Defining victory down, part 2 (Crossposted at CT)

In this post, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any commentary from pro-war bloggers on reports that the US will spend no more on Iraqi infrastructure once the current allocation of $18 billion, most of which was diverted to military projects, is exhausted. Although there was lengthy discussion both here and at Crooked Timber, no one pointed to any examples of comments on the topic.

I said at the time I didn’t want to get into a “Silence of the Hawks” pointscoring exercise on this. As a general rule, no particular blogger is obliged to post on any particular topic. But I would have thought, if you made it your business to report regularly on Iraqi reconstruction, that such a report was worth covering or correcting.

The Winds of Change website gives a weekly report on Iraq, with a focus on reconstruction news. It appears to be a successor to Chrenkoff’s Good News from Iraq, though less relentlessly upbeat. This week’s report contains no mention of the end of reconstruction funding. In case the WOC editors missed it, the WP report is here.

Update Armed Liberal at WoC responds (graciously) to this provocation, calling the Administration’s decision “bizarre” and pointing to an earlier critique of the wiretapping policy. That still leaves the policy undefended, so I thought I’d try again.

Instapundit is usually quick to disseminate pro-Administration talking points (for example on wiretapping) and has posted regularly on Iraqi reconstruction. Only a month ago, Instapundit linked to an Austin Bay post headed (rather ironically in retrospect) The White House Finally Gets Serious About Iraqi Reconstruction. So, now that the nature of “seriousness” in the White House has become clear, does Glenn Reynolds support the cessation of reconstruction funding? Does anybody? End update

Oddly enough WOC links to a WP piece from October 2004 on the diversion of funds to military purposes with the revealing quote

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in a written statement that the administration always knew that “reconstructing Iraq’s infrastructure would require enormous resources beyond what the Congress appropriated — after 30 years of neglect, decay and corruption.”

Whitman said the United States is working to ensure it is “not starting any project without finishing it.”

Presumably that statement does not apply to the big project of building a “peaceful and prosperous” Iraq.

Winds of Change has done a more reasonable job than many of presenting a case for war, but they’ve relied heavily on the assumption that the Administration is committed to the task of leaving Iraq, in its own words “peaceful and prosperous”. Now that the second of these goals has been abandoned, thereby undermining the first (which in any case looks further away than ever), I’d be interested to know if their views have changed.

A final note on all this is that Kim Beazley, has finally called for the withdrawal of Coalition troops from Iraq, arguing, correctly in my view, that their presence is doing more harm than good. Given Beazley’s extreme caution and love of all things military, he must really believe that the whole project is beyond any chance of redemption.

192 thoughts on “Defining victory down, part 2 (Crossposted at CT)

  1. Ian, thanks for your replies. The impression I gained from your posts is that you are non-doctrinaire on just about any topic and you are always happy to contribute constructively by digging out relevant statistics. It is a pleasure to read posts. I don’t have a clue about ‘libertarianism’ and their apparent spatial divisions (left, right) and I try to stay clear of any involvement with any ‘ism-words’.

  2. SJ says:

    …the MAINTENANCE, CHAMPERTY AND BARRATRY ABOLITION ACT 1993 (NSW) is pretty clear:

    I’ll retract that. Whilst champerty is no longer a crime in NSW, it still might be a tort.

    I don’t have a ready answer to your question, Ian, about frivolous lawsuits, but it’s discussed in these two NSW Law Society papers:

    Champerty & Maintenance: Funding of civil litigation by commercial organisations – is it against public policy?

    Maintenance and Champerty: Litigation funding agreements by legal practitioners

  3. Ernestine,

    Thanks for the references. I will have a look. I would dispute your point as regards Hayek not having an impact, though. Several of the most important economic developments of the post war period (for good or ill) had their foundations in his work. The work of such politicians as Thatcher and Reagan were founded, if on anything, on his work and that of the other Austrians.

  4. Andrew Reynolds says: “Thanks for the references. I will have a look. I would dispute your point as regards Hayek not having an impact, though. Several of the most important economic developments of the post war period (for good or ill) had their foundations in his work. The work of such politicians as Thatcher and Reagan were founded, if on anything, on his work and that of the other Austrians.�

    Andrew, I did not say that van Hayek had no impact. I said: However, in terms of the development of 20th century economic theory, which takes the economic aspects of ‘liberty’ seriously, his work did not have an impact.

    To put it another way, whoever the people were who were ‘impacted’ by van Hayek (or used van Hayek’s polemical writings as ‘guru’ literature to push their own vague ideas or personal interests) they do not include the ‘big brains’ of the 20th century in the Economics departments of universities from the US to Japan and from Denmark to Australia. The van Hayek inspired policies are simply anachronistic with respect to both, economic theory and empirical research.

    Looking forward to getting the answers to my questions.

  5. Ernestine,
    I thought we had agreed your questions were polemical in nature. In any case, several of them could easily be (and have been) rephrased to be the hypothesis behind a PhD. Nevertheless, I will, in my own humble way, try to answer in the context of a blog comment. This is a challenge in itself. I will try not to be too long.
    1. “How do you characterise a ‘free market’?� As you would be well aware, there is no such thing as a fully free market in the real world – nevertheless, the freer the market, the better. A few approach the ideal. A simple definition will suffice for the moment – “an economic market in which supply and demand are not regulated or are regulated with only minor restrictions.� The regulator in this case being any agent in the market capable of using force or its threat to alter the relative position of supply and demand.
    2. I would suggest a dictionary definitions of “actual� and “perceived� would suffice for the conceptual difference. For the empirical difference a full PhD thesis may answer, and many have been written. I suggest some research.
    3. None to minor. Black letter law greatly advantages those able to afford good legal representation. A more principles based approach, by allowing greater understanding, reduces the expense and time taken. A success fee based system then further improves the ability to afford to bring suit. In criminal law the role of the State would persist, particularly where the nature of the crime does not allow for financial compensation.
    4. Freedom itself is sufficient. I would strongly argue that resource allocation should be on the basis of what the owners of those resources want them to be allocated to, not on some arbitrary allocation decided on the basis of the use or threat of force.
    5. Free trade is analogous to the free market, just carried across borders.
    6. Yes.
    7. Yes – if they were ever to take note of my advice I would be very surprised, though. If I were to be given 0.0001% of the financial benefit, I suspect I would be a very rich person. However, I emphasise that the financial benefits are secondary to the main point – the ability of each individual to decide for themselves what to do with their own lives and to take responsibility for their own actions is more important.
    8. I have not come across a definition of these two approaches – please point me to one.
    9. I do not see how this is relevant, but I would be interested in your response to this – do you believe truth to be relative or absolute? I worked for some considerable time in prosecutions and I would tend towards the absolute.
    10. I believe that a system that allows free choice allows for pareto-optimisation. In any case, this is not my preferred society – it would be the society made up of the individual choices of all the agents in the society, rather than one imposed from above.
    11. Alfred Marshall:
    “I had a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules
    1 Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than an engine of inquiry
    2 Keep to them until you have done
    3 Translate into English
    4 Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life
    5 Burn the mathematics
    If you can’t succeed in 4, burn 3. This last I did often.”
    .
    This is a quick response and I may have missed a subtlety or two, but that will have to do for the moment: I need some lunch.

  6. Ernestine — my definition of ‘free market’ is what it is. If that isn’t satisfactory, then the only solution for you is to perhaps use a different language.

    Katz — I agree there has been coersion in the past. Too much. No right-libertarian on earth believes in some mythical past of happiness and joy. I may as well say that all non-libertarians wear Stalin underwear. Lets stick to reality.

    I agree coercion continues today. More’s the pity. Libertarians do not support corporate welfare or special treatment for business, and never have. Being pro-market and being pro-business is not the same.

    I agree that government support for business (such as tariffs) is economic coercion. It should be stopped.

    Ian Gould — I note you’ve only responded to my ‘PS’. None of those things you mention (monopoly etc) are coercive. You are (perhaps wilfully) not using the word correctly. The points you raise are potential reasons for believing that voluntary outcomes may not be optimal. That is possible… but that doesn’t make the actions coercive! Me buying McDonalds might not be optimal… but it is not coercive. Debate is difficult if words change meaning whenever it is convenient.

    As it happens, I think that volunary action does tend to lead to a better outcome than coercive actions. But my belief or yours doesn’t change the definitions of words. And none of this changes whether “left-libertarian” is internally inconsistent.

    Steve Munn — there is nothing fairyland about believing that free markets are good. However, there is something inevitable about leftists resorting to childish insults in the face of libertarians. Sigh.

    Libertarians believe in no restrictions on commercial television licences, so I don’t know what you’re trying to prove. If that is good or bad for Kerry Packer… so what? Once again you’re commiting the very simple error of thinking that libertarians believe in government intervention that is pro-business. This has never been the case. Sorry Steve, but ignorance is not a virtue that you should display with pride.

  7. John Humphreys Says:

    However, there is something inevitable about leftists resorting to childish insults in the face of libertarians. Sigh.

    You should ask the government to outlaw the practice.

  8. “my definition of ‘free market’ is what it is. If that isn’t satisfactory, then the only solution for you is to perhaps use a different language.”

    So if I want to define sugar as “that brown runny stuff that comes out of my bum” everyone has to defer to that definition?

  9. “Ian Gould — I note you’ve only responded to my ‘PS’. None of those things you mention (monopoly etc) are coercive. You are (perhaps wilfully) not using the word correctly. The points you raise are potential reasons for believing that voluntary outcomes may not be optimal. That is possible… but that doesn’t make the actions coercive!”

    The definition of coercion from dictionary.com:

    “the use of express or implied threats of violence or reprisal (as discharge from employment) or other intimidating behavior that puts a person in immediate fear of the consequences in order to compel that person to act against his or her will”

    So an African prostitute having unprotected sex with 30 custoemrs a day because it’s the only way to feed her children isn’t being coerced?

    The victims of Minamata Disease weren’t being coerced?

    The Indian debt-slaves working unpaid to service debts incurred by their parents or grand-parents aren’t being coerced?

  10. John Humphreys: ” there is something inevitable about leftists resorting to childish insults in the face of libertarians. ”

    Aren’t you the person who a couple of weeks ago was fulminating about “lower class riff-raff”?

  11. Andrew,

    I thank you for your reply and I appreciate it. My questions were not polemic. I could not make sense of your comments – the underlying assumptions seemed to be ‘way off track’. Asking questions is one way to try to figure out whether there is any common ground. I prefer to assume differences in information rather than differences in attitudes or opinions.

    1. The reference Debreu (1959) contains a theoretical model of an economy where the only institution is ‘a market’ and there is no government or any other authority (or ‘strong man or woman’) who exerts any force, regulatory or otherwise. The model does not claim that this is how the world looks like nor is there any suggestion that this is how the world should look like. The model provides sufficient conditions for the existence of the (market) solution of the model and for efficiency properties. Let me know whether you still believe in the beliefs you have after you read it.
    2. No, I would not agree that a dictionary is of any help here. May I refer to last item on the list for (Maguill and Quinzii, 1996) for a definition of ‘market failure’ of the incomplete variety and may I suggest that anybody who promotes the idea that ‘market failure’ is only a problem of perception may wish to revise his or her perceptions by comparing observables with the assumptions of the complete market model.
    3. Thanks for your opinion on this one. I have no independent knowledge in this area. I suspect that, possibly quite wrongly, many if not most people who are knowledgeable in a particular discipline go for understanding of principles rather than prescriptive rules on the assumption that it reduces the expense and time taken for everybody else. However, the assumption may be a projection from the professional’s experience onto people in general. (This is my experience in relation to accountants – these people seem to need a prescriptive rule for just about every step – isn’t most of it ‘obvious’ given the underlying logic of the system – ie the principles?)
    4. Are you saying slavery is o.k.? I don’t assume you do. Ricardo’s international trade theory result has very little relationship to reality because most international trade is carried out by multinational firms. These ‘private’ enterprises do restrict trade too. There is plenty of empirical evidence on this one. Furthermore, my question is concerned with a change from one system (regulated by governments) to another one (managed by multinational corporations in an environment that can be characterised as a non-cooperative game rather than a ‘free market’ as in Ricardo’s theory.)
    5. Empirical research has found that most international trade is carried out by multinational corporations who have ‘market power’ and act, at times, very much like a ‘force from above’.
    6. Interesting. Between the time of Ricardo’s writings and now, it has been established that the policy recommendation from Ricardo’s (19th century) international trade model result does not generalise to the case when the future is uncertain or when markets are incomplete (a text by Krugman and Obsfield contain at least one result, namely on uncertainty).
    7. –
    8. Theory of the core: Edgworth. (19th and early 20th century) http://www.economyprofessor.com/theorists/francisedgeworth.php. , v. Neuman Neumann, John and Oskar Morgenstern. 1944. Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton NJ., recent application: http://ideas.repec.org/a/spr/jogath/v26y1997i3p379-401.html.
    Other: already referenced.
    9. You are right, the question is not directly relevant. But I don’t regret having asked it. Given the context of the question – legal systems – I don’t know what relative truth means or could mean. The difficulty is how to establish the truth about events. I was quite shocked when a law graduate told me they were told in the proverbial first lecture that it is not the purpose of the legal system to discover the truth. It seems to me if this were true then any talk about ‘freedom’ is meaningless.
    10. No comment at present.
    11. You are not Alfred Marshall I gather.

    Hope you had a good lunch despite my questions.

  12. John Humphreys says: “Ernestine — my definition of ‘free market’ is what it is. If that isn’t satisfactory, then the only solution for you is to perhaps use a different language.”

    Indeed. Here it is: A ‘free market’ is characterised as a hyperplane with normal p in an n-dimensional Euclidean space where n is the number of commodities and p is an n-dimensional vector; a point in a simplex. (This definition assumes there are no financial markets and no sequence of markets and no partially segmented markets.) Let me know if you wish to have more.

  13. John Humphreys

    1. Here is what I said:

    “Right libertarians tend to assume a quite mythical past. In general terms, this past is a gloss on Lockeanism. Human beings were supposed to have ventured out into the wilderness and transformed nature into product for the benefit of all. Right libertarians tend to assume that economic actors, corporations, partnerships, small businesses, are simply carrying on that fine Lockean tradition.”

    2. Here is your preposterous caricature of what I said:

    “No right-libertarian on earth believes in some mythical past of happiness and joy. I may as well say that all non-libertarians wear Stalin underwear. Lets stick to reality.’

    In the cool light of reason I hope that you can recognise that you’ve leeched all nuance out of my formulation. If you can’t recognise that stop reading now because intelligent exchange would be impossible.

    3. Here is the formulation of a Right Libertarian about the history of human liberty. This fellow is just one of thousands whose statements can be found on the WWW:

    http://www.chuckbraman.com/Personal/PersonalPolitics.htm

    “I’m an advocate of 100% political and economic freedom, i.e., of laissez-faire capitalism.

    “The biggest influences on my politics (apart from current and historical observation) are the political philosophy of John Locke and the philosophic system of Ayn Rand. Locke argued that each individual possesses the rights to life, liberty and property, *that these rights exist in nature prior to the formation of government*, and that the only legitimate government is one whose function is limited to protecting these rights. Rand argued that man’s essential nature is to use his reason to produce the values on which his life depends, which in turn requires a government whose function is strictly limited to protecting him from the initiation of physical force by other men. Locke’s ideas were the basis for The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution the United States.”

    You can test the representativeness of this formulation of Right Libertarian ideas yourself by Googling “Locke, libertarian, nature, government”.

  14. John Humphreys says: “There is nothing fairyland about believing that free markets are good.”

    True. There is also nothing fairyland if a person believes the moon is a piece of Swiss cheese unless the person holds this belief in the 20th century and wants to act as adviser to NASA.

    Consider:

    a) The 19th century marginal productivity theory of income distribution implies that in the labour market, people’s wages will approximate their marginal product.

    b) The 20th century theoretical models of competitive private ownership economies with complete markets imply that in addition to the explicit assumptions A1, to An, underlying the 19th century marginal productivity theory of income distribution, assumptions B1 to Bm are implicit.

    c) “In the labour market, people’s wages will approximate their level of marginal productivity.” (John Humphreys, Reform 30/30: Rebuilding Australia’s Tax and Welfare System, Perspective on Tax Reform, CIS Policy Monograph 70, 2005, p 11). Evidence: NONE.

    How would you describe the content of item c?

  15. Katz, you wrote “In fact all economic relations, from the lord-serf relationship of the Middle Ages… have been promoted and protected by state power.”

    That particular example is false. The feudal system enforced that one, in an era before the revival of state power. In fact, state power revived by making use of the feudal system; it was carried by it, not the other way around.

  16. PML, in the narrow sense you’re correct. But I’d draw a bright line between the period of “revival” of state power and the period of the maturation of state power.

    The temptation to use the broad brush on a blog is very powerful.

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