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Shedding blood for liberty

September 23rd, 2007

A brawl has erupted over a statement in the stump speech of Republican candidate Fred Thompson, who asserts that the US has “shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world” As the WaPo points out, our Russian allies lost millions in WWII alone, as did Britain and France in WWI which (at least nominally) they entered ‘that small nations might be free’. In fact, US casualties in World War I (about 120 000 killed and 200 000 wounded) were comparable to those of Australia and New Zealand,which between them had about 5 per cent of the US population.

Unsurprisingly, vvarious people have tried to quibble by saying that the other losses weren’t in defence of freedom, so that Thompson’s claim is true by default. But in that case, Thompson ought to have said something like “the US, alone among nations, fights for the freedom of othersâ€? which at least sounds like standard meaningless stump-speech rhetoric rather than a false factual claim.

Leaving motivations aside, the striking fact is that Thompson’s claim is pretty much the opposite of the truth. The US is notable among major nations in how little it has suffered in foreign wars, and this helps to explain why the war party is so strong there.

Until Vietnam, by the official count, the US had never lost a foreign war. In fact, US forces had hardly ever even been in retreat – in both the World Wars, the entry of substantial US forces marked the turning point for the Allied side. In the World Wars, the US lost far fewer soliders, in relation to its population, than most other countries. And, with the exception of some modest rationing in World War II, the civilian population of the US has been essentially unaffected by war.

I’m not saying this in criticism. One reason for this relatively benign experience has been that for most of its history, the US was more reluctant to go to war than other countries, and, by comparison with the European empires of the 19th century, unwilling to engage in wars of imperial expansion*. That hasn’t stopped Americans accepting some fairly hypocritical pretexts for war, but then hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

The problem now is that most people in Europe and elsewhere have learned from experience that war is always bad, and usually worse than even bad alternatives, but many Americans have not. For the Republican core, war is a positive good, and victory the manifest destiny of the United States. The myth of American invincibility is modified only by the possibility of domestic treason, which accounts for the defeat in Vietnam and is already being used as a pre-emptive explanation for defeat in Iraq.

The Republican core can’t be ignored. They make up 30 per cent of the population, and an even larger proportion of the opinion elite, and the Foreign Policy Community. Worse still, the rest of the Foreign Policy Community, and most of the opinion elite more generally, differ only in degree from this position. You can’t be taken seriously by the Foreign Policy Community accept the premise that “America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened”, and the practical implication that such threats are common enough to require regular resort to war.

Perhaps this will change when Bush is gone and the scale of the disaster in Iraq sinks in. It seems that the lessons of the futility of war can be learned only through repeated bloody catastrophe. The best that can be said is that, if the US can learn from Vietnam and Iraq the lessons that it took two world wars to teach Europe, perhaps some progress is being made.

* This restraint didn’t extend to Native Americans.

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  1. BilB
    September 23rd, 2007 at 08:53 | #1

    A fall back position for Thompson might be that The US spends more money defending democracy than any other nation. But that I doubt would stand up also. The fact is that in between wars military business is a boomer. The total profits made from the defence equipment industry would (I am guessing) out weigh the losses of the Iraq war. In fact Bush fully expected to make a profit on the war by way of oil revenues and rebuilding contracts, not to mention royalties on b grade movies. The fact is that conflict is profitable, and shed blood is a good standard to rally support around the next time a bomb goes off. It worked for the Romans, as it is working for the Yanks.

  2. Persse
    September 23rd, 2007 at 09:33 | #2

    Putting aside that the second world war was over for the Germans because of their catastrophic losses on the plains of Russia, well before the allies invaded Europe, the fact remains that the US entered the war because the Germans and the Japanese declared war on them.
    As you say the American homeland was almost completely free of attack. A few picnickers on the west coast, maritime damage from submarines, Pearl Harbor and the Aleutians excepted.
    The real story of the American military is its history and interventions as a sort of colonial force. The history of its extensive involvement in the Philippines, South America, the Caribbean, South-East Asia and the Middle-East is characterised by anything other than democracy and freedom ensuing. The most egregious example is Haiti – eleven military interventions by the American military, in a century – it is the poorest and one of the most desperate countries in the world.
    Americans are addicted to abstract nouns about freedom etc. but that has never translated into any sort of distancing itself from dictators or actually succeeding in aiding the instituting of democracy in any country.
    On the contrary, The Philippines, Vietnam and Iraq represent millions of violent deaths and untold misery. The support to undemocratic, violent and dictatorial regimes has been so extensive it is the defining element of its relations with most of the world today.

  3. BilB
    September 23rd, 2007 at 09:48 | #3

    Here’s another quote from Fred Thompson,

    “Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. … NASA says the Martian South Pole’s ‘ice cap’ has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter’s caught the same cold, because it’s warming up too, like Pluto. This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, nonsignatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their airconditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.”

    There’s nothing to see here people, move along to the next issue.

  4. September 23rd, 2007 at 10:28 | #4

    ‘… in both the World Wars, the entry of substantial US forces marked the turning point for the Allied side.’

    I know it’s a bit nit-picky but I don’t think even that much is true of WW2. The Russians had demonstrated by the end of 1942 that they were not going to be defeated by Germany and while it would undoubtedly have taken a lot longer for the war to end, it’s probable that Germany would eventually have lost the war even if the US had never become involved.

    People forget that Germany declared war on the USA after Pearl Harbour, not vice versa. It’s possible though unlikely that if Hitler had been smarter, the mood to take revenge on Japan could have forced the Roosevelt Administration to take less of a role in Europe in order to concentrate forces in the Pacific.

  5. wise_but_poor
    September 23rd, 2007 at 15:39 | #5

    UK and Australia are no less selfish than US when it comes to war. According to the link the following link(as above)(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties) India had 75,000 deaths in the war and around 70,000 wounded. It was an Western war and Britain and Australia forced India into the war.

    And commentators in this blog seem to be just concerned with western casuality stats, they don’t even bother to mention those unsung heroes from India who sacrificed their life for someone elses cause.

    And what did India get in return from UK and Australia for fighting for their cause? Not much.

    To this day Australia treats South Asian immigrants differently. For example, for granting migrant VISA the state of NSW http://www.business.nsw.gov.au/migration/state_independent_migration.asp) exempts South Africa from English language requirements but not India. There are more people in India who speak English language than in South Africa.
    According to https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sf.html around 10% people are fluent in English language in South Africa. Well the NSW link above goes on the mention:”Applicants from the USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa do not need to provide an IELTS score result unless requested by the Department of State and Regional Development.” One might very well guess “who” in these countries will be requested to provide the English language results!

    So, when Australians point a finger at US, they must not forget that rest of the fingers including the thumb is pointing towards themselves.

  6. swio
    September 23rd, 2007 at 18:45 | #6

    America’s myths of its own invincibility, its own literally unquestionable goodness and the idea that it is the only thing that ever created freedom in the world are a dangerous combination. I’m always struck by the fact that only about half the American anti-war people actually think the Iraq war was wrong, even its dubious causus belli. For 75% of the American population the only problem with Iraq was how competently its run. Bill Clinton is a good example of that sort of thinking.

    If they didn’t really start to question themselves after Vietnam then Iraq won’t change anything. They’ll simply make sure that next time they deliver “freedom” via air only. People keep thinking that things will get back to normal after Bush leaves office but that’s just not going to happen. The factors that led to Bush invading Iraq are still there, especially the lack of balance against their powerful military. The only restraint on America’s power is the self restraint of presidents, which is a flimsy thing when most of the American people hold to the myths above.

  7. mugwump
    September 23rd, 2007 at 21:49 | #7

    Thank goodness the US is prepared to defend its interests; it is the only Western nation to have successfully resisted the nanny-staters.

    As for the supposed culpability of the Republican “core”, we had the Democrat-controlled Senate voting down the Reid-Feingold bill to end the war last Thursday (defeated 70-28). In a typical display of utter hypocrisy, Senate Majority Leader Reid went on the record as saying “the war now belonged to Republicans”.

    Like global warming, truth is apparently no longer relevant.

  8. September 23rd, 2007 at 22:28 | #8

    “Until Vietnam, by the official count, the US had never lost a foreign war.”

    Well, unless it’s the Americans themselves doing the official counting, they lost the British-American War in that they gained not one of their war aims as a result (although they did indeed gain some of them through diplomacy, once the Napoleonic threat had receded enough for the British to stop impressing sailors and such – which would have happened without their aggression too, and possibly sooner). And they got a bloody nose in some of their proxy wars like William Walker’s or Aaron Burr’s efforts, which I think should count since they would have been counted if they had succeeded. Think how the Floridas, Texas, California and Hawaii were counted as successes – all of them went through a dummy republic process before being invited in with gently smiling jaws, and it’s only the US official count that makes parts of other countries or entire formerly sovereign states like Hawaii not count as foreign for this purpose. Utah got the same treatment, and it is such a close parallel with the Boer Wars that if those count as imperialism, so should the US “civilisade” against the Mormons (did you know the USA used the same disfranchising tricks on Mormons afterwards that the French used in North Africa?). Oh, but that was a success? Yes, in the end, but not on the first attempt any more than in South Africa.

    As they say, it isn’t how you play the game, it’s how you place the blame.

  9. Chris O’Neill
    September 24th, 2007 at 02:25 | #9

    “Like global warming, truth is apparently no longer relevant.”

    That’s right, what’s actually in scientific papers is no longer relevant to credulists.

  10. Chris O’Neill
    September 24th, 2007 at 02:40 | #10

    “… in both the World Wars, the entry of substantial US forces marked the turning point for the Allied side.’

    I know it’s a bit nit-picky but I don’t think even that much is true of WW2. The Russians had demonstrated by the end of 1942 that they were not going to be defeated by Germany and while it would undoubtedly have taken a lot longer for the war to end, it’s probable that Germany would eventually have lost the war even if the US had never become involved.”

    That’s probably true because the USSR was just so big. However, the Russian successes in 1942 were, I would guess, greatly helped by material support from the USA in that year.

  11. mugwump
    September 24th, 2007 at 03:44 | #11

    That’s right, what’s actually in scientific papers is no longer relevant to credulists.

    Nope – it is JQ who has tried to argue that the opinions of scientists who disagree with him are irrelevant. Just as in this post the facts are apparently irrelevant: Democrats are happily voting to continue the war, yet the problem lies with the “Republican core”.

  12. rog
    September 24th, 2007 at 06:50 | #12

    The relevant phrase is “for other people’s liberty”, on WW2 I dont see any evidence that the USSR shed much if any blood for other people’s liberty. Similarly for Germany, who made war for enslavement not liberty and France also falls into much the same category, they were reluctant to shed blood for their own liberty and only too pleased to collaborate with their occupier.

  13. 2 tanners
    September 24th, 2007 at 07:29 | #13

    Mugwump,

    You’ve said it on two or three occasions, and now I’m calling you on it. US leading the resistance against nanny staters??

    The place where you can get successfully sued for a million dollars because your client carried her coffee between her thighs and you didn’t think to warn her that this might not be a good idea? Where slip and fall suits are not only an industry, but many states have worked to make the suits more powerful. Where in a number of states hot water temperatures are limited to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid poor bubby scalding him or herself? Where legal paternalism takes on a whole new meaning?

    And don’t make a profit, whatever you do, as you’ll be hit for tax (Federal), tax (State), tax (City) and sometimes tax (Village).

    I like the US and its citizens, they are a nice friendly bunch, but a more rigid, unreponsive, over the top bureaucracy I have never met in all my born days.

  14. September 24th, 2007 at 07:43 | #14

    2 tanners,

    You might want to revise your comment – the coffee case you are referring to was settled for less than $1m – http://www.lectlaw.com/files/cur78.htm
    If you think that US bureaucracy is top-heavy I would also suggest you have not done a very extensive job of looking. The EU bureaucracy, for example, gives most people in Europe at least 4 levels of government.

  15. Persse
    September 24th, 2007 at 09:46 | #15

    Chris
    The aid the Americans gave that was critical was in supplying logistics equipment and food, this followed after the opening of the Iranian route and was mostly post 1942.
    It was the capacity of the Soviets to produce weapons themselves that was critical – the volume of guns and aircraft that their factories produced equaled and often exceeded that of the Germans.

    As far as Fred Thompson’s blather about ‘freedom’ it was best put by a commentator on the Crooked Timber website.

    “if you spend your time seriously considering anything Fred Thompson says, you get what you deserve. The guy makes Rudy Giuliani look like Jacques Derrida.”

  16. Dylwah
    September 24th, 2007 at 10:09 | #16

    “Thank goodness the US is prepared to defend its interests; it is the only Western nation to have successfully resisted the nanny-staters.”

    The US rates high in the nanny stateism league, mind you it is not Mary Poppins. It is her gruff, inconsistent and vengeful cousin. The one that plays favorites and always appears to be doing an ok job when you glance their way but looks like a scary but true episode of Jerry Springer when you look closely. Pot possession for example will get you anything from a slap on the wrist to being sent to your room for years depending on where you live and what your colour (or color). And did we mention you get a new room with your new best friend Bubba. And just like every inconsistant nanny, if the favorites cry just right they get a new media deal and public redemption.

    You gotta love it.
    Dylwah

  17. jquiggin
    September 24th, 2007 at 10:55 | #17

    PML, I had 1812 and the filibusteros in mind when I included the caveat “by the official count”.

  18. Hal9000
    September 24th, 2007 at 11:26 | #18

    The Russian casualties in World War 1 were over 2 million (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Front_%28World_War_I%29) including over 750,000 deaths on the battlefield. Russia entered the war in defence of independent Serbia against the Austro-Hungarian Empire and so, under the Thompson definition, in defence of freedom. Russia’s military losses had further consequences, of course. Mind you, in modern parlance the Empire had a case against Serbia for harbouring terrorists…

    Setting aside the extermination of the native American population and the enslavement of a great number of Africans as internal matters, in order to expose the canard about the US as defender of freedom the seeker after truth need go no further than the Phillipines. Up to a million Filipinos perished in an American campaign that included the full arsenal of modern US ‘freedom-fighting’ – ie establishment of concentration camps, torching of insurgent villages and crops, and torture of captives (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine-American_War) – all in order to establish US dominion over a foreign subject people.

  19. David R
    September 24th, 2007 at 14:41 | #19

    Most of this argument about which nation “causedâ€? the most “freedom” is fairly silly to say the least.

    A reasonable argument can be formed that the Thrid Reich and Japan are indirectly responsible for the liberation of more people than any other regime so far mentioned. After the Germany and Japan challenged and lost US and the Western Europe the peoples of India, S.E. Asian and most of Africa (2.5 billion and counting) were able to obtain their freedom as a direct result of the diminution of the colonial power after WW II.

  20. mugwump
    September 24th, 2007 at 21:49 | #20

    2 tanners: I’ve lived and worked in Australia, Europe (Britain and France), and now the US and from personal experience the US is nothing compared to the European nanny-state or, increasingly and depressingly, Australia. I could fill a book with the differences, but just a few observations related to your points:

    The US certainly needs tort reform, but individuals suing companies has nothing to do with the government. Separation of powers and all that.

    What is so refreshing about Americans is they by-and-large don’t expect anything of their government, and the amount they expect diminishes the further removed the level of government. You’re expected to take personal responsibility for yourself and your family here. Contrast that with the new Australian welfare dependency by which even well-off middle class Australians look pleadingly to their Federal Government for handouts. Hayek was right: it is the road to serfdom.

    Government responsibility for provision of services is more devolved here, so while you do typically have 3 levels of tax-raising governments (just like Australia by the way – you seem to have forgotten about local councils), the lowest level (usually the county) provides far more of the services at the local level, such as schooling, water. For example, my county takes in $1 billion in annual revenues and spend $500 million of it on the local schools. That makes the schools and other local services more responsive to local interest and less prone to capture by special interests (such as teacher unions pushing boneheaded lefty curricula).

    Most counties in the US are very pro-development. They understand where the money comes from – the wealth creators – so there is a lot of effort put into attracting wealth creators.

    Government itself is more constitutionally constrained. Currently half my county board is suing the other half for passing a law they claim is in conflict with the state constitution because it allows for taxation without representation. I love that. People are prepared to fight hard to keep government from interfering in their lives. Even the government itself.

    Finally, you gotta love a country with a state whose motto is “Live free or die” (New Hampshire).

  21. September 25th, 2007 at 02:03 | #21

    U.S. war cost as estimated by Louisiana State University; http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/other/stats/warcost.htm
    gives a figure of about 1.2m dead in various wars since the American Revolution.

    It seems pretty clear they are only counting Americans as no one else rates a mention and the figures are too low to represent everyone.

    When I first saw the line, ““shed more blood for other people’s liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the worldâ€?

    I thought: “Yeah that would be about right, the US has sacrificed more of other people in the name of Liberty than anyone else in history”. …of course as John mentions they are not silly enough anymore to use human waves and people as cannon fodder, …so it’s every one else that dies.

    It’s been carpet bombing for a long time, bombing villages who in their rage against the planes that dropped the misery supported the Khmer Rouge, …and then died on mass. 1.7m dead in a tiny country, thanks Henry and Richard – sleep Henry and rest in peace – Richard. Don’t worry history WILL remember you fo the monsters you are.

    …and lets not forget those libertarian land mines which are still blowing the limbs off Lao farmers while the rich western kids scoot about Luang Prabung.

    The arguments about Russia are fatuous, no one in Russia has fought for Liberty in almost a hundred years.

    So I don’t have the exact number, but the countless dead; all sacrifices at the alter of the American gods of Liberty, War and Privilege keep mounting and will keep mounting until Americans chuck out the morons and elect some intelligence to the oval office.

  22. September 25th, 2007 at 09:02 | #22

    Mugwump what a lot of rubbish you write. I almost expected you to write God Bless America. If you knew anything about Austrailian schools ( which obviously you don’t) you wouldn’t say that the curriculum is dominated by left wing propaganda.”There is a lot of effort put into attracting wealth creators..” This is little more than propaganda. That you are posting here shows the indulgence of Quiggers.

  23. mugwump
    September 25th, 2007 at 09:51 | #23

    Gee Bill O`Slatter, I know about as much as one could expect to know about Australian (public) schools having attended them myself for 12 years and having had my own children attend them for a number of years.

    But you are right about one thing: God did apparently bless America (and I mean that only in the rhetorical sense; I am an atheist myself). It’s just a great pity for Australia that people like yourself and your friends on the Australian left are so imbued with such blind hatred of free enterprise and freedom that you can’t see the benefits of keeping government on a short leash.

  24. September 25th, 2007 at 10:09 | #24

    Mugwump you really have your hand on it. What about some facts : percentages of the population educated to a reasonable standard ? Too much for you ; find another forum for you far right propaganda.

  25. mugwump
    September 25th, 2007 at 10:13 | #25

    BTW Bill, I never said the Australian curriculum is “dominated by left-wing propaganda”. I said local funding and control makes schools “less prone to capture by special interests (such as teacher unions pushing boneheaded lefty curricula)”.

    Since when have Australian teacher unions not pushed boneheaded lefty curricula?

  26. mugwump
    September 25th, 2007 at 10:17 | #26

    Bill, the fact that you consider advocacy of smaller government, free enterprise, and local control over things such as schooling to be “far right propaganda” is remarkable, to say the least. Perhaps it is you who needs to take a look around.

  27. September 25th, 2007 at 10:47 | #27

    I also found it odd that Bill equates decentralisation of government power with the “far right”. Some would characterise such a view of government as inheriently more democratic. Think global, act local and all that.

  28. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 25th, 2007 at 11:40 | #28

    “Mugwump you really have your hand on it. What about some facts : percentages of the population educated to a reasonable standard ?”

    I am intrigued by this question. Bill, do you have the “percentages” to hand?

    BBB

  29. September 25th, 2007 at 12:30 | #29

    Mugwump: Lets keep things on topic. You are not an atheist . An atheist is someone who examines all their beliefs not just some of them, For that hotbed of Marxism see
    http://www.aeufederal.org.au/. Unlike you I am somebody who has worked as a teacher in the Australian education system. If anything I would say that Australian teachers are just as likely to vote Liberal as Labor. There is an innate conservatism to teaching which attracts conservatives.
    Bingo Bango Boingo (BBB) : Given the vituperative nature of these exchanges the first thing we have to agree on is a reliable authority for measures of educational performance.
    Act 3 Turgid Terge enters perfoms many feats of logical daring do and falls flat on his face. Exeunt

  30. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 25th, 2007 at 14:17 | #30

    Well why don’t we just use whatever measure you had in your head when you wrote the words ‘to a reasonable standard’. Since you have lambasted mugwump for not sticking to the ‘facts’, I assume you have some relevant information to hand, and I’m happy to defer to your judgment on whether it is appropriate to rely on it.

    BBB

  31. September 25th, 2007 at 15:40 | #31

    No facts were presented BBB. Those “facts” are in your head. Now go and do some work and present some facts rather than relying on other people to do it for you.

  32. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 25th, 2007 at 15:47 | #32

    “No facts were presented BBB.”

    Yeah, that’s kinda the point. Oh well, it is as I suspected. In the words of my political hero: all tip and no iceberg. Keep it up with the ‘propaganda’ lines, Bill.

    Cheers
    BBB

  33. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 25th, 2007 at 16:27 | #33

    It’s one thing to detract from liberty by appropriating funds from the citizenry and spending it on ‘free’ (!) government-chosen goods and services (and he cases where this is justified are few and far between, and certainly do not extend to things easily provided by the citizenry themselves (eg. health and education)). It is quite another to engage in broad-based wealth redistribution. That is much easier to justify, since it is a slighter impingment on freedom and retains the benefits of free(r) markets (innovation, responsiveness, etc. as mugwump has aluded to). In reality, the ones who do best from the freeing up of relevant product and service markets are the previously marginalised whose opportunities are held by back by inefficient and/or low-quality government services (this is particularly the case with education).

    BBB

  34. September 25th, 2007 at 21:07 | #34

    What is so refreshing about Americans is they by-and-large don’t expect anything of their government, and the amount they expect diminishes the further removed the level of government. You’re expected to take personal responsibility for yourself and your family here. Contrast that with the new Australian welfare dependency by which even well-off middle class Australians look pleadingly to their Federal Government for handouts. Hayek was right: it is the road to serfdom.

    Serfdom, eh? Does any Australian seriously believe that Australia’s standard of living isn’t a shiteside better than that found in the US? Not to mention a number of other countries with developed welfare states?

  35. September 25th, 2007 at 22:27 | #35

    BBB 10/10 for mastery of Keatingesque technocratic wafflegab. To continue the watery similes you are about as deep as a Perth puddle in summer and as sharp as a bathing ball.
    “in reality, the ones who do best from the freeing up of relevant product and service markets are the previously marginalised whose opportunities are held by back by inefficient and/or low-quality government services (this is particularly the case with education).”
    What does that mean ? The previously marginalised are held back by low quality education? Give us a break. Now do some research on what the key factors are in different outcomes between the State and private education systems.

  36. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 26th, 2007 at 01:14 | #36

    It means that once you privatise things the people who see the biggest gains are the marginalised who are really feeling the effects of socialised, low-quality education. As for research, cripes, I can’t come up with all your answers for you Bill. Go do the research yourself.

    BBB

  37. wilful
    September 26th, 2007 at 10:22 | #37

    Bit personal isn’t all this?

    The point seems to me, that quality free and secular education is vital for Australia’s future prosperity. Australia badly underspends on education for the needy socio-economic parts of society, and this beggars us all.

    Meanwhile, we can still avoid the florid overblown bullshit that is the stock in trade for most US politicians.

  38. mugwump
    September 26th, 2007 at 12:43 | #38

    You are not an atheist . An atheist is someone who examines all their beliefs not just some of them

    What do you teach, Bill? For the sake of your students I hope it isn’t English.

    a·the·ist (Ä?’thÄ“-Ä­st)
    n.
    One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

    Look up “theism”, then think about how antonyms can be formed by prefixing with “a”. Homework exercise: find 10 more antonyms so formed. Don’t cheat – “rsehole” is not a real word.

  39. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 26th, 2007 at 17:25 | #39

    Wilful, you’re right: Bill’s comments are almost always obnoxious and/or pontificating in tone, and he got me hook line and sinker here. My fault for falling for it…

    Now there is no such thing as free education. But I agree that we ought to be massively increasing public funding for schools, particularly primary schools. While we’re at it, we ought to fully privatise them, get rid of the ban on for-profit institutions and put power back in the hands of parents through vouchers, etc. It might sound counter-intuitive, but nothing would do more to reduce inequality of opportunity IMHO.

    Cheers
    BBB

  40. wilful
    September 27th, 2007 at 10:11 | #40

    BBB, how would fully privatising schools, making them for profit, and increasing public funding work together? They sound contradictory.

    As for ‘putting power back in the hands of parents’, it’s my understanding that:
    a) there are lots of opportunities for parents to be involved in schools, many of which have parent controlled boards
    b) education and pedagogy is actually a skilled, specialist professional endeavour, and the suggestion that parents are overall superior in this area is ill-founded.
    c) most parents don’t give a shit.

    If you’re really talking about ‘values’, well I find it frightening that so many parents are so unconfident in their own ability to instill their preferred values in their children. For example, as an atheist I would ahve absolutely no hesitation in sending my kid to a Catholic school if that was the best education available. I would like to think I could make him a critical thinker better than any teacher. After all, I get first and last access to his playdough-like little mind.

  41. mugwump
    September 27th, 2007 at 11:19 | #41

    Wilful, none of that counters BBB’s suggestions. At worst, if parents truly do not “give a shit” as you suggest, then giving them vouchers and allowing private operators into the market will make no difference. But in reality it will probably make a big difference; I have never known service providers not to deliver a better product when faced with greater competition.

  42. mugwump
    September 27th, 2007 at 11:19 | #42

    Wilful, none of that counters BBB’s suggestions. At worst, if parents truly do not “give a sh*t” as you suggest, then giving them vouchers and allowing private operators into the market will make no difference. But in reality it will probably make a big difference; I have never known service providers not to deliver a better product when faced with greater competition.

  43. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 27th, 2007 at 11:28 | #43

    “BBB, how would fully privatising schools, making them for profit, and increasing public funding work together? They sound contradictory.”

    Not sure what you mean, wilful. There is no contradiction. Let’s say state and Federal funding for a given child is $10,000. I reckon we should at least double it. Now instead of handing that $20,000 (or more) to the Department of Education, we ought to hand it out as a voucher (or something similar) that can be redeemed at any educational institution that meets some basic criteria. This could be a school run by the relevant state government (if it still wants to be involved). It could be some private church-connected school. It could be a secular community school run by locals in partnership with one another. Or it could be some for-profit school company (by the way, I am not saying schools should be ‘made’ to become ‘for profit’, but if parents want to send their kids to such a school I don’t think the government should step in and ban them from doing so (which I understand is the current state of affairs)).

    “a) there are lots of opportunities for parents to be involved in schools, many of which have parent controlled boards”

    Which is fantastic, but doesn’t really go far enough.

    “b) education and pedagogy is actually a skilled, specialist professional endeavour, and the suggestion that parents are overall superior in this area is ill-founded.”

    Absolutely. But it isn’t about whether parents are ‘superior’ to teachers. In the areas that matter they clearly are not. At the same time, the suggestion that parents are incapable of making informed decisions about where their kids are educated is ill-founded (not that you’ve necesarily said that). It’s really about lining up the incentives – making sure that school administrations have to work hard to keep students and creating the conditions for innovation. If you couple this was a massive increase in public funding, I think you’ll really start to get some amazing results.

    “c) most parents don’t give a shit.”

    Utter rubbish.

    “If you’re really talking about ‘values’, well I find it frightening that so many parents are so unconfident in their own ability to instill their preferred values in their children.”

    Couldn’t agree more. The ‘values in education’ debate is a massive and pointless distraction.

    BBB

  44. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 27th, 2007 at 11:30 | #44

    Actually I see that I used the phrase ‘fully privatise them’, which was silly. I don’t think we should force State governments to privatise their schools. Sorry for that.

    Cheers
    BBB

  45. wilful
    September 27th, 2007 at 12:44 | #45

    mugwump, vast international evidence proves that many essential services with a strong social dimension are best left in society’s hands, not corporations. I offer you the obvious example of healthcare.

  46. mugwump
    September 27th, 2007 at 13:29 | #46

    wilful, healthcare is not a good example. Most of Australia’s medical technology and new drugs come from private American corporations. Without the private US system fueling innovation, the socialized healthcare enjoyed by most other Western nations would be vastly inferior.

    That said, the US system does have its problems, but they are mostly on the insurance side, not with healthcare itself.

  47. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 27th, 2007 at 14:11 | #47

    Exactly right mugwump. The private for-profit contribution to modern healthcare has been vast.

    I have a larger comment awaiting moderation re: education that preceded my last, but here is an additional question for you wilful: why are you willing to leave your food and pharmaceutical supply to private enterprise? If what you are saying is right, then aren’t these essential services that ought to be provided by government?

    BBB

  48. jquiggin
    September 27th, 2007 at 14:23 | #48

    I’m a bit too busy/lazy to edit at the moment, but could everyone please avoid coarse language, which sends you straight to moderation.

  49. wilful
    September 27th, 2007 at 15:11 | #49

    There’s quite a lot of debate about innovation being fuelled by private enterprise and I’m certainly not going to concede that one blithely. Most of the important medical advances are still made by or heavily supported by governments.

    I’m not willing to leave my pharmaceutical supply in private hands. I like the PBS, I like the TGA, I like the US FDA.

    Anyway, I’m not suggesting and never have that governments should provide all services, I’m saying that some essential services have proven to be more effective and particularly more just/ethical when delivered in a socialised way. Education, healthcare, defence are key examples. Of course there’s a healthy role for private enterprise in there, lots of doctors make a very good wage in socialised healthcare countries. I reckon junior teachers are very well paid and mostly well trained in education (I think senior teachers in the public system are underpaid).

    Food has a well established marketplace – I am concerned about excessive concentration in Australia of a duopoly but that hardly affects me because I buy independently. The point is poor people can still eat nutritiously and affordably. If that wasn’t the case I would wonder what effective government intervention could be made.

  50. Bingo Bango Boingo
    September 27th, 2007 at 15:33 | #50

    I suspect we are more in agreement than might be apparent at first glance, wilful. But claiming that the PBS is an instance of state supply of pharmaceuticals, as opposed to state volume purchasing and subsidy, is a little cheeky. And implying (as I think you do) that wages paid to individual doctors/teachers by the state are themselves an instance of ‘private enterprise’ is really strethcing the meaning of that term. Leaving that aside, I agree that the main game is making sure that the poor have ready access to high quality essential goods and services – which is why I reckon we need to significantly up public funding and at the same time de-regulate and let private enterprise get stuck in.

    Finally, I find it weird that you say there is a food duopoly (I assume you mean Coles and Woolies) but then say that you purchase your food elsewhere. It’s difficult to reconcile these two points.

    Cheers wilful
    BBB

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