9 killings over the weekend. In Iraq? No, Chicago.

As somebody who believes that real math and reason should govern our perceptions about the world, it is difficult to reconcile how people become almost obsessively concerned with certain categories of death or destruction while ignoring others.

For example regardless of how you view the war in Iraq, the death toll appears to be comparable to …. shootings in the USA.    Obviously  there are caveats needed for this simplistic comparison – US is larger, civilian deaths in Iraq are not as well documented and down from the past, etc.   But my point is that if deaths are what bother you then you should familiarize yourself with key death statistics, and you should advocate US spend accordingly.   The most important stat is that *tens of thousands* of  people die around the world every day from easiily preventable illnesss such as Malaria, AIDS, Intestinal viruses, and more.  Unlike violent deaths, which often spring from irreconcilable ethnic, economic, religious, or cultural tensions, deaths from disease are almost universally considered to be “undesirable”.   Also, research has made it clear that lowering death rates generally lowers the birth rate.  The notion that saving people just creates more people to save is …  not supportable.   Yet we (yes, I mean YOU!) continue to pour *trillions* into military and low ROI social programs while a fraction of that amount would create massive infrastructure improvements and save tens of millions of lives.  

I don’t understand the aversion to sensible spending, but I think it stems from some key defects of our human species:

1) We are programmed and designed to respond more to single instances of things rather than massive instances, and to respond locally rather than globally.  Thus we will work harder to save a single child in need of a heart transplant than a whole village in India dying from lack of sanitation.   This focus was functional evolutionarily but now is breaking down in our big world where disaster can loom large for huge numbers of people.

2) We (yes, I mean YOU!)  suck at math.   Many people in power don’t even grasp the chasm of difference between a million and a billion dollars.  Contractors in the military exploit this fundamental math ignorance of people in congress and military decision makers on a daily basis.   The answer of course is to follow the advice of the founders (and even Gen Dwight Eisenhower!) and take this massive and inappropriate military spending out of the hands of bureaucrats and politicians.   In fact the answer is to massively curtail military spending immediately by 50% to 90%.   The security implications are minimal, but people refuse to do the analyses.  I’m absolutely *stunned* by how ignorant and sheepish most of my fellow fiscal conservatives are about the waste in the military.  It is glaring, massive, and preventable – even more than the massive levels of waste in the US social services sector.

That ends my rant for the day.  We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogging…


5 thoughts on “9 killings over the weekend. In Iraq? No, Chicago.

  1. Much as I detest the Sally-Fields liberals and their usual righteous indignation, I sort of agree with your rants contra-defense spending. One has to see a few Nimitz-class supercarriers, say, off the coast of San Diego–each worth a few billion dollars–to understand the scale of the US Imperial Navy, and military as a whole. Each jet on the deck of a supercarrier goes for a few bil. as well.

    Sally Fields & Co. don’t do much of anything, however. Not to sound fatalistic, or nihilistic, but there’s not much citizens CAN do, except savor the game, especially when Russia, China, EU, etc. also have their own imperialist militaries; moreover, mass death’s good for bidness. Really, the military has been a prime economic force in the USA since at least FDR’s time: there even exists some evidence showing some collusion of the FDR Admin. with a few fascist-industrials (like the Krupps) in the 30s (and socialists as well): War helped bring the USA out of Great Depression.

  2. Horatiox –

    True we can’t do much, but at least we should be bitching more about crazy spending. Obama, Clinton, McCain all share an affection for Government spending and we should work to make this a campaign issue.

    But Horatiox for God’s Sake isn’t Sally a Flying Nun?

    Make not mistake about my indignation with liberals *and* conservatives. I’m a severe fiscal conservative who would make even most libertarians blush with my rath about spending they think is justified. Liberals tend to stupidly maintain that Government spends wisely.

    Conservatives stupidly think the military spends wisely (I’ve never understood this severe delusion). I suggest that no large entities spends really wisely in public or private sector but in private biz at least you have better accountability structures to destroy the worst of the big spenders. Bankrupcy and failure are very important components of Capitalism and one of the reasons communism has so hopelessly failed to deliver comparable average prosperity. In short I think we should have very selfish spending (entrepreneurial capitalism) and very altruistic spending (food and health care to very needy people), but not much in between (ie very low Government spending in general unless lives are at stake). I think that leads to the most efficient spending structures because people are mostly in charge of their own money and are seeing very direct impact of Charity giving.

    The founders were clear on this – Governments have essentially *no business* spending our money or taxing our asses above a few percent. My working hypothesis is that we have been able to sustain usurous taxation because capitalism was so successful it spun off enormous extra cash. This ability to soak people will (slowly but surely) come to an end as other countries are willing to dispense with

    War helped bring the USA out of Great Depression

    True, but you’d need to look at other ways we might have come out of that to get a big picture on War’s positive impact on Economics – my gut says it is a shakey argument to suggest we “need” wars which generally have negative ROI in terms of lives lost and gained. However I believe WWII was probably justified at a lot of levels due to the brutality of the Nazi empire, which would have brought even more catastrophic conditions to much of Europe had they won the war.

  3. Libertarianism seems quite sound in principle, and I agree that the US Govt. has become a bloated, overfunded Leviathan: I am all for Libertarian principles when it means limiting the power of Leviathan, especially in regards to civil liberties. Defense spending is another matter. It seems massive, yet the conservatives argue that the US now is playing catch-up with the Russkis and Chinese (the Russ. do have an impressive air force, that’s for sure. Their satellite system too quite beyond that of the USA)

    In terms of economics, I do not think humans are sufficiently trustworthy or responsible for libertarianism: Vegas sort of indicates what uncontrolled economic Freedom leads to. The supposed regulatory aspect of the invisible hand appears fairly invisible. The market, whether in terms of cars or casinos does not really regulate itself very effectively.

    The debate on NAFTA between republicans and demos shows a lot of the differences. From one perspective, NAFTA works: it expanded the economy beyond nationalistic borders; it provides consumers with more choices; and helps the businesses (they can outsource say chevys, and pay canadian workers less than what they pay workers in motor city). US unions and workers complain, but canadian workers support NAFTA (even some canadian leftist sorts). It seems somewhat sound on moderate, Keynesian grounds: govt. planning leading to an efficient market, which benefits consumers, businesses, and some workers–though I at the same time, one can understand some of the complaints of the American workers.

    We should try to find a middle ground between cowboy capitalism, and like Mao. Keynesian principles offer some guidance, though much of Keynes’ analysis tends to be rather speculative and probabilistic (demand, however vague, should be counted at least as important as supply issues, or production or finance). Keynesianism at least avoids some of the problems of the naive biz-major school of Smith, or the 20 year plans of Marxist-Leninism.

  4. We should try to find a middle ground

    Horatiox I think your last comment was really thoughtful, and I would have to concede that the debate is a more complicated than I’m indicating in my rant that started this. NAFTA really intrigues me because I think you are right that it helps bring out the complexity of international and human issues. I have not studied it enough to have a strong opinion.

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