Economics In Short Lessons: If You\'re Paying, I\'ll Have Top Sirloin

Don Boudreaux today linked to an old but excellent WSJ article by Russell Roberts. The article is a simple, classic example of how "splitting the bill" is a disastrous way to pay for things:

Suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners that evening across all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only 4¢. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact you won't just add a drink and dessert; you'll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine. Suppose you and everyone else each orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Here is the irony. Like my neighbor at the theater, you'll get your "fair share." The stranger at the restaurant a few tables over pays for your meal, but you also help subsidize his. It all "evens out."

But this outcome is a disaster. When you dine alone, you spend $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats are not worth it. But in competition with the others, you've chosen a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment falls far short of its cost.

The fact that we pay taxes for things other people use, and they pay for things we use does *not* mean that it all evens out, even if everyone pays the same amount!. When our consumption decisions are decoupled from their cost, we end up consuming too much, whether it be health care, public transportation infrastructure, or groundwater. This might be an interesting argument to present to the anti-consumption left.

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It's also worth pointing out

It's also worth pointing out that people act in their least rational capacity when acting as voters, for fairly predictable reasons.

I use this same example in

I use this same example in my finance classes to illustrate how agency problems arise in a publicly held corporation -- the average CEO has much less than 5% of the outstanding common stock of the firm. So, buying the thick cut pile carpet for his office or the fancy artwork on his walls that costs the shareholders thousands and thousands of dollars ends up costing him far less. Hence, we have overconsumption of perquisites.

Jeff: each individual IS acting rationally given their incentives, since the "Cost" component of each individual's cost-benefit tradeoff is uniformly lower, they rationlally reach the point where marginal costs exceed marginal benefits much later than they would if they bore the full costs of their consumption.

In a rational system, people recognize this and set up countervailing measures. Unfortunately, we too often make decisions based on what we WISH were true inspite of much evidence to the contrary. For a good read that's chock full of examples, read Thomas Sowell's Applied Economics: Thinking Beyind Stage One

The Unknown Professor
www.financialrounds.com

Splitting The Bill With

Splitting The Bill With Anti-Consumption Lefties
Patri Friedman has an interesting post over at Catallarchy on why splitting the bill "might be an interesting argument to present to the anti-consumption left"....

So even when costs are

So even when costs are equally distributed, they're not really equally distributed.

Riiiight.

Check, please.

First, I'll have the

First, I'll have the prime-rib and lobster dinner.

Second,
Isn’t it a standard laissez-faire assumption that people will act rationally and with foresight, despite abundant evidence that they don’t?

No. If they had foresight and behaved rationally then we wouldn't have public goods, or public choice to talk about. Rationality is a simplifying assumption in economics.

Why isn’t that same admission made when we’re talking about other kinds of freeloading, such as overgrazing or pollution?

What, both are examples of 'tragedy of the commons' - no (direct) owners means it is rational to overuse and abuse the resource.

Would a little consistency be too much to ask for?
Not at all. This is consistent. When the good is paid for by the 'community' (commons) it is in the interest of each individual to overconsume the good. Doesn't matter whether it is fresh air, clean water, grazing land, healthcare, or food.

That is a brilliant

That is a brilliant illustration. I'll have to remember that one.

The analogy in the article

The analogy in the article seems flawed, since the decision of how much to order for each person in this hypothetical restaurant rests solely on the individual. I imagine the bill would be a lot less than $4000 if the order were put to a vote beforehand.

In the example of the Congressman who votes to support some pork to protect its contribution to local projects, the local value of the "pork" must be greater than the tax break the locals would get by cutting it, otherwise he would still not support it. I'll grant that there are some inefficiencies and unfairness introduced by the political system deciding budgets, but if government spending really were decided the same way as in that restaurant, we'd be in a lot more trouble than we are now.

I imagine the fact that we

I imagine the fact that we don't see many restaurants operating in such a fashion indicates how unwise such a scheme is.

So...wait a minute. Isn't

So...wait a minute. Isn't it a standard laissez-faire assumption that people will act rationally and with foresight, despite abundant evidence that they don't? Now, when the subject is taxation, we admit that they're irrational? Why isn't that same admission made when we're talking about other kinds of freeloading, such as overgrazing or pollution? Would a little consistency be too much to ask for?

Joe, I don't want to be

Joe,

I don't want to be petty either or sound like a smartass when quoting Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive, but to whether or not the central gov't controls the territory of Afghanistan, "I don't care."

Knowing the history of the land, we know that the national pastime of afghans since the 18th century introduction of firearms is to shoot at each other. That there are bands of folk who wander over a valley and then get shot at/shoot at the people in the other valley is nothing new to the situation. It took a very long time for the people of Afghanistan to evolve a cultural climate where that didn't happen, under the old King. Then shortly after they finally stopped killing each other and had a decent modus vivendi, communist agitators sent in by the USSR toppled the hard won consensus and plunged them into nearly two decades of war again. The blame for whatever chaos is there goes back to the Soviets, though a decentralized "anarchy" is far better than what was there before (ze Taliban).

Secondly, trade is going on all throughout Afghanistan, and afghan emigres are and have been returning to the country to rebuild parts of it. This continues regardless of whether or not the Kabul government can directly tell many people what to do.

Thirdly, that the warlords are cooperating with the government is not evidence that a central state is pacifying the country, but rather than the local power centers are realizing that cooperation is a positive sum game. You admit yourself that despite the fact that Dostum and Khan are in official positions in the nominal territorial government, the government is really only that of the city-state of Kabul and is powerless to gainsay Dostum or Khan or any other warlord. Which, to disappoint you again, is a ~good thing~. The fact that the 'central' government is so weak lowers the stakes such that real progress can go down on the ground.

(just fyi, my best friend ranged all over the country as a part of his job. He wasn't one of the UN Aid Princes who stay in Kabul. He carried a weapon and was fired upon, despite not being military)

Fourthly, when assessing claims such as "the taliban now control vast swaths of the countryside", one should ask-
(a) Is there any place US forces cannot go with impunity and absolute force superiority? (no)
(b) Is there anything stopping US/coalition forces from enforcing their will in any place in Afghanistan, including warlord zones? (no)
(c) Is there an actual Taliban force structure/govermment enforcing its will over any supposedly dominated area of Afghanistan (no)

Being that A, B, and C are no, reports of the Taliban's resurgence, much like those of Mark Twain's death, are highly exaggerated. Afghanistan will continue to get better so long as we stay the course- thwack anyone that gets out of line and otherwise lie low and let the afghan people themselves work out a new modus vivendi.

Jeff, So long as it is a

Jeff,

So long as it is a true commons it is perfectly rational for each person to overuse the resource.

You obviously have a different definition of “rational” than I do - not better, not more accurate, just different.

You don’t get to redefine the terms other people use in their arguments in order to attack them. The term “rational” is being used in a context. It is a scientific term and is not the same as that used in common language. Your criticism is about as valid as disputing that neutrons have mass because they don’t go to church. There are lots of other terms that economists use like “scarcity”, “money”, “currency”, “labor”, “good”, etc. that have different meanings than everyday usage. For instance, a potato in a field is a different good than a potato in a store. The exact same potato in fact can be a different good depending on merely location.

So your claim “not better, not more accurate, just different” is total hogwash. You are just out of your depth. Not only that but your ignorance in this area is so profound that you are not even qualified to be a judge of your own competence.

I happen to think that for someone who does know about something like the Tragedy of the Commons or the Prisoners’ Dilemma to ignore that knowledge and pursue narrow self-interest as you suggest is just about the least rational act imaginable.

Oh really? Well you just haven’t thought about it enough then. What does it matter if I as an individual know about it. That doesn’t mean I can do anything about it. That requires the cooperation of everyone else. I already pointed this out to you but it was lost on you. If I do get everyones cooperation then the solution is to make one person the defacto owner of the commons and then rent it out. That is only semi-acurate description of the solution and I don’t have time to get into more detail. The economic problem here is that the land is unowned. The problem is not the rationality of the people. If I cannot convince the others of this then I have no choice but to play the game.

Just like if I cannot convince my communist countrymen that the system sucks I have to play that game. I have to wait on line, bribe officials, snitch on my countrymen or be snicked upon, etc. People are not acting irrationally under such a system. That is not why it fails. It fails because it is an attempt to violate economic laws. These are just as scientific as the laws of physics and if you set up a system that works against them it will fail in predictable ways. Price ceilings lead to overconsumption, shortages and, lines while price floors lead to overproduction and destruction of surplus goods. Once a price ceiling is in place it is perfectly ration for consumers to overconsume and producers to underproduce. Why shouldn’t they, even if they know the economics. If they put a price cap on gas at one dollar today then why shouldn’t I as a consumer take that extra trip to visit my mother in florida, and why shouldn’t I as a producer stop production? What’s in it for me?
If you think this is selfish then let me ask you something. During the 1970’s gas shortage the gas prices were artifically low. That’s right their were price caps. Did you offer to pay more at the pump than the posted prices.

If you were too young for that then a different question. Do you have a mortgage? Did you know that interest rates are being held below market prices right now? If so then why aren’t you offering to pay a higher rate than the asking price? After all that would be the “rational” thing to do. Americans are undersaving. Part of the reason is they don’t get paid enough interest to make up for inflation. The rational thing is to have higher interest rates. The good of society would be best served if interest rates were at the market level. Are you willing to do your part now, without anyone else taking part to get those rates back up? Not only will you have to pay more but you may have to quit your job and go to Washington to be a full time unpaid lobbyist against letting the FED control the money supply. Good luck.

In fact, given the present state of the economy it is actually true that you are paying too little for gas. Why? Because the government has been dumping money on the economy big time. The gas prices have not caught up yet. In fact, you can expect inflation for a decade or so. Why don’t you pay up now. Start offering the guy at the pump the higher prices he deserves.

What the hell can I do about the ponzi scheme called social security? The rational thing to do would be to scrap it and depend upon savings, insurance, friendship societies, family, and charity for my “safety net”, and in that order. That is not an option. I am forced to pay social security or face prison.

What about peanut prices. They are artifically jacked up. What do you spend on peanuts each year, perhaps $20. Do you think it is rational to drive to washington to try to get someone to listen to you on that so that it would drop to market price of $5. What about the peanut royalty like Carter, who have peanut growing licenses. Do you think it is worth their time to go to washington to maintain their 60 times profit multiple, on their entire income. If the price drops to market they will only earn about 5% on the investment, or about 25 cents from you instead of the $15 the are raking in from you and every other person now.

Reason is always restricted by reality. The actions of others is part of that reality. Sure everyone would be better off if there were no price controls on anyone. However the reality is that you would be better off still if there were price controls on everyone else but you. That is what many try to achieve. It’s fine if you’re the only one doing it but what if everyone else trys it also. Problem is that most people don’t even know about this economic fact. They only know that if they go to the government for a favor for their special interest they are likely to get it with a little bribery. It would be best for everyone if noone did it. Problem is some people are not rational, or are greedy and so everyone else has to play the game. The solution is to say the government is not allowed to set prices. Once it can set any price then people start spending more time picketing and bribing the government than producing the goods.

So I have witnessed the dinner example in action quite a few times. Whenever I have been at a dinner where the check is agreed to be split evenly at the start and there are more than around 10 people everyone ends up ordering larger orders.

That’s hardly scientific (i.e. rational) is it? A sample of one? I’ve gone out to dinner a few times myself, and I see a different pattern. Maybe it has more to do with who we each befriend than with revealing some fundamental secret of the cosmos. Personally I’m rather glad that my friends don’t think “like so lost” is a cogent point.

That’s funny, I don’t recall saying they were my friends. These dynamics are much less likely to occur with friends because you are likely to eat out again with them. Except perhaps certain “friends”, but I don’t have many of that type for long.

Nor is this a sample of one. This is a very common phenomena. You should get out a little more with people other than your close friends, and perhaps ask about their experiences in this arena.

The thing is that you don’t get to pick your fellow travelers for “the commons” meaning the old english commons. Nor do you get to pick your fellow open ocean fishermen, nor our fellow senior citizens living off social security.

So are you now claiming that economists are wrong and that third party payer problems and the tragedy of the commons is just a fantasy? Kind of hard when we have real examples of range destruction, deforestation and the like where exactly this happened. In the US. it was public land that was first striped of trees for timber. That’s the kind of facts you are going to have to get around.

You see this isn’t my private little theory based on a couple of dinners I’ve had. The tragedy of the commons is established scientific fact. Unlike your small sample of dinners with your friends.

PS. If you try to bring it up. I read that article in Sci American where they disputed the tragedy of the commons. Unfortunately, they got the theory wrong and so were challenging a straw man. The examples they gave were not of commons because there was a single person who actually controlled the resources and rented them out to others.

Scott Scheule wrote:

Scott Scheule wrote: "Minarchy might be nice–but I think it extremely unlikely that it would last long."

Thus the Jeffersonian argument in favor of frequent, recurring revolution. To quote him, "What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure."

Joe, to quote Jefferson again, and a quote I fully agree with, "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." All around us we see, today, the inconvenience attending too small a degree of it.

It's a true perversion of the meaning of the word to call today's political landscape in the USA "liberal".

Suppose as a thought

Suppose as a thought experiment, we start with two people, one in a welfare state and the other in your brand-new ancap state....[W]elfare states often have minimum wage laws which would presumably be absent in your ancap state. So the odds are that the person in the ancap state actually makes less money. But let’s ignore that and suppose that salaries are equal.

I'd rather not, because that assumption disregards a very important point about the costs of the welfare state. Ultimately, long-run increases in general standards of living can come about only through improvements in productivity. The more we make, the more there is to go around. And improvements in productivity are driven by savings and investment (as opposed to consumption). The reason for this is simple: if economic actors devote more resources to building tools or conducting research, and less to building consumer goods this year, they'll have better tools and processes--and therefore be more productive--next year.

Almost by definition, the policies of the welfare state are designed to redistribute resources from people with higher savings rates to people with lower savings rates. As a result, these policies have an effect of shifting resources from investment to consumption. Ultimately, this means a reduction in the rate of productivity growth and rises in standards of livings.

Over generations, this effect accumulates exponentially and can be tremendously destructive. If a laissez-faire economy has has a 2.5% annual real growth rate as opposed to 2% for a welfare state, real wages will be 28% higher in the laissez-faire economy (than in the welfare state) after 50 years, and 60% higher after a century. The welfare state is financed not so much by the rich, as by the unborn.

So you could make a fairly plausible (and possibly even correct) argument that the welfare state helps the poor in the short run (through redistribution, not through the ill-conceived minimum wage). In the long run, though, everybody suffers from slower productivity growth, most of all the poor (because of the diminishing marginal utility of higher wages).

By the way, it's interesting to note that the existence of multibillionaires, typically derided by the left as a sign of the inequity and excess of capitalism, actually provides a tremendous social benefit. Bill Gates might consume $100 million (source: SWAG) every year. That's a lot, but the other $50 billion or so is invested in productive enterprises and driving economic growth. If we were to take that money and distribute it evenly among, say, the poorest 20% of American households, they'd almost certainly consume at least 90% of it within a year. Then it's gone, and with it all the productivity benefits it conferred.

Patri wrote: "There may be

Patri wrote: "There may be poor - but they’ll be less poor than they were wherever they came from, and than they would have been if they stayed."

In actual fact we see this to be true from the time when the USA was actually a liberal republic rather than the social democracy it is today. Exactly how many of us have family who came to this country voluntarily in the 19th century and made a profoundly better life for themselves on America's western frontier than they ever could have in the "old country"? Certainly my family is one of those.

Joe, Milton Friedman claims

Joe,

Milton Friedman claims to have done studies and to have found that there was a net movement of tax money away from poor neighborhoods and into richer ones. That is, poor neighborhoods pay more in taxes than they recieve in services. That does not mean the richer ones get their moneys worth either, since the politicians get a cut. Have you ever been to Washington and seen the pure gluttony of the architecture?

Also, in your example of welfare vs. ancap. If the identical worker in both cases is truly worth less than minimum wage then he would be unemployed in the welfare state and therefore producing and earning nothing. The burden of feeding him would then fall on others. The political equilbrium being that the cost would fall on other poor people. After all rich people have more money for lobbying, campaign contributions, lawyers, and the free time to figure out the angles. That is free time over the working poor, the welfare cheats have all the time in the world.

Thus the situation we had not to long ago where the working poor have lower standards of living than the welfare cheats they support.

Joe, It's quite true that

Joe,

It's quite true that the rich are not affected as badly by the welfare state as the poor, and that is due to the influence they are able to wield over the politicians and bureaucrats. As evidence I submit Ms. Theresa Heinz, who, in the last year we have tax information for her, paid a mere 12.8% in income taxes on her 5 million plus in annual income. On the other hand, a minimum wage earner with their roughly 12K annually, while paying no income taxes (due to tax bracket, deductions and earned income credit), is paying 6.8% (that's the figure isn't it?) of their income in social security. At first glance this seems to favor Bob, the poor guy. Until you consider that means Ms. Heinz had 4.4 million in disposable income and Bob had 11 thousand in disposable income (assuming, of course, that Bob didn't have to pay any state or local taxes). And further, that Ms. Heinz paid less in taxes, as a percentage of her income, than I, an upper middle class wage earner (100K, give or take) did. This doesn't quite seem like the progressive system of a welfare state, does it?

In an anarchist situation, Bob would have his entire 12 thousand in income and would not be constrained to send his children to the decaying, inefficient, bureacratic daycare we call a school. I fail to see the value he is getting out of our current mandatory education system for his kids. If anything I'd say he's losing money on the deal due to the horrific inefficiencies of the education system. As I pointed out to Patri the other day, it is in the politicians and bureaucrats interests to not make the schools efficient since that would deprive them of constituents who favor continued and increased government bureaucracy.

If your pessimism about

If your pessimism about coordination were well founded, there wouldn’t even be democratic nations. In actual fact, coordination on very large scales is possible.

Of course it is. One classic illustration of this is Leonard Read's "I, Pencil." My pessimism is about coordination of use of the commons, not coordination in general.

and when [private partitioning of resources is] not possible? The examples are all around you, from the air we breathe to the sunlight that falls upon our faces.

What is it with you and reading comprehension? This whole "interchange of ideas" thing doesn't work if you don't pay attention to what the other person is saying.

I explicitly mentioned air as one example of a natural commons, and said that I thought it was appropriate to regulate the use of it. Sunlight isn't a commons. How I use the sunlight falling on my land has no effect on your ability to use the sunlight falling on your land.

I cited two examples of natural commons--resources which cannot be partitioned privately. If they're really all around us, I'm sure you can provide two or three examples other than two I cited.

Would you seriously make those private too, assuming that you could?

You mean make it possible for one person to pollute the air on his property without contaminating everyone else's air? Of course I would! For obvious reasons, breathing rights would generally not be traded independently of the land, although pollution rights might.

That’s not a recipe for liberty; it’s one for the severest kind of oppression by the first person who gains control over some key resource like feudal lords had over land.

The problem with feudalism wasn't that the lords controlled all the land--it was that serfs were legally bound to the land. This was key, because it eliminated any possibility of competition for labor and gave the vassals a legal monopsony. Of course, it's also worth noting that the lords seized the land by military might. There are no historical examples of anything like this ever happening in a market economy.

Actually...I'm not even sure what you're talking about. Which resource cannot be partitioned privately without descent into feudalism? Land? It's already partitioned privately! Water? Good luck cornering the market on something that falls from the sky! It's not enough to make hysterical projections about the horrible things that will come to pass if we don't play by your rules--you have to propose a plausible mechanism.

You don’t get to redefine

You don’t get to redefine the terms other people use in their arguments in order to attack them. The term “rational” is being used in a context.

You don't get to redefine those terms either. I know the context, and have used the term in that context; you're the one making up definitions out of thin air and trying to claim (without evidence) that they're authoritative.

You are just out of your depth. Not only that but your ignorance in this area is so profound that you are not even qualified to be a judge of your own competence.

Couldn't think of an argument and so resorted to mere insult, eh? Grow up.

You see this isn’t my private little theory based on a couple of dinners I’ve had.

OK, then you should be able to cite a scientific study of this "dinner party effect". Can you?

So are you now claiming that economists are wrong and that third party payer problems and the tragedy of the commons is just a fantasy?

Any fool can recognize that as a strawman, and only a bigger one would employ it. I have not denied the existence of third-party payer problems, and it rather seems you are the one arguing against the reality of the TotC. Far from denying it, I used it as part of my argument. Disagree with that argument if you want, but please show enough honesty not to misrepresent it.

Brian, _Fourthly, when

Brian,

_Fourthly, when assessing claims such as “the taliban now control vast swaths of the countryside", one should ask-_
_(a) Is there any place US forces cannot go with impunity and absolute force superiority? (no)_
_(b) Is there anything stopping US/coalition forces from enforcing their will in any place in Afghanistan, including warlord zones? (no)_
_(c) Is there an actual Taliban force structure/govermment enforcing its will over any supposedly dominated area of Afghanistan (no)_

In exactly what part of the world are all three of these claims not true? The U.S. can impose stability wherever it wants provided that it is willing to make a real commitment to doing so. That's true in Iraq, too. Any area that we decide the Marines should occupy in force pretty much settles down _while the Marines are there_.

Look, I don't disagree with you that things are (slowly) getting better in Afghanistan. But it's interesting to note that much of your argument for the fact that things are getting better rests upon the claim that American soldiers are around to impose their will on people who don't cooperate. I'm happy to admit this since, after all, _that's why I think governments are justified_.

_Knowing the history of the land, we know that the national pastime of afghans since the 18th century introduction of firearms is to shoot at each other._

Oh, good. Have any more stereotypes you want to throw around? I hear all blacks are good dancers and all Italians are excitable. It might be worth mentioning that since the 18th C introduction of firearms, various Europeans have been trying to conquer Afghanistan. That may have something to do with the propensity to shoot at people.

_Thirdly, that the warlords are cooperating with the government is not evidence that a central state is pacifying the country, but rather than the local power centers are realizing that cooperation is a positive sum game. You admit yourself that despite the fact that Dostum and Khan are in official positions in the nominal territorial government, the government is really only that of the city-state of Kabul and is powerless to gainsay Dostum or Khan or any other warlord. Which, to disappoint you again, is a good thing. The fact that the ‘central’ government is so weak lowers the stakes such that real progress can go down on the ground._

What makes you think that any of this has to do with sudden insights about the value of cooperation? I think it has a lot more to do with your point about U.S. soldiers still being around and knowing that said soldiers can have their way with you if you make too many waves. Said warlords never acted all that rationally in the 20 years of pre-Taliban rule and, unless Kabul develops the ability to do itself what U.S. troops currently are doing for it, I think it's pretty likely that those same warlords will revert back to just what they were doing before once the U.S. withdraws.

_The blame for whatever chaos is there goes back to the Soviets, though a decentralized “anarchy” is far better than what was there before (ze Taliban)._

Agreed entirely on both counts. I think that's a nice slogan for anarchy by the way. Anarchy: it's better than the Taliban!

_(just fyi, my best friend ranged all over the country as a part of his job. He wasn’t one of the UN Aid Princes who stay in Kabul. He carried a weapon and was fired upon, despite not being military)_

I can't even begin to tell you how much less happy that makes me. Maybe there is another alternative, but by your description, your friend is either a spy or a mercenary. Both, by the way, are unlawful combatants (no that's not just a category that Bush made up; it's a real thing). Unlawful combatants weaken respect for international laws of war, which because they are largely unenforceable, rely mostly on voluntary compliance. When the world's largest military flaunts the rules, it provides incentive for others to do so. I'd prefer not to have wars at all, but since it's unlikely that they will go away any time soon, having some rules in place and having those rules followed strikes me as a good thing.

I suspect, too, that most of the folks I know in Afghanistan would deeply resent the implication that they are 'UN Aid Princes'.

Oh, good. Have any more

Oh, good. Have any more stereotypes you want to throw around? I hear all blacks are good dancers and all Italians are excitable. It might be worth mentioning that since the 18th C introduction of firearms, various Europeans have been trying to conquer Afghanistan. That may have something to do with the propensity to shoot at people.

Your comparison is off. Different worldviews give rise to different societal environments. The worldviews are shaped by culture, history, traditions, and prevalent ideas. Much of the success of the West has been predicated on a positive-sum worldview that allows us to see war as a Bad Thing and cooperation as a Good Thing. Where this worldview isn't prevalent, war is common.

There's nothing stereotypical or racist about it.

Eric, _It’s quite true

Eric,

_It’s quite true that the rich are not affected as badly by the welfare state as the poor, and that is due to the influence they are able to wield over the politicians and bureaucrats._

I'm not sure at what point people got the impression that I was interested in defending the status quo welfare state. Look, it's hardly liberals who are responsible for the lack of progressivity in the U.S. tax code. My preference here would be a gigantic sales tax on luxury goods, a small, very progressive income tax and an end to all forms of corporate and agricultural welfare programs. Removing a lot of protectionism will lower prices on consumer goods, which disproportionally helps the poor. A high sales tax on luxury goods affects the rich, but only to the extent that they use their wealth for consumption and not for investment.

I don't see why it follows from the fact that our system is not progressive that somehow all redistributive schemes are thus bad deals for the poor. Yet that is precisely the inference that I've seen many people (implicitly) drawing.

Jonathan, Your stereotyping

Jonathan,

Your stereotyping is more subtle than Brian's, but it's still stereotyping, all the same. This type of assumption is dangerous and, I think, very wrong. It's based on viewing other cultures through the lens of Western culture. Although I disagree with much of his positive program, Edward Said is quite right in his criticisms of Western orientalism. The picture of Afghan culture you are describing is one that was painted by Western imperial powers. (I sound like I belong in an English department.)

Your argument, though I'm sure you don't intend it this way, essentially boils down to, "Those poor, dumb bastards. If only they would adopt my Western values, they would stop doing all the things that make them so miserable." You should read Said's _Orientalism_ some time.

in fact, was meant in some

in fact, was meant in some part to help counteract that very tendency. By keeping people divided into multiple competing factions, it would be less likely that the poor would band together and demand radical redistribution.

When territories are not divided, the "booty" for capturing government is also bigger. Much more is spent on federal elections (by magnitudes) than is spent on state elections or local elections. If the poor can't affect smaller elections, they also can't affect larger elections. They may be able to band together, but so can everyone else.

For the record, I’m not a big fan of federalism. Jonathan points out that some on the left have discovered its virtues; at least in the blogosphere, that seems to be true, though I suspect that this is more a matter of political expediency than it is deep philosophical commitment.

I will agree, and I think that this is Jonathan’s point, that it’s not always the case that legal entities collude to form larger, more oppressive entities. But I’m not convinced that this is such a good thing, either. It’s true that fighting wars is more costly than peaceful cooperation. But that sure hasn’t prevented them from happening.

It depends on how costly war is for the entity. If the entity believes war is going to be prosperous, then its rulers may even favor war - that's how empires grew. If the entity believes war is going to be costly, then its rulers will be reluctant to fight war. Most Western liberal democracies today see war as costly, and rarely fight wars with each other, though they do perdiodically fight wars with non-democracies. I can't see the US fighting a war with England, France, the Netherlands, Canada, etc in the modern era. There is simply too much to lose for both sides. Instead, most wars today amongst Western nations are trade wars, where narrow interests capture government for 'peripheral' trade wars, rather than the entire leadership partaking in a direct 'central' conventional war.

Liberal democratic states approximate profit-seeking entities to a degree. They are hurt by wars if a majority (or even significant minority) is swayed enough to replace the leadership in the next election. Monarchs and dictators are usually not affected by these market forces and thus don't suffer in the same way from partaking in war. For-profit protection agencies would be even more affected by war. If they lose customers, they collapse literally overnight. Democratic rulers can still tax and conscript unwilling subjects to fight wars. Polycentric law makes war much more unprofitable than monopolistic political structures like democracy.

Your argument, though I’m

Your argument, though I’m sure you don’t intend it this way, essentially boils down to, “Those poor, dumb bastards. If only they would adopt my Western values, they would stop doing all the things that make them so miserable.” You should read Said’s Orientalism some time.

I never called them dumb, nor do I think they are dumb. That is your interpreation. I think that most people in most countries are likely of the same average intelligence. I simply think that some good ideas haven't filtered into their society. I'm suprised you think this is somehow an extraordinary or biased claim. When the skepticism of the scientific method spread in the early Enlightenment, the population became better off through the subsequent application of science.

Similarly, Cobden and Bright showed England the folly of the Corn Laws through the application of a different science - economics. The rise of the standard of living that followed was enormous. Surely a historian looking back and making the comment that "Once Britons realized the benefits of free trade, they stopped hurting their own prosperity with protectionism" would not be racist, bigoted, prejudiced, etc. I am making a similar statement about Afghanistan. I think that if a larger part of the population of the third world adopts Western ideas, they would be better off, because economic progress occurs when good economic policy is in place. It won't happen until more people in that part of the world see those policies as good ideas.

There is nothing racist about it, and I resent the implication that there is. I want people in the third world to be happy and prosperous - to live in air-conditioned homes when the temperature outside is 100 F, to have fresh avacadoes less than a mile away available for the equivalent of $1.25, to have 500 channels on the TV, to have the knowledge of the world at their fingertips. Economic progress occurs when people see life fundamentally as a positive-sum game, when they realize the bad consequences of protectionism, price controls, central planning, and war, and when they realize the good consequences of free trade, private property, division of labor, dynamism, peripheral knowledge, and entrepreneurship. Where these Western ideas have spread in the East, the East has prospered - South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, recently India.

I think this is a much more realistic solution than strong central governments. I think it only harms the third world to believe that Western ideas are unnecessary for prosperity.

Joe, If you were ranging

Joe,

If you were ranging about the Afghan countryside on any sort of business without a weapon, you pretty much deserve whatever you get. But more to the point, Afghanistan is neither a war zone (by Geneva Convention standards) nor is every US government employee in area part of the military, nor for that matter is everyone associated with the US in country part of the US military. USAID folk (for example) aren't stupid enough to go into development areas in Afghanistan without weapons, and they're neither spies nor mercenaries. Nor are any number of other nonmilitary US government employed people who are involved in trying to help the Afghans rebuild (scratch that, build) their infrastructure and knit together a functioning society, who are also not dumb enough to travel unarmed.

Speaking of stereotypes, some things are stereotypes not because of racism (hey, thanks for the slur, BTW) but because they're, y'know, verifiable historical facts. The only time the Afghans in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries stopped fighting each other and banded together was when an Imperial power tried to come in. When the great power left, they resumed killing each other in blood feuds, skirmishes, etc. ~Every single historian of the area~ says the *same thing*. Are they all 'orientalist' racists too (even the Persian and Indian ones), and only Edward Said can see the truth? Sorry to get pissy but the insinuation is really both uncalled for and highly insulting.

And furthermore:

In exactly what part of the world are all three of these claims not true? The U.S. can impose stability wherever it wants provided that it is willing to make a real commitment to doing so. That’s true in Iraq, too. Any area that we decide the Marines should occupy in force pretty much settles down while the Marines are there.

I would say that in ~most of the world~ this is not true. Even if we threw the entire US military at, say, China (f'r'instance), we could not impose jack, probably not even regionally or even block by block. Ditto for India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, SE Asia in general, the Phillipines, etc. And it's a rather large caveat to insert "...make a real commitment"; that's kind the meat of the issue is it not? Even in the places where we could dominate the local scene (most of Africa), the mere presence of US forces will not pacify a region that does not want to be pacified (see also: Iraq).

As you well know the # of US forces in Afghanistan is very low, all things considered. They're low because (a) it doesn't take much to do the job they're tasked for and (b) ~its just not that bad there~.

Which brings us to:

Look, I don’t disagree with you that things are (slowly) getting better in Afghanistan. But it’s interesting to note that much of your argument for the fact that things are getting better rests upon the claim that American soldiers are around to impose their will on people who don’t cooperate. I’m happy to admit this since, after all, that’s why I think governments are justified.

The argument rests on nothing of the kind. American troops are there on a very meta level (so to speak) and hunt down anyone who steps way out of line ~in terms of American goals~, such as harboring Al Qaeda or disrupting travel in large part, etc etc. To my knowledge, aside from guarding Karzai and making sure he's secure in the city-state of Kabul, the US/Coalition forces absolutely do not enforce Afghan state decrees in any way, shape, or form. The US did nothing when Karzai complained (with a wink wink, nudge nudge) about Dostum and Khan. The US has done nothing about the irredentist warlords in the Pashtun south who tell Karzai to go to hell and generally administer their areas independent of the Kabul. The US even did nothing when it was fairly obvious Khan was getting significant material support from Iran. The US has done nothing about the low level feuding here and there. All things Karzai wants stopped.

Yet, despite having nothing but the US absent-mindedly saying "you can't take over the whole country by force of arms" stopping them from making armed mini-states at perpetual odds with one another, the warlords are by and large cooperating together via a nexus at Kabul, keeping the gross peace and engaging the positive sum game of trade & peaceful relations vs. the old military force game.

So really, the argument of mine that Afghanistan will get better on its own if a certain level/type of violence is taken off the table for a certain time relies neither upon American troops enforcing the will of a central government nor upon that state enforcing cooperation. What cooperation is going on is genuine and not a result of the US dictating terms or enforcing a capital's will on the rest of the country.

To wit:

What makes you think that any of this has to do with sudden insights about the value of cooperation? I think it has a lot more to do with your point about U.S. soldiers still being around and knowing that said soldiers can have their way with you if you make too many waves. Said warlords never acted all that rationally in the 20 years of pre-Taliban rule and, unless Kabul develops the ability to do itself what U.S. troops currently are doing for it, I think it’s pretty likely that those same warlords will revert back to just what they were doing before once the U.S. withdraws.

The warlords' only functional constraint in Afghanistan with regards to the US/coalition presence is that they (a) can't harbor Al Qaeda and they (b) can't attack US/coalition forces. I imagine that there is an implied (c) of "can't attack Kabul openly", so I grant a bit of your point; but the fact is that the US is not forcing cooperation between any warlord and Kabul. Any warlord is functionally free to give the double deuce to Kabul and do their own thing, and the US will not do anything to stop them if they comply with A and B. The warlords are not doing so, and instead cooperating when they're not forced to, thus its reasonable to believe that the cooperation that is there is due to a (growing) belief that their goals are best achieved via non-military means.

And it is interesting that you bring up the past 20 years as though a Soviet backed government (and the USSR's regular army) wasn't part of the equation for 12 of those years, destroying what remained of the Afghan infrastructure and grinding its people down, and leaving as the only legacy the idea that power is centralized in one spot and whoever has that power can dominate the rest of the land. If you want to talk about weaking respect for international law, voluntary compliance with norms, etc, look no further than the Soviet intervention to explain the warlords.

In fact, again oddly enough, these warlords DID have a long history of rational cooperation (they all were on the same side against the Soviets, after all), they're highly coalitional and quickly abandon losing positions/coalitions when it becomes advantageous to do so (see also: 2001 Air war v. taliban). Given *that* history (that the warlords are fiercely independent but relatively rational & calculating) there's every reason to believe that the only thing needed to keep the warlords in line is taking "central control & dominance of the whole area" off the table. Which ironically means keeping the Kabul government weak & figureheady for the meantime.

Additionally, the problems in Afghanistan (Soviet then Taliban periods) both stem from powerful neighbors intervening in Afghan politics to pick a winner. That the US is *not* doing so now (leaving Karzai weak and isolated yet nominally supported, and leaving the warlords intact) is to our credit.

What political progress is going on in Afghanistan is precisely because there is no strong central government 'prize' to fight for. If anything the Swiss model might work the best, though I'm sure that given time the Afghan people themselves can work out a new modus vivendi that will obviate the need for foreign troops.

Jonathan, I meant no insult,

Jonathan,

I meant no insult, nor did I mean to imply that there was deliberate racism going on. And I'm not all that opposed (not really opposed at all) to thinking that Western ideas will benefit non-Western cultures. I believe in objective ethics, remember? I think that everyone should be a utilitarian not because it's Western but because it's correct. It's just a coincidence that Westerners thought of it first (or rather, that Westerners had the good luck to develop utilitarianism right at a time when they happened upon a lot of other good ideas).

My worry about the implications of your claim is that there is always the temptation to blame bad habits on perceived cultural conditioning without considering the extent to which outside interference has shaped both the perception and the development of the culture in question.

To the extent that Afghans really are more prone to fighting wars than are the English, I agree that the fact that wars are more costly for the English than for Afghans. But part of the reason it is more costly has to do with English (and Russian and Indian and French and lots of others) soldiers spending lots of time and effort attempting to conquer and exploit Afghanistan. Our perception that Afghans are more warlike come down to us through the observations of people who were there to kill and conquer them. Of course it will seem that Afghans are warlike when you're constantly at war with them.

So I'm not at all accusing you of racism. I'm claiming that your perspectives might well be deeply colored by the deeply entrenched (and often good-willed) racism of the early observations of Westerners. Since those early observations form the data that we still often use in evaluating Afghan culture, our conclusions can't help but be colored by that racisim. If that sort of thing is built into the observations themselves, then the conclusions are going to come out tainted even when those making the conclusions are not at all racist.

To take an analogy from an issue more recently making the rounds, consider the presence of women in the political commentary business. There is plenty of empirical evidence that women aren't as interested in political commentary as men are (the fact that women are underrepresented in, say, college newspapers is, I think pretty good evidence for this point). But that claim may well still be colored by sexism. After all, it might well be true that women aren't interested in political commentary, but much of that fact _could_ be a product of acculturation. Maybe women aren't interested in political commentary because our culture subtly encourages them not to be. So the claim that women aren't interested is not evidence that there is no sexism; it's evidence that the sexism is, in some sense, built into the data. The person uttering the claim may be completely free of sexism himself, but the statement still reflects sexism.

So I don't mean to accuse you of racism at all. From reading your other posts here, I think that such a charge would be outrageous. But your claim may still be grounded in racism because the data already incorporates the racism. It's the claim itself that I mean to villify, not the speaker.

Joe, At the very least then,

Joe,

At the very least then, it can be agreed that the Afghan people are fiercely independent and don't take kindly to intervention & foreigners telling them what to do; however that worked out in terms of resulting action (observed warlike/perpetual fighting) notwithstanding.

In any case, it is still clear that the model of "leave them alone" is better than trying to prop up yet another foreign-backed central government.

Brian, First, I apologize

Brian,

First, I apologize for the slur. It wasn't intended as a slur, as I've no reason to think that you're a racist. If you're going to offer stereotypes, though, you might at least include the sorts of careful caveats that you included in your response, but rather casually neglected in your initial post. See my response to Jonathan, though, about my continued worries about your argument.

_As you well know the # of US forces in Afghanistan is very low, all things considered. They’re low because (a) it doesn’t take much to do the job they’re tasked for and (b) its just not that bad there._

Do you really think this is true? The reason that we have so few troops in Afghanistan really is (c) they are all in Iraq. When we started pulling them out, (a) and (b) were not even remotely true; that they are now is, at best, a happy coincidence.

_If you were ranging about the Afghan countryside on any sort of business without a weapon, you pretty much deserve whatever you get._

This doesn't say so much for the peachy-keen vision of Afghanistan the rest of your post tries to paint. It does, however, say a bit for my original point about Afghanistan. States that lack some sort of government are also places where everyone pretty much constantly has to watch his own back. Not exactly a resounding success for anarchy.

I just don't see how the two parts of your argument are supposed to fit together. On the one hand, you argue that in big chunks of the country, it's insane to be unarmed. That's hardly a selling point if you're arguing that we should allow things to continue to progress as they are. You also argue for a weak central government while, essentially, arguing that warlords should continue to have free reign within their own little spheres of influence, claiming further that they will cooperate and bring peace eventually. Let's assume for the moment that's true. In that case, you're essentially arguing that a bunch of small governments run by power-hungry criminals are a lot better than a larger, centralized government that is at least attempting to establish some sort of liberal democracy.

You may dislike liberal democracy, but surely you'd agree that the constitution that Kabul is trying to implement is a considerable improvement over the petty thugery of warlords. If your theoretical commitments drive you to support the latter over the former, then so much the worse for those commitments.

_So really, the argument of mine that Afghanistan will get better on its own if a certain level/type of violence is taken off the table for a certain time relies neither upon American troops enforcing the will of a central government nor upon that state enforcing cooperation. What cooperation is going on is genuine and not a result of the US dictating terms or enforcing a capital’s will on the rest of the country._

If that's your considered position, then so be it. Allow me to point out that it's inconsistent with parts of your previous post, the one where you pointed out rather smugly that it's incorrect to say that the Taliban controls large parts of the country because, at any time, the U.S. could simply impose its will wherever it wants. If that's true for the Taliban, then it's true for all the rest of the warlords. Do you really think that they aren't aware of this? We may not be enforcing any of Kabul's edicts now, but we are in Kabul and we easily could if we so chose. That's the stabilizing influence in Afghanistan right now.

_Every single historian of the area says the same thing. Are they all ‘orientalist’ racists too (even the Persian and Indian ones), and only Edward Said can see the truth?_

Let's not forget that Indians and Persians were imperialists, too. They spent plenty of time trying to conquer Afghanistan at various points, too. I'm not saying that only Said can see the truth. What he can do is point out that foreign interpretations of a nation's culture are often colored by the power relationships that hold between the culture being studied and the culture doing the studying. That will hold whether the culture doing the studying is Indian or English. One thus has to be careful in taking those observations at face value. Real objectivity is not always such an easy thing to come by.

_Well, in fact in most of the world this is not true. Even if we threw the entire US military at, say, China (f’r'instance), we could not impose jack, probably not even regionally or even block by block. Ditto for India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, SE Asia in general, the Phillipines, etc._

I'll grant you China; the place is huge with a gigantic army and an economy capable of supporting it. You're dreaming if you think that any of the rest of these places can stand up to the full might of the U.S. military. I'm delivering a paper on this very thing Friday. It's frightening the percentage of the world's military power that rests in U.S. hands. We have 47% of the world's military budget. And that number represents something like 3 of our GDP. Consider that in WWII, military spending reached 37% of the GDP. Imagine the military the United States fields with a humming wartime economy. You think India, Russia, Indonesia or Brazil can manage that? I doubt that they could manage it all added together, certainly not independently.

Besides, the point to which I was responding was your claim that the U.S. can impose its will on any part of Afghanistan it wants. You weren't claiming that it can do so on the entire nation at once. But give the military some particular objective on any part of the globe (China excluded) and tell me it can't be taken, overwhelmingly. It just isn't true.

Joe, My apologies for the

Joe,

My apologies for the casual stereotyping, and accepted for the perception of slur before.

I do really believe it is true that (A) and (B) were true prior to Iraq and continue to today. I believe we may have to agree to disagree on that matter absent some other evidence. What I see and what I've heard, I say yes, you say no.

If that’s your considered position, then so be it. Allow me to point out that it’s inconsistent with parts of your previous post, the one where you pointed out rather smugly that it’s incorrect to say that the Taliban controls large parts of the country because, at any time, the U.S. could simply impose its will wherever it wants. If that’s true for the Taliban, then it’s true for all the rest of the warlords. Do you really think that they aren’t aware of this? We may not be enforcing any of Kabul’s edicts now, but we are in Kabul and we easily could if we so chose. That’s the stabilizing influence in Afghanistan right now.

I think we're agreeing while trying to disagree here. I agree that the stabilizing influence is the unrealized threat that the US could kick everyone's ass combined without breaking much of a sweat. I don't agree that this is such an artificial imposition on the Afghan culture that when we leave they will break out fighting again (isn't that your counterargument to my invocation of Afghan history as a guide to what to expect? that it is colored by racism/imperialism in the past to suggest that Afghans naturally want to fight and will do so absent imperial force?). I believe that, like a catalyst, if you can hike the cost of negative-sum behavior in the short to medium term, peoples' natural inclinations to trade and deal peacefully with each other will set in motion a perception of the positive sum alternative; that becomes, to a degree, self-reinforcing. The more people believe there is more to gain from peace than war, the higher the cost to war becomes, eventually greater than the artificial cost imposed by the foreign troops (the threat of the omnipotent US military crushing upstarts), at which point of course we can leave.

I maintain that it is incorrect to say that the Taliban "controls" a great deal of the country because there is no part of the country that looks like, acts like, or operates as it did when the Taliban were in control of the entire country. Pashtun taliban-sympathizing warlords who raise the flag but otherwise are unable to impose the same discipline & terror as the Taliban is not the same thing, though it is reported as being the same thing ("Taliban controls Kandahar", etc.). They are simply not one in the same. When American skinheads march with Nazi symbols & flags, we don't call them "Nazis," since they aren't, even though they mimic the style & rhetoric.

And indeed, the US would hardly be pressing the Afghan and Pakistani governments (such as it is in Afghanistan) for reconciliation with Taliban militants if the movement or organization bore any resemblance to its 2001 configuration.

As for invading the world, well, you're kind of moving the goalposts. The US certainly could be the Imperial Master of most of the world (though I imagine the rest of the world would cease free riding on US support (since it wouldn't be there) and heavily beef up their militaries in response...) for a period of time if we devoted our economy to subduing and conquering the world. Yeah, we could do that. That doesn't seem to be here or there with regard to what the US can do *now* or is likely to do.

I wouldn't shrug at India either; given the modern historical Indian battle doctrine of human wave attacks combined with US-purchased & relatively modern weaponry (and nukes, can't forget those), I certainly wouldn't want to be part of the invasion force tasked with taking and holding Mumbai, for example.... and I'm sure since India has become more prosperous in the past 2 decades they've come up with better tactics than WW-I level waves.

But that's all moot anyway.

Afghanistan vs. the World is not a good comparison to make. Given the situation in Afghanistan a small amount of special forces troops can do a great deal of damage, and since we don't need to take or hold territory we can impose our will with little problem. Afghanistan is also not likely in the next century to be able to resist US military action. The rest of the world, not so much.

I just don’t see how the two parts of your argument are supposed to fit together. On the one hand, you argue that in big chunks of the country, it’s insane to be unarmed. That’s hardly a selling point if you’re arguing that we should allow things to continue to progress as they are. You also argue for a weak central government while, essentially, arguing that warlords should continue to have free reign within their own little spheres of influence, claiming further that they will cooperate and bring peace eventually. Let’s assume for the moment that’s true. In that case, you’re essentially arguing that a bunch of small governments run by power-hungry criminals are a lot better than a larger, centralized government that is at least attempting to establish some sort of liberal democracy.

As for how my argument is supposed to hold together- just because you must be armed to travel in Afghanistan has, to me, no bearing on whether things are going OK or badly, especially considering Afghan history and culture. I certainly do think it is a selling point that the status-quo ante has been restored in the countryside and that status-quo led to a stable monarchy back in the day- it means that we can see an organic and locally authentic end to the current problems.

And yes, I am arguing that a bunch of small governments are better than (at this point) trying to impose de novo a large central government run by national plebiscite or some sort of poll-based representation scheme. Given the independence & wariness (and 26 years of civil war & strong central oppression) of the people, the worse thing to do, in my mind, is try and restore central authority. The only way a "national unity" government is actually going to hold and be accepted by the people is if it grows naturally from regional cooperation between the various ethnicities. And that means particularism for the moment. I have faith in the commonality of Afghan culture writ large that it will, if given time, overcome particularism and come to a Rawls-like public reason regarding government that is broadly acceptable and that will not provoke insurrection, but I also believe this can only come from the Afghans themselves.

And of course remember your audience- to me "power hungry criminals" describes the vast majority of politicians; the last thing you want to do is give power hungry criminals more power, centralized, and sweeping. Devolution and federalism (confederalism in Afghanistan's case) are far superior in my view.

So, to recap, things may suck, but they suck in a way that shows a way out of the cycle of violence rather than reinforcing that cycle.

Brian, I think you're right

Brian,

I think you're right that we're more on the same page than it might initially have seemed. Indeed, I'm all for the development of a Rawlsian overlapping consensus, and I quite agree that this is the sort of thing that can be accomplished only from the inside. Michael Walzer makes much of this same point in cautioning against military intervention. (BTW, I'm in favor of a Rawlsian approach precisely because I think that a Rawlsian overlapping consensus will yield liberal democracy rather than anarcho-capitalism. Indeed, there is a good argument to be made that, if we take Rawls really seriously, ancap is ruled out on the grounds that it is an unreasonable comprehensive doctrine!)

We may differ, however, in believing that this sort of stablity is possible sans some sort of stabilizing influence. My whole point all along has been that anarchy isn't likely to result in Rawlsian public reason, but is rather more likely to end up with lots of random violence. I think that holds true not because of the peculiar history of Afghanistan, but because I think Hobbes is right in seeing the state of nature as a prisoner's dilemma in which the rational thing turns out to be non-cooperation. Something has to be in place to tilt the scale towards cooperation.

Right now in Afghanistan, I think that thing is the presence of American soldiers. We'll have to continue to disagree about why we have so few soldiers there. For what it's worth, many people at West Point thought that we had too few soldiers there at the time, and were very concerned about pulling even more troops out to go fight in Iraq. But soldiers, even officers, aren't necessarily ideally placed to discuss strategic (as opposed to tactical) goals.

I fear, though, that if we want a solution that is truly an Afghan solution, then eventually warlords will have to start cooperating for reasons not related to fear of the 82nd Airborne. That means that something will have to take its place at some point. The only alternative I see is some sort of centralized authority that can instill the same sort of fear in warlords that American soldiers do now.

Joe, "Fear will keep the

Joe,

"Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battlestation."
- Grand Moff Tarkin, Ep IV

[/geek]

The reason Americans don't loot, kill, & steal at the drop of a hat is because we're civilized, not because we have a cop on every corner with a drawn weapon ready to kill. Likewise any sustainable system in Afghanistan, liberal or otherwise, will have to rely on internal codes of behavior vs. fear of the reaper from Kabul.

I think that the reason for cooperation will be because of a realization of positive sum alternatives to fighting, ala Lebanon. As I said above, when that cultural momentum reaches the point where it will maintain without the threat of the US there, our troops will go, and will be superfluous. (OK, thats wishful thinking; US forces tend to linger for a long time whenever they enter a country)

Brian wrote: "The reason

Brian wrote: "The reason Americans don’t loot, kill, & steal at the drop of a hat is because we’re civilized, not because we have a cop on every corner with a drawn weapon ready to kill."

It is not the "government", as such, that keeps chaos from happening. Countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, The Sudan, Rwanda, etc. are fantastic examples of just how the "government" did not prevent chaos. Narrowly defining self-interest, and then using that false definition of self-interest, is what gets so many in trouble when trying to understand what it is that libertarians propose. That coupled with mythology, like the myth of the American West as lawless and chaotic, with murder, robbery and rape occurring everywhere you look until the wise and benevolent marshall appears to put things right. In fact, the American West, with more armed individuals and fewer government agents than current society, had much lower crime rates per capita than we do today. Of course the much lower population density contributed as well, but the fact is that many people believe that without government chaos will automatically emerge because of just such incorrect mythology.

What keeps the vast majority of us from looting, raping and pillaging is that we don't perceive it to be in our self-interest. Let's be honest, if the 100 million, or so, armed individuals of this country decided to rely on raw, naked force for all of their interactions with other individuals there would be nothing the government could do. The military and law enforcement would rapidly be overwhelmed. However, "being civilized" means that most of us agree that our self-interest lies in acting cooperatively with other individuals.

A perfect example occurred this morning outside my son's elementary school. A group of parents (not the PTA, the school or the district) has organized setting up a crossing guard at the crosswalks. The crossing guard has no government authority of any sort, just a sign that says Stop that we all chipped in to purchase. Yet everyone, even the drivers who don't have kids going to that school, stop for the crossing guard who makes sure the kids get across the street safely. It's in our self-interest to do so, even though there is no real government penalty for ignoring the crossing guard. There is, of course, a law about crosswalks, but no police officer is there to enforce it. In fact, I think this crossing guard example would work perfectly well without a law about crosswalks. The key, really, is that it has to be obvious to people that cooperation and self-interested group interaction is preferable to the alternative. Those who oppose anarcy and/or minarchy appear to assume that people will not see cooperation as obviously in their self-interest.

Eric, _It is not the

Eric,

_It is not the “government", as such, that keeps chaos from happening. Countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, The Sudan, Rwanda, etc. are fantastic examples of just how the “government” did not prevent chaos._

The problem with your examples is that they are all instances of governments that _collapsed_ prior to the onset of real chaos. There is a reason why political scientists and just war theorists talk about failed states as candidates for intervention, and it's not because we're all power-mad. Indeed, I read a study recently that actually predicts the onset of chaos in a nation by examining the breakdown of government services.

_Let’s be honest, if the 100 million, or so, armed individuals of this country decided to rely on raw, naked force for all of their interactions with other individuals there would be nothing the government could do._

Surely you're joking. Unless you've a lot bigger guns around than I have, you're not likely to stand up to Abrams tanks and F-16s. Your notion of armed uprisings in the face of modern industrialized militaries is at probably 200 years out of date. The entire South couldn't pull it off and it _had_ an industrial base. Your armed individuals would fall apart when the tanks came down main street. I'm not saying that this is a good thing. Still, it's nice to be somewhat realistic in our claims.

Brian, I agree that force

Brian,

I agree that force can't work forever. But the fundamental problem of the prisoner's dilemma is that, while I know that collectively we'd be better off cooperating, it's always rational for me not to cooperate. The only way to escape from the dilemma is to change the outcomes. Fear of being punished for failure to cooperate changes the ordering of the outcomes, making it rational for us to settle on cooperation. Maybe you're right that sufficient wealth will do the same thing. It's true that we often comply with the law even when we could get away with doing otherwise. I suspect, though, that mostly we do this out of habit and not out of some deeper consideration for our self-interest. In cases in which we really are sure that we won't get caught, it is once again irrational to obey.

the fundamental problem of

the fundamental problem of the prisoner’s dilemma is that, while I know that collectively we’d be better off cooperating, it’s always rational for me not to cooperate.

It's that kind of "rationality" we need to outgrow.

Joe wrote: "The entire South

Joe wrote: "The entire South couldn’t pull it off and it had an industrial base."

Joe, I'm not talking about armed uprisings. I'm talking about the descent into violent chaos. Nor am I talking about a conventional civil war, such as the US Civil War. If we all suddenly changed our minds and decided that self-interested cooperation was not the order of the day and we were simply going to take by force on a selfish basis, there would be a huge bloodbath, but government would ultimately collapse. This idea is not based on the armed citizen militia that the founders favored. I have to tell you that, unlike you, I think I have a realistic appreciation of what conventional military can achieve against an armed citizenry that has decided they don't intend to listen to the government any more. Of course, I have more than a decade of military service on the very Abrams tanks you talk about. If a mere 5% (perhaps less) of the Iraqi population can turn three of their provinces into free fire zones just what do you suppose would happen if 1/3 of the population of the USA decided they were no longer going to be law abiding citizens? Add to that an assumption that the same mass hysteria would affect the armed forces and law enforcement.

There are really two things that make government work. First is a collective agreement by all of us who are citizens that having a government is better than a chaotic alternative. Second is the threat of force to coerce us. When those two things no longer are sufficient to gain self-interested cooperation then rebellion, chaos or anarchy results. Which one results depends on the situation. But to suppose that a government can maintain control of the citizenry no matter what because it has tanks and planes is a bad supposition. There are far too many examples, including in the past 15 years, of the opposite, for that to be true. And to argue that it is no longer possible for an armed citizenry to overthrow the government because of tanks and planes is as bad an absolute as the opposite supposition, which is that it will always succeed.

"It’s that kind of

"It’s that kind of “rationality” we need to outgrow."

It's that kind of transcendent desire that Marxism was premised upon.

Our commenters kick ass. I guarantee they could beat up most other blogs' commenters.

The South didn't have an

The South didn't have an industrial base, Virginia did.

The only ironworks in the confederacy was in Richmond. The most rail links were in Virginia, etc etc.

Had Virginia not seceeded the Civil War would have been done in a year, tops. Because Robert E. Lee and the rest of Virginia's competent generals would have known how to beat the rebels in short order. ;)

re: Prisoner's Dilemma:

(a) One is assuming that the situation in Afghanistan is a prisoner's dilemma to begin with. I'm not quite so sure that the rational move for any individual player (assuming that means warlord level) is to defect; one, there's history at work, and two even in iterative prisoner's dilemma games it's shown that a basic tit-for-tat strategy wins out over defector strategies. And given that people know that there is a tomorrow, it is not always rational to defect. In an interative game, and especially one done in a population that has knowledge of defectors, the choice is constrained by knowing how many punishers vs. cooperators vs. defectors is.

(b) Punishment can come from many sources and need not come from a central source; the power of US civil society is in large part predicated on the health and robustness of its intermediary institutions. We do not rely on the government as the sole punisher of defectors; to the extent that we do, we get less efficient outcomes (the government is particularly bad at punishing defectors). Thus it is still not obvious that Afghanistan would be better served in the short or medium run by a strong central government, and I'm not sure it would be in the long run either.

Joe, One thing I forgot to

Joe,

One thing I forgot to agree with is that the liberal constitution that Kabul is trying to promulgate is, by and large, much better than thuggery and despotic local governments. Nevertheless the process must be, IMO, organic and from the bottom up, and trying to push the Kabul constitution ahead of consensus on the ground is setting one's self up for failure.

Eric, Okay, it's not

Eric,

Okay, it's not logically impossible that armed rebellion by citizens armed with deer rifles and shotguns could defeat a modern industrial army. How about astronomically unlikely?

Brian,

Agreed that there needn't be a _central_ source. But there must be _some_ coercive power somewhere.

I wrote: "just what do you

I wrote: "just what do you suppose would happen if 1/3 of the population of the USA decided they were no longer going to be law abiding citizens?"

Just a follow up thought to this. Some very small percentage of our population, primarily in the inner parts of large cities, has decided this already. Are you really prepared to argue that the government is in control of those areas? At best they have reached an informal truce with the bad guys. If we were to take tanks and planes into the cities and try to reclaim the areas where the government today does not enforce its authority it would be a bloodbath. Ultimately the government would win, unless they managed to touch off a widescale insurrection, which is altogether possible. But "winning" would cost a lot of soldiers and money and probably require nearly depopulating those crime ridden urban areas.

I think you have seriously overestimated the impact of government coercion and force and underestimated the impacted of self-interested cooperation. Government coercion, at least in a western culture, is primarily about limiting your franchise and rights, not compelling you to be part of the group. I think my argument that if we all suddenly, en masse, decided we were going to act 100% selfishly (as opposed to in our self-interest), that the country would dissolve into total chaos still stands.

Joe wrote: "Okay, it’s not

Joe wrote: "Okay, it’s not logically impossible that armed rebellion by citizens armed with deer rifles and shotguns could defeat a modern industrial army. How about astronomically unlikely?"

Hmmmmm, no, I don't think I agree. Otherwise the Chechen rebels couldn't have defeated the Russian Army in Grozny and the Somali militia couldn't have given the US a bloody nose in Mogadishu.

It’s that kind of

It’s that kind of transcendent desire that Marxism was premised upon.

I don't think so. Marxism was based on an assumption of altruism that would have been unsupported by rational expectation or game-theoretic strategy. What I'm talking about is strategy that is supported by rational expectation. It's the difference between a more informed rationality and the irrational hope that underlies both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism.

"I don’t think so. Marxism

"I don’t think so. Marxism was based on an assumption of altruism that would have been unsupported by rational expectation or game-theoretic strategy. What I’m talking about is strategy that is supported by rational expectation. It’s the difference between a more informed rationality and the irrational hope that underlies both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism."

My reading was that you would have people outgrow their self-interest to cooperate--a notion that sounds reminiscent of the Marxist expectation of new altruistic humans.

You are now criticizing laissez-faire capitalism for assuming irrationality, when earlier you criticized it for assuming rationality? Or have I misread?

You are now criticizing

You are now criticizing laissez-faire capitalism for assuming irrationality, when earlier you criticized it for assuming rationality? Or have I misread?

I criticize it for assuming rationality, when the assumption is itself contrary to long experience and hence irrational. Does that help?

Eric, _Hmmmmm, no, I don’t

Eric,

_Hmmmmm, no, I don’t think I agree. Otherwise the Chechen rebels couldn’t have defeated the Russian Army in Grozny and the Somali militia couldn’t have given the US a bloody nose in Mogadishu._

You're talking about isolated incidents against what was, at least in Mogadishu, a small group of unsupported infantry. Insurgencies of this sort will work as long as you can target only infantry. A shotgun will kill a grunt just fine. Winning a long-term tactical war against an industrial military is unlikely. I might point out, too, that it would be a bit of a stretch to say that the Chechen rebels are actually winning the larger conflict. I would say that a more apt comparison would be the Palestinians in Israel. They can do some damage here and there, and some of it is even significant. But against a determined military, they are doomed. The only hope there is that the Israelis decide to stop shooting back.

Yes. Incidentally, it's not

Yes. Incidentally, it's not simply laissez-faire economists who assume rational self-interest, it's most economists, liberal and conservative alike. Liberals justify market intervention on grounds of externalities and public goods problems and the like--things that are revealed through models based on rational self-interest.

The behavioral economists are the ones who are investigating systemic departures from rationality, and so far as I know, they don't fall consistently to one side of the political spectrum. Irrationality is a great tool for criticizing free markets--but it's also a great tool for critcizing the welfare state.

Moreover, it's not as if supporters of laissez-faire believe all people are rational--that's obviously not the case. They do believe, as most economists do, that the assumption of rationality makes for one of the best ways of describing human behavior.

But of course people aren't truly rational--half of them vote Democrat, after all. And the other half think George Bush is a conservative.

Joe, let me put this to you

Joe, let me put this to you a different way. As a former soldier and combat veteran I would endeavor to lead a popular uprising of significant size in this country. Let's say I could count on 10 million gun owners, set up in decentralized, loosely coupled militias spread across the country. I would not feel the odds are nearly as against me as you believe they are and I think I'd have a good chance of winning. You may think I'm crazy, but I think there are a lot of reasons why I'd be willing to do such a thing and believe that I could win, not least of which is the same reason I believe the Chinese PLA would defeat the US Army in a ground war on the mainland. Eventually, no matter how good your weapons and training, mass will win. However, this is quite a ways off topic. By the way, this should not be construed to imply that I am advocating armed rebellion against our legal government, I am not.

My original argument was that if, for some unknown reason, the bonds of self-interested cooperation were to be dissolved, the use of force alone would not be sufficient to maintain the authority of the government, nor to prevent the society from descending into chaos. The roughly 100 million gun owners in this society could not be subdued by the military and law enforcement in such a situation, which is not the same as an armed insurrection or civil war. I think that is still a valid position to hold. Of course such an event is not going to happen, but suppose, for just a moment, that it did. We ignore, at our own peril, the fact that government authority is built on the agreement of individuals to cooperate because that is in their own self-interest. Without that agreement government disintegrates. This holds true even in the most oppressive or tyrannical of governments, although they have often created a situation that distorts what individuals perceive as their self-interest, thus the behavior we see as irrational, such as informing on your own family to the Gestapo.

Oh, one last point. You do

Oh, one last point. You do realize that the Chechens defeated a Russian motor rifle division equipped with tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, helicopters, etc. and supported by the Russian Air Force in Grozny? And they did it with lightly armed militia, the only weapons they had aside from pistols and rifles were mines and RPG's, all available on the international arms market for very low prices. Additionally, the scope of the Chechens vs. Russia is such that they are really doomed to defeat eventually. But the bigger point is that irregulars can defeat regular, modern forces in appropriate situations.

, it’s not simply

, it’s not simply laissez-faire economists who assume rational self-interest, it’s most economists

As I tried to explain elsewhere, there are different levels of rationality. Prisoners' Dilemma and Stag Hunt scenarios abound in real life, with optimal outcomes often precluded by a selfishness whose rationality is questionable. No chess program can play well by looking only one move ahead, no matter how good its evaluation function is, and yet that's exactly the level of lookahead preferred by economists. Such a model is convenient and can provide useful results, but its limits should be recognized; just because you don't know how to model reality doesn't mean reality will conform to your model. Many of the phenomena that economists study and name are really just special cases created to cover for this basic shortcoming; it's kind of like trying to approximate the area of a circle with ever-smaller squares but never quite getting it right. In reality, many people look ahead more than one move. Some don't look ahead at all. The behavioral economists are finally getting some recognition for one alternate kind of rationality, but there are really many. Some day someone with the right credentials will develop a "multi-rational" model that doesn't require so many special cases to prop it up, but until then we're stuck with a mishmash that barely qualifies as science.

Conceptual flaws often lead to characteristic errors. In my opinion, the standard model of rational expectation is tailor-made to support laissez-faire economics. Fix the flaw in the model, and the error in the conclusion would be self-evident.