Monday, July 19, 2004

Four More Wars

Was reading the moonbat comments to this Kevin Drum post, and came upon this gem:

"Four More Wars
Bush Cheney 04

And we can pay for them with four more tax cuts for the rich.

I know he was attempting sarcasm but I think that sounds about right (maybe a little fast). After all, there are still two members of the Axis of Evil left, right? And don't forget about Syria, and maybe Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon, or China (trying to take advantage of our being distracted) as number five.

We would have to pick up the pace a little but compared to the past four years (only two wars: Afghanistan and Iraq), but I think it could be done. It's also a nice, catchy slogan.

Note: Four more wars is a perfectly defendable idea, but it would probably take ten years instead of four to get it done.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Why are we the world's policeman?

Jane Galt has a question today: Why did we become the world's policeman?

This is a question I have some insights into not already offered in the comments to her post.

After the Second World War the United States was ascendant. Our secure base across the ocean had in no way been devastated by the conflict, unlike Europe, Japan and the Soviet Union. At the time, the United States economy was approximately half of the entire world economy. To repeat: HALF of the ENTIRE WORLD's economy was U.S. This was clearly a temporary situation resulting from the massive destruction caused in Europe and Japan and didn't last, but clearly the U.S. was the most powerful nation in the world.

With this much power, it was virtually impossible for the United States to return to its isolationist roots. This was made all the more evident by the emergence of the Soviet Union as a rival ideological and political force. The Soviet Union was a clear threat to the U.S. directly (through nuclear weapons) and indirectly (by threatening to unite Europe under its iron fist, in which case it would have the productive capability to match the U.S.).

The traditional security guarantor of last resort was the United Kingdom, which attained this role as a result of its expansive colonial conquests and leading role in naval power projection capability since the defeat of Napoleon. As a result of the threat from the Soviet Union and Communism, the United States replaced the UK in this role, starting by replacing the UK's security guarantee to Greece as it was under attack by Communist partisans in 1946. The UK handed the torch of "world's policeman" to the United States from this point on.

We currently guarantee the security of Europe through NATO, Japan through bilateral agreements, Australia and New Zealand through the ANZUS treaty, Southeast Asia through ASEAN, and the Middle East through agreements with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. We ARE the world's policeman, whether we like it or not, and it is a result of historical factors as well as the military weakness of our (sometimes) allies. It can certainly be argued that this weakness is often caused by our role as policemen, and that our role incurs a great deal of resentment. But, above and beyond our not insubstantial humanitarian foreign aid, our contribution to the well-being of everyone on Earth is made by securing trade routes on which much of the world's economy depends and greatly reducing political conflict throughout the globe, even if we don't go around reshaping governments or becoming involved in every catastrophe. That is our role, though it is little acknowledged, the U.S. plays a key role in ensuring that civilization as we know it does not fall apart.

Ignorance is Strength

My apologies for the sparse updates lately. I've been remarkably lazy. Today I want to share some thoughts that have been percolating for a while now. It's kind of a technical discussion in that I use big words, but I think anyone can understand the concepts.

The main idea is this: we live in a world that is inherently probabilistic (i.e. many things depend on chance) but we're stuck with minds that work in an inherently deterministic fashion. By deterministic I mean that we think of things as having clear cause and effect relationships. The world doesn't work that way (at least, not from our admittedly limited point of view).

Because of the way our minds work we have a difficult time assessing risks. We easily fall prey to anecdotal evidence, we are misled by historical evidence (in a totally random environment, events in the past do not effect events in the future). We're bombarded with spurious medical evidence about how this-or-that causes a 25% increase in the risk of cancer. This is, by itself, meaningless. A 25% increase relative to what? If the initial rate of cancer was 0.001%, then the "higher" risk is just 0.00125%. For the information to be useful it needs to be placed in context.

For example, yesterday I learned that I have a 0.014% chance of dying this here, according to the government (I'm not going to bother to look up the link, use Google if you're interested). If I were female, however, that chance is only one-third of that (presumably due to the increased risk of violent death and higher auto accident rates). Does that I mean I should be worried that I'm not a woman? I am three times more likely to die after all. Taken by itself it sounds pretty scary.

The way most people cope with risk is to ignore it. Which is perhaps the best possible way. After all, it is impossible for any of us to have a good understanding of the true magnitude of the risks we face, so any worrying at the individual level will be for naught.

On the public policy level the story is different. Risk can be assessed over large groups of people for certain things. And here the tendency towards ignorance is a liability, with the occasional anecdote swaying things in the all-too-often wrong direction.

Hmmm, I was hoping that as I wrote this some sort of point would develop. Oops.