Fiasco II

by on August 4, 2006 at 7:12 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

Henry at Crooked Timber challenges me to provide more background on why the fiasco in Iraq is another instance of government failure.  I do so in the comments to his post and expand somewhat here.

Government founders on problems of incentives and information.  On incentives: Should we be surprised that delays, errors and incompetence are more prevalent at the INS than at bureaucracies which must deal with citizens or which face competition from the private sector?

Of course not – but then what incentives does our government have to prevent abuse of foreign
citizens? Democracy in this case provides no checks and balances because of
anti-foreign bias, the ease with which the public can ignore the deaths of
innocents abroad, and the fact that foreigners lack representation in
our legislatures or the courts.  Thus, Abu Ghraib and the routine shooting of innocents is no surprise – this is what happens when government is unconstrained. 

What about the incentives to
start wars? Government is bad enough when we all have access to
information. What are we going to do when the major source of
information is the government itself and they ask us to trust but not verify? 

Is it a surprise that wars
are much more likely to be started when the economy is doing badly and
the President is low in the polls?  Not to me but I am dismayed that people continue to be surprised when Presidents lie to make war, as if this had never happened before.

We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."  Lyndon Baines Johnson, October 1964.)

It’s naive to only blame particular people (Bush, Cheney et al.) and depressing when people at CT claim that if only "our guys" had been in power everything would have been ok.  When you see the same behaviour again and again you ought to look to systematic factors.  And even if you do believe that it is all due to Bush, Cheney et al. it’s not as if these guys came to power randomly, they won twice.  The worst get on top for a reason.  As a result, government ought to be designed (on which see further below) so it works when the knaves are in power and not just when the angels govern.

One response in several comments at CT is that these are arguments against democracy and not against government.  If only we had followed the experts at the Pentagon we would have been ok.  Frankly this response, which is an argument for Fascism, sickens me.   Factually the argument is incorrect, the Pentagon and not just the civilian leaders share much of the blame for our current fiasco.  Moreover, had we listened to the experts in the past, Curtis LeMay and his type would probably have sent us to nuclear hell by now.  I believe in democracy but I believe in it as a constraint on government.

Governments also founder on problems of information.  Whereas the market makes use of highly dispersed information in the minds of millions of individuals thousands of miles apart the government bases its information on curveball and the musings of a cabal of neo-conservatives busy counting the chapters of The Prince for gnosis.  Yes, this case is especially ridiculous but have people not heard of the Gulf of Tonkin?  More generally, an economy cannot be centrally planned and neither can a society (let alone can a society be centrally planned from another country by people who don’t even speak the language).  The idea that our government, however competently run, can export democracy is simply the fatal conceit applied to foreign affairs.

Am I arguing that the market could have done it better?  No, believe it or not, my goal is not to efficiently kick the shit out of foreigners.  If something can’t be done well that’s an argument for not doing it – or at least not doing it often.  I will take the unusual opportunity to agree with John Quiggan who writes at CT that in war "the likelihood of disaster is so great that the bar needs to be set very high."  How high should the bar be set?  Well we could begin by taking the Constitution seriously when it states that Congress alone has the power to declare war.  (I know, the Constitution is a dead letter.)  And, if we really get ambitious, how about making the Department of Defense live up to its name?

joan August 4, 2006 at 8:23 am

During the Abu Ghraib uproar someone pointed out that torture to obtaine information when lives were at stake was natural, and only training and discipline in the military kept it from happening as a common pratice. Likewise the urge to kill the outsider preceived as a threat does not need a government i.e. hezbolla is a private voluntary organization. I agree the that US government use our fear and lack of information to gain support for both the vietnam and iraq wars, but it is the imperfection in the human condition that makes it possible. At least in a democracy people eventually catch on and it is stopped. I would also note the economy was very good during the vietnam war and until the war blew up Johnson was very popular.
PS I like the post office.

John Thacker August 4, 2006 at 8:31 am

All the points about the inevitable failures and fiascos are well put, certainly. And still the polls of the Iraqis themselves find that extremely solid majorities approve of the overthrow of Saddam and state that they prefer the current situation to the former. (Not that foreign countries have the right to demand an invasion, but that certainly plays a part when judging if the casualties among foreigners are too great.) As far as observing a market goes, we can note that since the war there has been a great return of Iraqis to Iraqi, rather than the migration outwards that occurred all during Saddam’s reign, which was quite a shock as many expected up to millions of war refugees. OTOH, there has been a recent upsurge intra-Iraq regional migration in response to the sectarian violence, which certainly bears watching.

It’s no stretch at all to believe that the chance of disaster is very great and fiascos inevitable, but one still has to compare that option to the alternative reality, which may already be a disaster and a fiasco.

John Thacker August 4, 2006 at 8:52 am

Of course not – but then what incentives does our government have to prevent abuse of foreign citizens? Democracy in this case provides no checks and balances because of anti-foreign bias, the ease with which the public can ignore the deaths of innocents abroad, and the fact that foreigners lack representation in our legislatures or the courts.

A paragraph which applies just as well to the policy of non-intervention. Except that the public can even more easily ignore the deaths and abuse of foreign innocents when they’re caused by the foreign governments themselves.

Does democracy provide *no” checks and balances against war? Really? Anti-foreign bias would never contribute to desire for non-intervention, because it minimizes our own casualties while we can ignore the deaths of innocents abroad?

I’m sure we also don’t want policy made by a “cabal of libertarians with rape fantasies reading The Fountainhead” who oppose intervention even when it would help foreigners because they’re more concerned about how it would affect ourselves, both in casualties and in contributing to the worrying size of government. Vietnam is all very well; how did opposing Grenada and Panama turn out? What *does* the experience of Korea have to offer us? Curtis LeMay would have landed us in nuclear war; extreme pacifists would have had millions more suffering under Communism or Fascism.

The polls of the Iraqi people are a strong signal. As well, for all the anti-foreigner bias you cite, people seem to care a lot more about Iraqi casualties now that we’re there than they ever did before. I think it’s imprudent to suggest that it would only cut one way.

Tyler Cowen August 4, 2006 at 9:56 am

There are many issues in Alex’s post, but I disagree on at least some of them. In particular, when it comes to foreign policy, we are usually comparing one set of government agents to another, rather than market vs. government. So a generally low opinion of government need not slant the case against a foreign policy intervention. For instance maybe the US botched the Korean War but North Korea is even worse. I will also note that Alex is a cosmopolitan when it comes to immigration, but an extreme nationalist when it comes to foreign policy…
Tyler

caveatBettor August 4, 2006 at 10:25 am

I like the U.S. constitutional democracy experiment–results have outperformed the rest of the world for a couple of centuries now. Lots of frustrating flaws, to be sure, and some fraying at the edges.

But let’s not conveniently ignore the ugly things that helped birth the Constitution, nor nurse it through infancy. Specifically, I am thinking about the Calvinistic theology that passed through the Scottish Enlightenment to us. Also, the exogenous miltary aid of France and Spain during the Revolution.

Democratic capitalism does not reach the tipping point without these historic realities. And on what other system can libertarianism flourish?

jim August 4, 2006 at 10:37 am

Jason,

You wrote: “Very well said, jim. Now I can easily explain the ambivalence I feel toward my country… to economists, anyway.”

Thanks; one of the most valuable insights offered by economics is the distinction between marginal and total (and also average). Probably the best single example of how useful these distinctions can be is in contrasting the difference between capitalism, communism and socialism: probably the best discussion of this for undergraduates can be found in the classic text of Alchian and Allen entitled “Exchange and Production” in the chapter entitled “Production by Firms”. In that chapter, A&A present the example of a equalitarian paradise island where everyone who works has an income of 4 fish per day; then, a fishing boat (a technological advance) becomes available to the islanders. The chapter explains the very different ways in which the boat is used depending upon whether the insitutions on the island are capitalist, communist, or socialist. Great chapter!

Chairman Mao August 4, 2006 at 10:48 am

Prof. AT,

Apart from low poll ratings and a slow economy, what else would motivate the military ventures that we have seen recently? Is there any ideological basis? If corporate interests are served by war and government is the conduit, then isn’t the market driving these operations?

Iraq is in civil war and on the brink of breaking up. Many analysts have long known how fragile the unity of this failed state is. The U.S. made a deliberate decision to let Iraq’s army dissolve completely, leaving a power vacuum. Did markets have any chance to develop within this void in a nation with no independent civil society?

We are now confronted with disturbing patterns of ‘ethnic homogenization’ and people relocating based on religious affiliation. None of Iraq’s neighbors favor this – the threat of a Kurdish state threatens at least three of them.

Should Iraq be forced to stay together? Do we need another strongman/dictator?

The whole thing appears to be a mess. However, this result was hardly a surprise to most experts. The long-term objectives are unknown to the public (promotion of democracy is a laughable excuse) and this war may be part of the government’s ‘big plan’ for the region. Let’s not forget that Iran remains a ‘threat’ and the oil sheikhdoms are hardly bastions of democracy and free enterprise.

The manipulation of the Middle East by the global powers is taking the region on a dizzying roller coaster ride.

dickeylee August 4, 2006 at 10:55 am

Joan, I too like our Post Office

fishbane August 4, 2006 at 11:11 am

Joan: During the Abu Ghraib uproar someone pointed out that torture to obtaine information when lives were at stake was natural, and only training and discipline in the military kept it from happening as a common pratice.

I’m not sure what your standard for “common practice” is, but from my persective, institutionalized, routine torture in three (arguably 4, and that doesn’t count the “black prisons”) countries counts.

Likewise the urge to kill the outsider preceived as a threat does not need a government i.e. hezbolla is a private voluntary organization.

Hezbolla is now a government, in my view, and Israel is reinforcing that view daily.

I agree the that US government use our fear and lack of information to gain support for both the vietnam and iraq wars, but it is the imperfection in the human condition that makes it possible. At least in a democracy people eventually catch on and it is stopped. I would also note the economy was very good during the vietnam war and until the war blew up Johnson was very popular.

I feel like I want to pick nits with some of this, but I wasn’t alive then, and lack enough study on the topic to comment.

PS I like the post office.

You must not live in a large city. In both San Francisco and NYC, interacting with the post office is like going to the DMV. Expect to spend at least half the day there, waiting to interact with rude, disinterested people. The only reason I go there is because my mother insists on shipping me gifts through them; otherwise, I use FedEx.

zaoem August 4, 2006 at 11:53 am

Alex,

The argument that war/exporting democracy is so likely to fail that we should be extremely careful before deciding to engage in it is valid. But: it is a very different argument than your original claim that we should consider this a case of GOVERNMENT failure, as you yourself provide no indication of believing that this job could be executed more competently through some other means. So, I don’t see how your statements about competition are relevant in this particular case. If anything, your argument suggests that this is a failure in the decision-making process (a political failure), perhaps a failure of our particular set of democratic institutions to constrain politicians effectively.

Patrick R. Sullivan August 4, 2006 at 12:39 pm

The claim that Iraq is a fiasco is a version of the ‘Ted Williams was a bad baseball player’ argument. I.e., he failed to hit, twice as often as he succeeded.

However, when we take a look at what other people accomplished in THE SAME GAME, we find that he was one of the greatest players ever. Judging against other human endeavors gives a much different picture than judging against perfection (impossible in human affairs).

And I wonder how many of you would have liked it if we’d taken a Harry Trumanesque approach to Iraq. Drop a couple of atomic bombs on Iraqi cities to discourage any resistance first, then sent in the occupation troops.

am August 4, 2006 at 1:01 pm

When I order books online the dreaded letters are UPS and the good letters are USPS. There are inefficiencies in any large bureaucracy whether private or public. Perhaps by acknowledging them in the USPS they build in mechanisms to deal with them in ways private firms do not.

sourcreamus August 4, 2006 at 1:46 pm

Much of the debate on Iraq reminds me of the debate on healthcare. Proponents of universal health care are fond of pointing to the numerous shortcomings of our health care system thinking that this makes their case for universal health care. Opponents of the Iraq war seem to think all that is needed to make their case is to point out the myriad of problems with the occupation. Both arguements neglect the basic question good economists ask: “Compared to what”. The current situation in Iraq is a fiasco compared most countries but is it a fiasco compared to the alternatives? An example is that it was said the embargo lead to the death of 5,000 Iraqi children a month. In the past three years that would have added up to 180,000 dead children. However these deaths were not covered in the media to the same extent as the current violent deaths in Iraq, but shouldn’t unseen costs factor in as well as the more obvious costs?

Peter K. August 4, 2006 at 2:23 pm

Alex –
I am recommending that my fellow libertarians find a government whipping-boy other than the United States Postal Service. Although I liked your line about the Pentagon being USPS with nukes, there are at least three reasons why such illustrations no longer work: (1) Peoples’ experiences with the post office are far from universally bad; they’re mostly pretty good, because (2) the kinds of things the post offices deal with — letters and packages — depend on routine, not so much individual judgment, and the opportunity for grave error is small; and (3) the USPS now has competition from USPS, FedEx and others for much of what it does, and this competition has spurred it to improve.

Twok August 4, 2006 at 2:41 pm

Always remember that warfare is much less frequent in the world now than even 30 years ago, due to economic growth.

I disagree that the Iraq War is a fiasco. It only appears that way when fifth-columnists paint the picture to appear that a country the size of the US ‘loses’ a war after just 2100 hostile casualties, which is absurd. That many people are murdered in US cities every month. Is the US in a state of genocidal civil war by this measure?

We will comfortably win in Iraq by 2008. Here is why.

Patrick R. Sullivan August 4, 2006 at 2:45 pm

‘…the USPS now has competition from UPS, FedEx and others for much of what it does…’

I repeat it is a legally protected monopoly for delivery of First Class Mail. Eliminate that protection and the USPS would quickly lose market share to competitors, just as it did with small parcels to UPS.

Fedex created the overnight delivery industry in response to the failure of the USPS to handle high priority items. The last time I checked the USPS had about 5% market share.

A.S. August 4, 2006 at 2:53 pm

And, if we really get ambitious, how about making the Department of Defense live up to its name?

Also, I’m curious about what this means, because it is pretty vague. Does it mean that we should only use force in defense of our own territory – i.e., after we’ve been invaded? Would Alex ever permit us to “go on offense” – even against (e.g.) Japan after Pearl Harbor, or should we only have kept our forces on the US mainland to repel another Japanese attack? It’s hard to get interested in Alex’s ideas if he leaves us with so little practical information as to when and how he WOULD advocate using force.

Also, another question: if Alex is an extreme “individualist”, why have a Department of Defense at all? If people want to defend themselves against an invader, why not let them do it privately?

Don Meaker August 4, 2006 at 3:01 pm

I think Iraq is going swimmingly. Shiites have been killing Sunni and vice versa since the 7th Century. That won’t change. Nor should it, as it provides an outlet for them. Islam produces a large number of molested children, who seek redemption when they are grown. Jihad is their way to seek redemption. Violence between Shiite and Sunni is a path of Jihad that permits these poor tortured souls some path to redemption, but doesn’t export the violence to the outside world. We should not hope for Shiite/Sunni violence to stop until Islam has addressed its continuing support for child molestors and rapists.

Hezbollah can be viewed as the Ardennes Offensive, a last gasp for terrorists, after having lost in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Gaza, in Judea/Samaria, to put together enough of a fight to get someone, anyone to negotiate with them. The terrorists are faced with a reality that most Lebanese Muslims, Lebanese Christians, and Lebanese Druse are opposed to them (recent election was 20% for Hezbollah). Lebanese Christians, Muslims, and Druse will eventually face up to their responsibility to disarm Hezbollah, and the terrorists will again lose a host.

Iran is about to find out a few complexities associated with nuclear chemistry. I expect to hear of a few work accidents, which will be blamed on the US and or Israel. Syria has already learned some of the complexities of working with chemical weapons. These weapons are touchy, and the average Syrian “scientist” is more used to adding red color to gasoline, rather than preventing the release of toxic chemicals in very small amounts from industrial quantities of material.

You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Democracy can be messy, but is far superior to other forms of government that have, from time to time, been instituted amoung men.

We will not have perfection. We can have a good system that permits people in what ever country to continue to make progress.

disaggregated August 4, 2006 at 3:05 pm

Re: Also, another question: if Alex is an extreme “individualist”, why have a Department of Defense at all? If people want to defend themselves against an invader, why not let them do it privately?

Because defense exhibits economies of scale. If we were to defend ourselves individually, most of us would be able to afford only M-16s. As a group, we can have B2s and Stratofortresses and nukes.

Graham August 4, 2006 at 3:12 pm

This post represents a loss of rational analysis. The author cherry picks what to label as a failure. For instance the drive to overthrow Saddam (strangely unmentioned) was highly successful by any measure of warfare and it was entirely government run. Secondly democracy has been successfully exported in the past (to Japan) and no one second guesses it one bit as far as I can tell. So I guess the thought that our governement can export democrary must not be a fatal conceit ofter all. I suggest centering yourself and deep breathing first before writing more posts.

Brian Macker August 4, 2006 at 3:15 pm

Well damn Alex then get in there with your hyper-efficient free market army and correct the situation. Are you one of those libertarians who thinks we should have just sat back and let Japan rape China prior to WWII? I suppose you just didn’t get involved when the class bully beat up some other kid in the class. Keep your mouth shut and hope he doesn’t go after you isn’t such a good strategy.

PS. I am nominally a libertarian except I understand the scope of it’s abilities, none of which includes being able to convert around a billion intolerant muslims to it’s way of thinking. Don’t see how even if the US were fully libertarian we wouldn’t be in a shooting war with Islam in some form or another. Look at places like the Neatherlands or Denmark. They are being targeted like everyone else despite their libertarian like stance, or perhaps because of it. Muslims don’t exactly respect our boundaries, and like to blame us for all their ills. In fact libertian style places like the Neatherlands with the liberal laws on prostitution, booze, drugs, and dress are the first targets of moralistic religions like Islam.

There are reasons that are perfectly compatible with libertarianism for fighting against evil all across the globe. After all the planet is filled with governments that are intruding on their citizens. The only libertarian objection that I see making any sense whatsoever is on the issue of taxes. That is, you might have a valid claim that the war violating the rights of US taxpayers. I think however that warfare and the military really may not work the same way as normal markets despite Libertarian claims. I have no empircial evidence that anti-war libertarians are correct and plenty that they are not.

The way I see things is that pacifists can act as resources to be utilized by agressors in their attacks on non-pacifist non-agressors. The same can be said for those who under invest in defense. They end up being overrun and then used as human sandbags and cattle. This sort of thing does not come into play when dealing with normal market issues.

The fact that I decided not to buy a macintosh in no way endangers the mac owner. The fact that someone else decides not to properly defend themselves does endanger me. It endangers me in the same way as my neighbor leaving dry brush all over his property will increase both my chance and size of loss due to fire.

Now libertarians claim that they have a better solution than government to this problem. Something called protection organizations. All that is empirically apparent to me right now is that libertarians aren’t very good at getting off their asses and forming all these protection organizations they drone on about. If they are so efficient they should easily be able to drive these governments right out of business. After all, their is nothing stopping them since their whole purpose is to protect against the initiation of force. You can’t whine that you can’t create them in the first place because of government intrusion since that would admit that your protection agencies are in fact ineffectual.

So if you are going to save us from initiation of force then it is going to have to be by force. So get your act together and do it already. Clearly by your reasoning you have every right to fight the US government right now.

RadCap August 4, 2006 at 3:29 pm

“government ought to be designed…so it works when the knaves are in power and not just when the angels govern.”

In other words, you want a government that will ‘work’ regardless of the rationality of its users. Sorry – no such thing. A government cannot – and will not – ‘work’ outside the intellectual context of its citizens. Cavemen – or their intellectual equivalents – cannot run a proper government, no matter how hard you wish otherwise. A proper government requires an enormous integration of rational concepts and rational actions in order to make it ‘work’. In other words, a proper government requires the understanding and consistent application of a whole rational philosophy in order to make it ‘work’. That cannot be wished away.

Of course, that is the problem with libertarianism: It does try to wish those facts away. It proceeds from the premise that politics – not ethics, not epistemology, and not metaphysics – is primary. That is why Libertarianism not only fails, but why it actually serves to destroy liberty.

Steve Sailer August 4, 2006 at 3:37 pm

Alex:

Well said. Bravo. The near dominance of oxymoronic libertarian-militarists like Instapundit in the right blogosphere after the Afghan War is best explained by psychology, not logic.

radek August 4, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Yeah, should have gone with “DMV with Nukes” rather than the PO. The local PO is definetly more efficient than my freakin’ bank, something I’m still a bit confused about.

jim August 4, 2006 at 4:52 pm

radek,

My DMV has gotten really efficient: it has both automated renewals and personal service that is FAST. This is not to say that it could not have been done privately for less. But my point is that the DMV may not be the best whipping boy either. Five years ago the DMV would have been a great whipping boy, but things have changed in my town.

ThomasD August 4, 2006 at 4:55 pm

Interesting essay, certainly thought provoking judging from the subsequent discussion. While it is all but axiomatic that presidents lie when it suits their, or presumably the nation’s interests, the linked article is long on screed and short on substance. Actually it calls out for a full fisking but I do not wish to hijack such a productive discussion. Suffice to say that Mr. Higg’s characterization that Roosevelt “eventually pushed the Japanese to the wall by a series of hostile economic-warfare measures” does, at the very least, tend to ignore the more provocative acts of the empire of Japan. More so it paints the US as the aggressor and Japan as the victim trapped in the corner. Make what you will of a clash between two expansionist empires but historical revisionism of this degree does tend to destroy any sense of credibility.

Will Allen August 4, 2006 at 5:15 pm

The entire “problem” of Iraq, and the larger Middle East, is demand-driven. That is, the population of the globe, from Chicago, to Shanghai, to Mumbai, to Madrid, and beyond, demands (vigorously) that the oil of the region be extracted, and, all heartfelt desires that your SUV run just as well on solar-charged Everyreadys as it does on Super aside, that is only going to change somewhat slowly. Now, yes, it probably would be a good idea to better internalize the cost to consumers of getting the damned stuff out of the Port of Basra, among other places in that vexed area of the world, but they still are gonna want the goop out of the ground. Thus, it is coming out, and the only open question, since getting the goop out inevitably involves us in the age-old conflict outlined by Mr. Hanavan above, is how high the corpses get stacked in the process.

Will the Iraq invasion eventually lead to more corpses being stacked in the process of oil extraction, or less? Got me; my crystal ball has been in the shop for as many decades as I’ve stumbled around in this Vale of Tears. For those who confidently assert that the toppling the Tikrit Mafia has made things worse, however, a bit less certitude might be in order. The old paradigm of slavery-by-proxy, in which the globe’s oil burners paid off despots who shackled the region’s population, in return for allowing the brisk transit of supertankers, did seem to be crumbling, in case you didn’t notice. In other words, the whole system pretty much sucked prior to Saddam being driven into his hidy-hole, and it is far less than obvious that doing so, will prove to have, in the long run, resulted in more total suffering.

James August 4, 2006 at 5:21 pm

disaggregated,

Your remark looks like a case of deliberate misunderstanding of individualism, conflating it with some view that favors personal autarky. That might imply that we should all rely on our own M16s, but individualism does not.

albatross August 4, 2006 at 5:28 pm

RadCap:

You can’t build a government that will make better decisions than the people in the government are capable of making. But you can definitely build one that limits the scope of any one participant’s corruption and/or incompetence. That’s why separation of powers, rule of law, “a government of laws and not of men,” and such ideas are important.

Taeyoung August 4, 2006 at 5:54 pm

I am no expert on Japan, but it seems to me that thou doth protest too much about the nature of democracy in Japan. I am assuming this is because their case proves irrefutably that democracy can be exported and that for some reason you don’t like that idea.

Oh pish posh. I don’t particularly care whether democracy can or cannot be exported. Indeed, if I wanted to argue against democracy having been “exported” to Japan, I wouldn’t just argue that Japan isn’t democratic now, I’d point to historical democratic developments from the period in which Japan modernised from the bakufu into a modern Empire. For example, the Meiji constitution’s introduction of an elected national assembly (albeit with a restricted franchise, based on the amount of tax paid). Or that historical discussion of the Taisho era is even shot through with the concept of “Taisho Democracy,” reflecting greater political engagement by the developing bourgeoisie and the populace in general. In short, I’d argue that democracy wasn’t introduced or “exported” to Japan by the American occuption. Rather, it was re-introduced. Or “re-awakened” or somesuch. After a period in which the militarists frustrated Japanese democratic change.

Of course the same argument can be made about Germany (Meiji Japan modelled many institutions on Prussia), with equal or better force. But either way, I don’t much care whether democracy was “exported” or arose indigenously (whatever we may take that to mean), because I don’t think the question is really all that important. If we can get democracy to take root, then good for us, and lucky for them. If not, so long as we can at least establish a relatively liberal/non-genocidal oligarchy or dictatorship, then that’s good enough for me. I’m fine either way.

The reason I am dubious about Japan is precisely because one party has won every election for the past 50 years. No matter how you look at it, that’s rather different from any other free democracy in the world. Winning every election for fifty years also goes a long way towards reducing pressure to respond to the popular will, the way (in theory) a democracy ought.

The question to ask about Japan is whether the major political factions in the Japanese populace find polical representation in their polical parties and that those parties chances of gaining power are roughly proportional to the popular support they enjoy.

They’re not. Not as far as I can see, at least. I specified “national level” and suggested “gerrymander” precisely because my understanding is that the LDP doesn’t have anything near the same dominance at lower levels of political organisation, though I don’t know whether a single party/family of parties captures a plurality at that level or it’s just regional parties with largely regional concerns.

On the other hand, at the moment (unlike many moments in the past 50 years), Koizumi and the LDP do actually appear to have regained genuine broad-based popular support. Their last electoral victory was a landslide. So maybe I should say that for a lot of the period of LDP dominance, “they weren’t.” But they may be now.

albatross August 4, 2006 at 6:02 pm

The only way we’re likely to lose the war in Iraq is to decide it’s too expensive. This seems likely to me, since fundamentally, most of us don’t much care what goes on in Iraq. We don’t want them selling nukes to Al Qaida, we’d really rather they didn’t start a shooting war with Israel, and we would prefer if they managed all this without too much torture, ethnic cleansing, repression, etc. (But note that some of all these things is acceptable. We send gobs of money per year to Egypt, and we’re on fine terms with Russia and China.)

This is one reason that nation building with the army is a bad idea–when soldiers get maimed or killed, many voters, like me, look at that and think “now, why does it make sense for Americans to die to build a good nation in Iraq, again?” And the first thought that comes to many of those voters, like me, is “it doesn’t.”

And then we look at other costs. Many knowledgeable people, mostly not what look to me like partisan hacks, are saying that this war is pounding the hell out of our army–that we’ve lowered standards considerably and played all kinds of games to meet our recruiting numbers, that morale is taking a beating, and that we’re wearing out a lot of equipment for which we don’t have available replacements. If we lose Iraq, morale will be worse, and it may be many years before any president can get the backing to send the military in somewhere else, good or bad. While we’re bogged down in Iraq, we’re limited in what we can do about Iran, Lebanon, Korea, etc.

Synova August 4, 2006 at 6:28 pm

RedCap: “A government cannot – and will not – ‘work’ outside the intellectual context of its citizens. Cavemen – or their intellectual equivalents – cannot run a proper government, no matter how hard you wish otherwise. A proper government requires an enormous integration of rational concepts and rational actions…”

This leads to the need to enforce proper choices. It leads to a dictatorship just like communism, which is quite wonderful, leads to dictatorship because it’s only wonderful if every single person behaves properly and provides the necessary “integration” of rational actions… doing things the way they must be done.

It’s a brittle concept rather than a robust concept.

Government can, indeed, fuction as well as government can function when accomodation is made so that mistakes are not critical and the behavior of individuals has limited impact. It’s not efficient, but it is robust.

A government should, as much as possible, be set up with the checks and balances that will let those cavemen who were elected by all the other cavemen serve without breaking anything much. Obviously we all want to vote for the best people and the best and most workable policies.

If it’s a disaster for the cavemen to win… then it’s not enough to let the people vote. What if they chose wrong? Can any responsible person even allow it? I mean… everyone gets to vote and most of them are idiots. If this was actually a *problem* I don’t think I’d sleep. I’d probably develop BDS and insomnia.

(Sorry to go off topic.)

Will Allen August 4, 2006 at 7:33 pm

Yeah, Fletcher, the insinuation that Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq took place without Congressional consent and/or authorization, and merely because the President willed them, is really tired. Mind you, I’d prefer it if Congress had the intellectual honesty to call a war a war, but the fact is those wars took place because Congress explicitly voted that they be fought.

RadCap August 4, 2006 at 8:20 pm

Albatross: “But you can definitely build one that limits the scope of any one participant’s corruption and/or incompetence.”

This is a straw man, since the claim is that there is a systemic problem and not simply the problem of “one participant’s corruption and/or incompetence”. Put simply, you switched the context of the original quote and thus of my response to it. Therefore I will restate my point: there is no way to build a government that will “work” regardless of whether the country and its polticians are “angels or knaves”. Yet THAT is the explicit wish which was made here (and is the implicit wish of libertarianism in general). That is what I pointed out as a fantastical and, as such, impossible goal. Your statements neither repudiate that wish, nor address the point that I made about that goal.

No system of government – whatever its “scope” (ie whatever its limitations) – stands outside the context of the rationality of its citizens (ie the people and their politicians). No system of government is or can be independent of its citizens’s rationality.

In other words, contrary to the assertion in the original post, government is not the problem. It is the philosophy (or in the case of libertarianism, the lackthereof) of the people that is the problem. The government is simply a SYMPTOM of that problem – again because politics is NOT the primary. Politics is nothing but a reflection of the philosophic premises held and acted upon by the people. It is not the driving force nor prime mover.

Synova – “This leads to the need to enforce proper choices. It leads to a dictatorship just like communism…..”

Thank you very much for proving my points completely – both my point about the rationality needed to understand as abstract a concept and application as government and, more specifically, my point about libertarianism.

Phred August 4, 2006 at 8:42 pm

Jim, I am unfortunately in a situation where it would be almost impossible for me to get my hands on Alchian & Allen’s “Exchange and Production”.

Would it be possible for you to give a quick summary of the differing ways the fishing boat would be used by the islanders depending on the orientation of their society (capitalist, socialist, or communist)? I must admit it has piqued my interest. If you don’t care to post it yourself, are there any online sources of which you are aware which cover the matter? My Google search has come up empty.

Phred

Joel Mackey August 4, 2006 at 9:37 pm

This post is blah blah gobbledy gook.

The “bar” for war should be set high? This statement is a farce. Imagine if Britain had fought Germany in the mid 30′s, it would never have happened of course, but if the bar was set much lower, or if human’s ability to descern ambitions to tyrannical power were more adequate to the task, we could fight often, but small, losing fewer net souls of our best and brightest, while keeping the world safe for peace protesters and over thought discourse such as this blog.

jim August 4, 2006 at 10:22 pm

Phred,
Everyone on the island catches 4 fish per day per person on shore (no boat yet). The boat’s production possibilities are:

Num of people Total fish Marginal catch Average catch
on boat caught on boat on boat(MP) on boat (AP)
0 0 — –
1 8 8 fish 8 fish
2 18 10 9
3 24 6 8
4 28 4 7
5 30 2 6
6 30 0 5
7 28 -2 4
8 24 -4 fiah 3 fish

Under communism there are 2 rules: all who use the boat share equally and
no one is exclude from using the boat. In this case people continue to board
as long as: AP is greater than or equal to 4 fish. Thus we get 7 on the boat,
and it yields no social gain (the 7 on the boat catch 28 fish which is the
same as they would have caught from shore.

Under capitalism whoever finds the boat keeps it and hires workers. The owner
will pay workers 4 fish each (assuming neither risk nor pleasure from cruising).
To max profits people go on the boat as long as: MP greater than or equal to 4 fish.
The owner gets a profit of 28-16 or 12 fish.

Under socialism whoever finds it becomes the boat czar who may exclude whomever he
wants, who must pay each worker as himself, who must pay all workers equally.
In this case, there will be 2 people on the boat (whatever maximizes the AP).
The net social gain is 18-8 or 10 fish.

Capitalism generates the maximum wealth gain.

The A&A chapter is much more extensive and goes into some really interesting
extensions about interspecialized resources and transactions costs.

M. Simon August 4, 2006 at 10:28 pm

IMO Don Meaker is absolutely right about endemic muslim child molestation being the cause of much of our current problems.

The Origins of Islamic Rage

If I was fighting this war I would drop tons of pot vs. tons of bombs. The first ameliorates the problem the second kills it. Unfortunately such a solution is too far outside the box to be implimented.

John Moore August 5, 2006 at 1:00 am

The analysis of the current situation in terms of incentive in government falls into a common Libertarian trap: the assumption of action out of pure self interest. If all the decisions by democratic leaders were made purely for that motive, I don’t think our system would have lasted very long at all. The hard left also falls into this trap in a more vicious way – imagining that conservative leaders (like Bush) are psychopaths willing to sacrifice many lives for their personal financial interests. Neither side seems to be ideologically equipped to understand the situation.

People are more complex than any model, and the Randian model is especially oversimplified. Today, economists recognize that even market decisions are frequently far from rational self interest.

Certainly self interest cannot be ignored – it is a very strong factor in government. But it isn’t all.

I think the evidence is strong that Bush, whatever one thinks of the wisdom of his policies or is reasoning, is motivated by a desire to protect Americans in a global war.

Also, focusing on Iraq as “the war” is wrong. The Administration thinks (correctly IMHO) of the activities since 2001 as a global war against Islamist fascism (and, incidently, a “war” to prevent terrorists of any stripe from acquiring and using WMD’s – primarily nukes). Iraq is one theater, Afghanistan is another, but there are many others in the geographical dimension, and many other dimensions and efforts (Proliferation Security Initiative, for example). Success or failure in any theatre is important but not decisive.

The much maligned neocons also have a motivation to spread democracy for the sake of the people of the world – an altruistic role for the nation as opposed to the realpolitk view held by other hawks (this is one difference between the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations).

Personally, I think it’s great to help other people in the world, but the primary reason we give up liberties to our government should be to protect ourselves, not to lose the lives of our soldiers for the benefit of other countries. Hence I supported the Iraq war as an action in the war, and consider benefits to the Iraqi people to be a secondary goal that must be sacrificed under some circumstances. I supported the war in Vietnam (of which I’m a veteran) with the same reasoning.

Government has its uses, even though the only way to have government is to give up some liberties to an entity that is likely to be pretty poor at decision making and worse at executing policy.

M. Simon August 5, 2006 at 2:27 am

Chairman,

Whatever the original prescriptions and culture of the three faiths you mentioned two of them have had their reformation. The third not so much.

As to my prescription being simplistic – your ignorance is showing. Not unusual. Libertarians take a rights view of drug use while being as ignorant of the physiology as your average American or most Doctors.

PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

a Doctor Speaks:

A well known secret

You might want to figure how you plan to peacefully coexist with folks with this governing philosophy:

Hizbollah and Hamas have constructed core ideologies based upon this Islamic theology of Jew hatred, which one can glean readily from their foundational documents, and subsequent pronouncements, made ad nauseum. Hamas further demonstrates openly its adherence to a central motif of Jew-hatred in Muslim eschatology—Article 7 of the Hamas Charter concludes with a verbatim reiteration of the apocalyptic hadith alluded to earlier:

“The Last Hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: `Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him’; but the tree Gharkad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.† (Sahih Muslim, Book 40, Number 6985).

Apocalyptic Muslim Jew-hatred

M. Simon August 5, 2006 at 2:45 am

Here is a nice one about the connection of child abuse and drug use:

Heroin

and another:

Police and PTSD

Andrew Knutson August 5, 2006 at 12:05 pm

Dear Reader,
Iraq is a symptom. the government we have today is based on partisanship. Our Founding Fathers, leery of religious strife, designed a system based on geography. We diabled that by taking away the states ability to choose senators. A key check to centralized power.

TH August 5, 2006 at 4:35 pm

I don’t think any comparison to Iraq from Germany and Japan is particularly valid. In West Germany there was almost no incentive for the German people to get rid of the Western occupation forces because of the presence of the Soviets on the other side of the border. While I doubt they were happy that they had to have foreign troops there, it was obviously worlds better than Soviet occupation. (Considering that there was some Soviet agression towards Japan at the very end of the war, I would assume that they had some of the same concerns.)

Also, most modern wars don’t typically end with the type of total, decisive defeat that occured in World War II. In Germany and Japan, the Nazi and Imperial nationalist beliefs were proven completely false by defeat after defeat to the United States et. al and the wholesale destruction of cities. Also throw in official surrender from the old authorities. This is a scenario completely different from the old government in Iraq just sort of disappearing.

Ann August 6, 2006 at 11:25 am

“but then what incentives does our government have to prevent abuse of foreign citizens? ”

Others have pointed out the logical glitch in this argument – it assumes that Iraqis and others have a superior alternative. Even a distant, foreign democracy may be more responsive than a local dictator.

One example was Hong Kong as a colony. Yes, the British public was far away, not paying close attention to the local Hong Kong Chinese population, etc., but people had far more rights in the British colony than in China, which is why so many people flooded in to escape the mainland.

In a perfect world there would be no war, because in a perfect world it wouldn’t be needed. But that doesn’t offer us much in terms of practical guidance, does it?

Jacko August 7, 2006 at 11:45 am

Tyler,

Yes, all large bureaucracies must necessarily do things badly. Why would war be any different, other than more deadly? This organizational observation is a simple, empirically provable, fact. It is a powerful argument for smaller government regardless of political affiliation.

Would you say your post’s logic is an even more powerful argument for the dissolution of ‘world’ bodies such as the UN, IMF, NATO, and The World Bank? How can organizations even more removed from their constituents such as these garner any ‘good’ at all? It could be argued that whole continents’ well-being is in direct inverse proportion to the involvement of the above institutions.

Using the war argument, we all know that folks will be interned in UN refugee camps in Kosovo long after the US has left Iraq and the peoples there have begun to develop a functioning, much less violent society. And the death toll will likely remain much lower in Iraq than that earlier endeavor, which many people argue was done with all the ‘right’ diplomacy. As much as Iraq is a ‘fiasco’ I humbly suggest that by any other measure, today’s UN or the wars of past, it is surprising it’s gone so well given imposed constraints and stated goals.

We need smaller governments. If this is your postulation, I heartily agree. But the rest of the world seems to be going in the opposite direction. Perhaps the discussion might better be framed, “How to get the world to listen?”

jim August 8, 2006 at 7:48 am

Eve,

Revolutionary things can be accomplished in small steps (e.g., “the journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step”). The Marginal Revolution, in my estimation, is about taking things
step by step, and looking at them from a variety of angles. People become better informed and
dominant arguments are honed and sharpened. It is a gradual process to raise the economic-quotient of the populace writ large, but the steps taken every day at the MR are adding up and this is slowly adding up into something quite significant if considered in its totality. I don’t think you understand the concept of summing over marginals to determine total.

RadCap August 9, 2006 at 10:13 pm

cB – an appeal to authority (to the calvinists in the small part, and to a mythical supernatural all knowing all powerful mystical being in the large part) does not provide evidence for an argument that rights are a mystical endowment rather than a fact of the nature of man as a rational animal – ie simple an example of the Law of Identity at work. Sorry.

RadCap August 10, 2006 at 1:39 pm

jim – an appeal to authority is not dismissed, as you have just tried to do, by saying that the authorities accepted x faith as their philosophy. It simply reinforces the illogic of the original fallacy. And it is on those grounds that it is properly discarded.

In other words, the fact that “many of America’s founders” were theists does nothing to prove that rights are derived from a mystical being – which was the issue in question. Given your addition of a logical fallacy on top of another logical fallacy, it is quite evident you have no problem ‘blaspheming’ against the Law of Identity – against non-contradictory identification. Put simply, logic is obviously not your sovereign. And in a RATIONAL discussion, that is indeed grounds to “disregard it out-of-hand”.

RadCap August 10, 2006 at 8:47 pm

“My point was…that the Bible, as opposed to your “Law of Identity,” was their touchstone.”

I am unsure if you are simply incapable of recognizing the logical fallacy you commit or if you hope that repeating it enough times will confuse some into thinking it is somehow an actual logical statement.

I will simply repeat the point you want to ignore:

“the fact that “many of America’s founders” were theists [or bible thumpers, or god worshippers, or any other form of mystic - so you can stop with the equivocations, another logical fallacy] does nothing to prove that rights are derived from a mystical being – which was the issue in question.”

In other words, the appeal to authority doesn’t somehow become a logical proof by claiming “But they believed in x! It was their touchstone!” I am sorry you fail to grasp that primary principle of logic. So you keep contemplating your ‘eternal’ and get back to us when you want to engage in something which does not involve a logical fallacy – ie when you want to deal with reality.

M. Simon August 22, 2006 at 1:28 am

eve,

There will be an American Empire or an Islamic one.

Which would you prefer?

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