Some more war links

While we wait for the next critical date on Iraq (Powell’s peek at the evidence on Saddam’s weapons), I find myself without much new to say, except for the obvious point that the odds on war have shortened considerably, going against my predictions on the subject. So I’m going to keep linking to people with whose arguments I broadly sympathise. Gene Healy says:

I understand people who argue for war with Iraq because they want to (1) liberate Iraqis; and/or (2) help Israel; and/or (3) spread democracy. I think those are illegitimate reasons in a constitutional republic whose governing document speaks of the “common defence” of the United States, and not the general good of the world at large. More important, I think they’re damned frivolous reasons for killing American soldiers, innocent Iraqi civilians, and, for that matter, Iraqi conscripts. But I understand the arguments: if these Wilsonian goals are worthwhile to you, invading Iraq is something you might want to do.
But I’m having an increasingly hard time understanding why any rational person would argue that invading Iraq is something we need to do in order to protect the lives, liberty, and property of Americans (you know, the legitimate goals of American foreign policy)

Risking getting things badly wrong again, I’ll classify Gene as an antiwar libertarian similar to Jim Henley who makes the excellent point (which I’ve previously touched on) that pro-war parallels with pre-1939 appeasement can be matched with an anti-war comparison of current US policy with the 1914 ultimatum to Serbia.

I part company with Gene in that I am prepared to take a Wilsonian view that the world community should be willing to act to overthrow dictators. My problem is that breaking with the doctrine of absolute national sovereignty is full of perils and should not be undertaken lightly. The idea that any country should have the right to overthrow another country’s government if it judges it to be dictatorial, threatening etc is a recipe for disaster. The idea that the US alone should have this right is less dangerous in the short run, but will come to the same thing in the end. That’s why I (and I suspect many others) are so concerned about getting a UNSC resolution clearer than 1441.


Thanks to Mark Chambers for alerting me to this piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education, headlined “Taking On ‘Rational Man'”. It’s about the various challenges to the dominance of ‘neoclassical’ economics (the quotes are there because in this context, a very broad definition of ‘neoclassical’, encompassing most Keynesians and many behavioral economists, is being used).

I reviewed the book by Keen mentioned here and will try to post a link soon.

Centre forward

Everyone loves to argue about classifications. In his new (but perhaps temporary) blog, Ken Parish divides Ozploggers (political bloggers) into three roughly equal groups: “Left-ish, Right-ish, and Centre-ish”. There’s not too much doubt about the first two groups. Most of the “left-ish” ploggers, including me, write from the kind of position that used to be called ‘Left Labor’. Most of the “right-ish” ones, of whom Tim Blair is the most prominent, are part of the US-centred “warblogger” circle. Since I have little to say this group and vice versa, only a few of them are listed on my blogroll.

Inevitably, the centre group is the most problematic. Most of those in those group are either moderate and sensible right-of-centre ploggers like Gareth Parker and Scott Wickstein, or what I’ve called ‘cultural and satirical’ bloggers like Bright Cold Day. The fact that the centre of Ozplogistani politics is still a bit to the right of Oz politics in general is not surprising – a year or so ago the bias was much more marked.

But the classification has raised some issues for “Centre-ish” Jason Soon who, it has been suggested, is moving steadily to the left. Both comments by Ron Mead, and the rather grumpy departure of Mark Harrison from Catallaxy have raised this point.

In response, Jason has put forward a “Purpose statement” or Short lexicon of beliefs , which can be broadly summarised as strongly libertarian in terms of civil liberties, strongly market-oriented but nevertheless basically social-democratic in economic policy, and cautious in terms of foreign policy.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Jason has shifted position much in the time I’ve been debating issues with him. Rather, some aspects of his position have become apparent that were previously obscured. First, like a lot of people (including me) who supported the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror more generally, Jason is chary about the rush to war with Saddam Hussein. Second, in debates with me and others, Jason has made it clear that his support for social welfare policies is genuine, rather than being a rhetorical fig-leaf as it is for many advocates of free-market policies.

Will I follow Jason’s example? Not for the moment. Apart from the occasional bit of rhetorical abuse, I don’t seem to have much of a problem with people misperceiving my political standpoint, even when my opinions on particular issues aren’t quite what they might expect. So I’ll think I’ll blog my views one post at a time for now.

Lost comments

After working pretty reliably for several months, Haloscan seems to have lost most of today’s comments. With luck, they’ll reappear soon. For the moment, though, if people have comments they think are worth recording for posterity, save them in a text or word processor as well as posting them here.

Short sentences

This research, reported in the SMH confirms what I’ve said before about the uselessness of short prison sentences

The lead researcher, Dr Eileen Baldry, of the school of social work at the University of NSW, said jailing people for less than six months was counterproductive. Their situation months after release was worse than before they went to jail.

I’ve been meaning to make a general comment about the ‘law and order’ debate. The left has clearly lost the debate as it’s been posed for a long time, and deservedly so. To oversimplify, the standard debate sets a kneejerk ‘lock ’em up’ position (right) against a kneejerk ‘let ’em go’ response (left).

While neither is at all satisfactory, locking ’em up at least achieves incapacitation (that is, those behind bars are not breaking into houses). The shift of the more sensible left to ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ is a step forward, but doesn’t resolve the problem of what a sensible ‘tough on crime’ policy might actually mean (there are also plenty of problems with the various causes of crime such as unemployment, but more on that another time). In my view, it means being willing to use lengthy prison sentences to incapacitate habitual and career criminals, but not giving people schooling in crime with a string of short sentences. This means some very hard thinking about what to do about those who commit crimes but are not yet hardened crims.