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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

War Is Obsolete

Brian Holtz // Sep 14, 2009 at 11:32 pm

There are a few issues that don’t fit into the two Nolan-chart dimensions of economic and liberty: e.g. foreign policy, immigration, and franchise issues (like when is a fetus a person, or when is a child an adult).

Adulthood is intentionally left imprecise in the quiz. My own position is that communities may choose the age, between 14 and 18 years, at which a person is no longer rebuttably presumed to be a child, and instead is rebuttably presumed to be an adult.

Matt, I agree that elections are the only formal litmus test the LP needs.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 11:37 am

1) The “peace” issue is very divisive among libertarians. “Give me peace or give me death” etc. Revisionism about WWII and the Civil War may help us get our iconoclasm on, but marginalizing the freedom movement gives aid and comfort to the nanny state.

2) The elections of 2000 and 2004 provide empirical evidence that the antiwar issue doesn’t grow the LP:

3) War is obsolete. See Steven Pinker at The Cold War is over. Democracy has spread widely, and democracies generally don’t start wars. The world is developing rapidly, and developed countries generally don’t start wars. Starting with the agricultural revolution, one of the most cost-effective ways for a rich polity to get richer was to conquer territory in order to control the non-capital factors of production associated with it: arable land, natural resources, and unskilled labor. This ceased being true sometime around the middle of the twentieth century, because of the massive shift in the relative productivity of 1) land and natural resources and coercible labor versus 2) harder-to-coerce human capital and fragile technological capital. Plundering invasions by industrialized nations will pretty much never happen again and will probably not even be attempted again, because they aren’t cost-effective in the context of modern economic and political institutions.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Peace/defense wouldn’t stop dividing Libertarians just because the issue got added to The Quiz or was promoted more by LP HQ. Until you can find us data showing that a supermajority of Libertarians are revisionists about WWII and the Civil War — i.e. say that wars worth fighting don’t ever really happen — then Libertarians will continue having disagreements about when the U.S. military should act.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Peace/defense wouldn’t stop dividing Libertarians just because the issue got added to The Quiz or was promoted more by LP HQ. Until you can find us data showing that a supermajority of Libertarians are revisionists about WWII and the Civil War — i.e. say that wars worth fighting don’t ever really happen — then Libertarians will continue having disagreements about when the U.S. military should act.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Michael, watch the video. Badnarik doesn’t make a commercial like that unless it’s one of his very top issues. A Barr or Root would never make a commercial like that.

As for Paulie’s “trillions” and your free riders:

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Paulie, Pinker’s data about sharply declining levels of violence in human history show that wars are not a deterministic outcome of our evolutionary wiring.

I didn’t say wars started with the agricultural revolution, but of course war as we know it is impossible in hunter-gatherer societies that lack food production. However, Pinker’s data show that such stateless societies have something far worse than modern war: ridiculously high rates of murder.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Paulie, we’ll have to agree to disagree about whether a candidate’s campaign commercials accurately reflect the issue priorities that he tries to put forward in all his paid and earned media. I’ve offered my data. Feel free to cite any major Badnarik 2004 campaign appearance where he didn’t include “peace”/Iraq in a media setting where he could choose what issues to mention.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 4:32 pm

On Badnarik’s 2004 campaign site, the Iraq war was third on his list of 17 issues, behind only The Economy and Free Trade. The four commercials I mentioned (three of which were antiwar) were the only four on his site’s videos page. Only one of his radio ads had a title in common with any of his tv ads: “The Peace President” (the video I linked above). Of the last 14 press releases of his campaign, 12 are about horse-race topics (polls, endorsements, etc.), and two are about issues: both about Iraq.

Debra, I have no problem with the LP continuing to call for withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to emphasizing that issue to “antiwar” audiences. E.g.:

I just don’t think that this issue has the broad appeal and long-term staying power needed to make it our central issue — especially in the middle of the biggest economic crisis (and anti-nanny-state backlash) of several generations.

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Oct 2004: “Which of the following issues is most important to you in deciding how you might vote for president in November? . . .”

24% Economy
24% War on terrorism
18% Iraq
14% Health care costs

Aug 2009: “Which of the following is the most important issue facing the country today?”

41% Economy
20% Health care
15% Federal deficit
8% Wars in Iraq & Afghanistan
8% Education
5% Terrorism

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm

On the contrary, it’s a famous result in the study of voter ignorance that people over-estimate how much the federal government spends abroad. 41% of Americans think that foreign aid is one of two of the largest areas of federal spending, when in fact it is only 1% of the federal budget. Ron Paul makes this kind of mistake when he breezily claims that bringing the troops home can yield enough savings to protect seniors from cuts if he let people opt out of the entitlement programs they benefit from.

I repeat: as of 2008, the “warfare state” budget was $310 billion, while the welfare-state budget was $1.6 TRILLION. This doesn’t count the trillions in recent bailouts, or the $50-$100 TRILLION in unfunded entitlement liabilities.

You’re right that most Americans “have no idea” about the relative costs of what the government spends its money on — and that includes some of the Americans in this thread. :-)

Brian Holtz // Sep 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Even if you ludicrously count every penny of defense-related spending — veteran’s pensions, border security, Coast Guard, Energy Department, etc. — as a cost of “overseas empire”, it’s still only half of what the feds spend every year on entitlements and “human services”. And that’s with two wars under way. In ten years, spending on Iraq and Afghanistan will be about as much as we now spend on Kosovo, whereas entitlement spending will be far higher than now.

Blood, yes. Treasure, not nearly so much.

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:15 am

Paulie, that chart claims that 80% of interest spending is military-related, which is obviously nonsense. But what makes it a complete joke is that it “excludes trust fund money (e.g., social security), which is raised separately (e.g., the FICA and Medicare deductions in paychecks) and is specifically ear-marked for particular programs”. That is, your chart excludes most of the Entitlement State from the federal budget.


P.S. My $310B figure above includes a carry-the-one math error, and should have been $410.

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:35 am

Ah, so you assume military-related spending is what any borrowing was used to finance.

But even funnier is how you hand-wave about how defense spending ripples out to cause or increase nearly every form of government spending, while you dismiss it as “speculation” when I point out that our $50-$100 trillion in statutorily-mandated-but-unfunded entitlement liabilities dwarf by two orders of magnitude even the most fevered claims (i.e. $2T in the Stiglitz paper) about the total future cumulative costs of Bush’s wars.

Thanks for playing, please accept a copy of the home game. :-)

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:51 am

We don’t know the future, so anything could be true. Stiglitz’s estimate of $2T for the Bush wars could turn out to cost $100T, and the $50-$100T in unfunded entitlement liabilities could turn out to cost 99 cents after a magic healthcare/retirement pill is invented tomorrow.

I am decidedly not “doing the same thing in reverse”. I wrote: “Apportioning federal debt service only tilts the needle more toward the welfare state and away from the warfare state, given the recent spike in world-policing costs.” Entitlement spending has dwarfed military spending for the decades during which most of the federal debt has accumulated, but I didn’t try to claim that all the debt is due to entitlements. Please re-read the word “apportioning”.

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 9:14 am

Tom, I didn’t switch horses. The complaint here originally was about “foreign intervention” (@19) and troops stationed “abroad” (@30) — not anarchist objections to the existence of a tax-financed standing defense force. On the “peace” issue, the bait-and-switching comes from those who dream of parlaying popular disgust with Bush-Cheney overreach into support for the fringe positions of anarchism and revisionism about the Civil War and WWII.

Paulie, I’m not predicting peace throughout the Middle East. I’m just predicting that America’s blood-and-treasure levels there will return to 1990’s levels. If you want to predict that instead those levels will climb from the Bush-Cheney era, I leave it to readers here to evaluate our competing predictions.

I wonder if my anarchists friends on this thread have any inkling of how their extravagant rhetorical over-reach — while perhaps making them feel good about themselves — only undermines whatever hope they might have of moving people toward their position.

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm


1) Re-read what I originally wrote: ““Even if you ludicrously count every penny of defense-related spending — veteran’s pensions, border security, Coast Guard, Energy Department, etc. — as a cost of ‘overseas empire’” …

2) Look up the word “if” in the dictionary.

3) Try to grok that my paragraph was setting an upper bound on how crazily inflated a fraction that “antiwar” types could claim about the “warfare state”, and showing that it’s still half of the size of the Entitlement State. Of course, Paulie then quickly showed that crazy knows no bounds here.

4) You brought in the zero-DoD horse when you wrote: Even if we underestimate the “warfare state” budget by only counting moneys directly routed through the Department of Defense, that number is $800 billion. And even if we give DoD extreme benefit of the doubt and allow that as much as 25% of its budget may have actually been spent on real “defense”… Sorry, but your tepid hedging in the latter sentence doesn’t let you outrun your anarchist views. Nice try, though.

Paulie, my statement that “war is obsolete” is shorthand for the analysis immediately following it, claiming that in coming decades war will dwindle in its claims on the blood and treasure of developed nations. By contrast, it’s a dead certainty that the Nanny State will continue to grow as a fraction of output in the developed world. I don’t see any serious evidence or arguments here against my prediction. Note that my prediction of less warfare involving developed nations doesn’t magically mean that any developed nation could completely disarm itself overnight. That would be pretty much guaranteed to upset a crucial part of the equilibrium I’m positing.

Tom, I’d love to bet you real money on whether U.S. spending on wars in the region between Egypt and India in 2011-2020 will in real terms be more than even half what it will total in 2001-2010. It ain’t gonna happen. Sorry.

Paulie, arms sales are still significantly below what they were during the Cold War. You’re looking through a straw.

Also, I already told you why your pie chart is a lie: they consciously exclude a TRILLION DOLLARS in payroll taxes and the entitlement programs (SS and Medicare) those taxes fund. You should ask yourself: how much of the other lefty propaganda that you believe is similarly deceptive?

OK, I’m off to work, and will try to ignore this thread for at least 12 hours.

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Tom, if you can’t answer my arguments and quotes in 1-4 @95, just say so.

Matt, if you’re serious about @92, see I think what you meant to say is “One innocent death on Matt’s conscience is too many.”

Brian Holtz // Sep 16, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Paulie, it’s an indisputable fact that in the last half-century, a rapidly-increasing fraction of the wealth in developed countries has consisted of stuff other than what an invading army can appropriate. The resulting trend is very clear:

The trend is so clear that the Human Security Report 2005 ( had an entire section titled Why The Dramatic Decline In Armed Conflict? How could you “antiwar” types not be familiar with the basic narrative here? It seems to me that American “antiwar” types only care about war victims that can be laid at the doorstep of American “militarism”.

You keep pointing to data blips and anecdotes, and I’ll keep documenting the long-term historical trends.

Erik, I think that that our top policy strategies should be 1) constitutionalist decentralism and 2) market-based environmentalism (e.g. a green tax shift). I’d love to believe that the GP agrees with decentralism, but they just now endorsed expanding federal Medicare into universal health insurance.