstall (and my friends on the Right) are correct, trade deficits don’t really matter.

However, absent any other factors is really like the physics student who solved the farmer’s chicken problem, but only for spherical chickens in a vacuum. From a purely economics perspective, from conservative economists, they clearly do not matter. Unfortunately there aren’t spherical chickens being raised on a vacuum farm…

Conservative economists love to make the lazy assumption that a free market is a free market and governments are just along for the ride as freeloading parasites. Leftist thinkers like to make the lazy assumption that governments control markets. Unfortunately reality doesn’t support either particular dogmatic assumption, and governments are well adapted to using all means of national power (military, information, diplomatic, legal, intelligence, finance, and economics) to advance their interest. So a trade deficit is both opportunity and risk, no matter whether the difference is measured by a plus or minus.

So, accounting for “actual reality” rather than the pure world of economics dogma, do trade deficits not matter?

From a military perspective, they do matter. After all, “sanctions” matter as a form of government power, and “trade deficits” should be thought of as the opposite of “sanctions.” Instead of restricting trade to a country as some sort of punitive measure, allowing a deficit of trade with some country as an encouraging behavior.

Secondly, Tim Worstall is completely wrong on this assumption “For if we run a trade deficit then we must, in an exactly equal amount, run a capital surplus because the balance of payments really does balance.” The “Great Depression” and “Great Recession” happened simply because those balance sheets don’t care if we are in a healthy, growing economy, or a shrinking, dysfunctional economy. Balancing a credit sheet on “debt financing” may make the numbers on a balance sheet add up temporarily, but when the Gods of the Copybook headings come to claim the debts and there is nothing to back it up, well you get that “foreign investment” in such businesses as Enron or Worldcom. As an unrelated note, Jeffry Skilling the former Enron CEO was released from custody on the 21st of February 2019, finally making him a free man again. Additionally the “great recession” of the “mortgage backed securities” also got the economy in a bind because the assumption that people paid their mortgages turned out to be bad when people lost jobs (you know, because of things like a trade deficit flooding the market with cheaper goods through free trade deals) so those financial vehicles would be a good place for all that investment.

For further example to consider, nations can and do go bankrupt. Zimbabwe, Venezuela, the Soviet Union. This is not an effect of a trade deficit, but an effect of the reality that “economics” as a discipline largely ignores the realities of nation states participating in economics. Debt financing brought down the Soviet Union, because they had a trade deficit problem. Mexico, as a “capitalist” nation, has had to restructure its currency several times now to deal with the issues of hyperinflation.

The problem with Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Soviet Union was not a lack of natural resources to exploit, but the inability to export enough of their resources to ensure their currency and national finances were in any sort of state to make up for the constant outflow of cash. Much of that was through economic inefficiency by the restrictions on the market, but as I mentioned before, trade deficits can be thought of as the opposite of sanctions, and modern Russia under Putin was well prepared to deal with the inevitable sanctions imposed on Russia for actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

“But Rowland! Most of those were communist countries! Trade deficits don’t matter to capitalist nations!” Someone may argue. I would reply to that, “George Soros broke the Bank of England, on his own, because of market participation, and the ‘Great Depression’ happened because of excessive investment.” And because the strength of a currency is linked to total trading volume, too much of a deficit will cause a negative effect on the strength of the currency.

In fact that’s the reason why Trump is currently lamenting a strong dollar, when your currency buys more, you buy more. When your currency is weaker, other people get more for their money and they buy more.

None of this should give you the take away that trade deficits should be hugely alarming, only that they aren’t inherently risk free. I must also point out that the risks extend beyond the realm of “economics” and into the realm of “political power” and “national sovereignty.” Right now the only time I would be really concerned is when a nation has both an an increasing trade deficit and a weakening currency, because that is an indicator of potential collapse.


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