Neocons Especially Should Pay Careful Attention to This Research

by Don Boudreaux on September 6, 2008

in Myths and Fallacies

My and Russ’s colleague Pete Leeson has this important and timely guest-post at Freakonomics.

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vidyohs September 6, 2008 at 9:42 am

Interesting presentation; however, since I have seen too many instances of people working side by side in the same field where one innovates and is happy with his change/progress, yet the man working besides him sees his neighbor's innovation and realizes that there were further dimensions and benefits to be gained and takes his neighbor's innovations and expands them to give himself greater benefit.

With that in mind I would not have worded sentence one of this two sentence paragraph conslusion the way it is.

"If U.S. interventions fail to enhance democracy in the countries where they take place, pro-democracy spillovers obviously cannot spread throughout the greater regions these countries are part of. If the evidence from past attempts is any indicator, the prospect of using falling dominoes to democratize the globe looks pretty dim."

Because something has not happened before or has only happened extremely rarely is not proof that it "cannot".

The word "cannot" is too definite to be justified. "Not probable" or "highly unlikely", would be much better since it is speculation at best. For the author to say "cannot" accords himself a vision and knowledge he just does not have.

The question of whether it is worth the expenditures in life and wealth to promote an act that will only get not probable or highly unlikely results is, in my opinion, very unwise

LowcountryJoe September 6, 2008 at 9:53 am

It's clear. There should be no intervention anywhere. If a country like Iraq (in August of '90) should invade a country like Kuwait, why should we get involved? Right? No involvement, then no U.N. resolutions and if no resolutions, no enforcement issues and if no enforcement issues, no image and signaling issues.

Mesa Econoguy September 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Countries only “catch” about 11 percent of their geographic neighbors’ average changes in democracy; the modesty of this spread rate is consistent over time. Our analysis extends back to 1850, but 150-plus years ago, like today, changes in countries’ democracies were only mildly contagious.

I think this is like saying “steam engines move only 3% of goods to market.”

Clearly, you need to take into account trade liberalization, a relatively new innovation, so 11% is a bogus number.

Just sayin’…..

vidyohs September 6, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Egads this was clumsy:

The question of whether it is worth the expenditures in life and wealth to promote an act that will only get not probable or highly unlikely results is, in my opinion, very unwise
Posted by: vidyohs | Sep 6, 2008 9:42:36 AM

I meant that the expenditures were unwise not the question.

shecky September 6, 2008 at 6:25 pm

The whole notion of promoting democracy is bogus. Democracy is a largely symbolic abstraction Americans conflate with prosperity. Democracy was always a tough sell. Prosperity sells itself. Easiest path to prosperity is freer trade.

muirgeo September 6, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Democracy? Are best trading partners are Communist or dictators of some sort as in the Saudi Royal family.

Anyone who thinks we've been promoting democracies isn't thinking like a real life capitalist. It's a jungle out there and ideologies die for profit.

LowcountryJoe September 6, 2008 at 8:51 pm

>>Are (sic) best trading partners are Communist or dictators of some sort as in the Saudi Royal family.<<

Some of our finest physicians are, too. They're of the sort that work for Kaiser.

maximus September 6, 2008 at 10:27 pm

"Some of our finest physicians are, too. They're of the sort that work for Kaiser."

When I was unfortunate enough of having to use Kaiser healthcare the treatment you received was the best arguement against adopting a single payer system. They were the shining example of what that type of system would look like. Good for treatment with leeches or a good bloodletting.

E. Barandiaran September 7, 2008 at 6:31 am


I agree with you a lot. In particular I share your view about the global benefits of trade. I disagree with you, however, about your view on US intervention in other countries. You seem to be against any intervention, but you like the Federal governvent to help New Orleans, Louisiana, or any other state in case of natural and man-made disasters (you may be very selective about man-made disasters, but this is not my point), and most likely you agree that soldiers should kill at least looters in these disasters.

I think you are not consistent. As much as you celebrate the global benefits of trade of goods and services, you should celebrate the global benefits of US intervention (I live in Spain, I'm not American, and I don't care about other governments because their ability to intervene in other countries is very limited). Some people may argue that only in extreme cases such intervention passes a c/b analysis from the US viewpoint or that it is illegal (whatever this means in international law). Indeed a US intervention should be thoroughly assessed, but it should be very much part of the "negotiation" with any of your enemies. In particular, forget about any domino effect. As Gordon Tullock likes to say about the deterrence effect of the death penalty: there is at least one that will not do it again. US intervention should have this limited goal.

For an appropriate context for US intervention in today's international order, I suggest to read Thomas F. Madden's Empires of Trust.

Ray G September 7, 2008 at 11:52 am

Our present war in Iraq is not meant to democratize the Middle East.

We, as a country – as represented by our elected officials, ascertained correctly that Iraq was a sponsor of international terrorism. They did have the material for making WMD, they did have the training facilities (disembodied fuselages and such) and so on.

When these same elected officials speak of democratizing effects, they are "selling the war" to the public. The public – including academia, especially academia and their penchant for unrealistic theorizing – has a very poor understanding of the realities of war and all that necessitates it's existence.

Thus all wars need to be sold to the public.

A true intervention would be a military foray where there was no viable threat. An objective look at the facts of Iraq's involvement in sponsoring international terrorism completely invalidates the fallacy that our war in Iraq is intervention.

In the real world – that which goes on every day outside the walls of those ivory towers – war is going to happen. There will always be yet another dictator willing to create, sponsor or influence an international threat.

Utopian dreamers of both Libertarian and Left wing identity are safe to blather on about how America could be perfectly secure without a strong military presence in the world only as long as those rough men are in fact a strong military presence in this world.

Semper Fidelis

LowcountryJoe September 7, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Semper Fidelis, Teufel Hunden.

David Gagnon September 7, 2008 at 3:48 pm

I have always consider that the democratization of Iraq and Afghanistan was a collateral effect of the invasion but not the primary reason of the invasion.

bartman September 7, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Nice attempt at the big lie, Ray. Iraq was not a threat to the US, and would likely never have become one. The only "international terrorism" it was involved in was funnelling money to Palestinians fighting Israel.

That was Israel's problem, but not America's.

The Iraq War was all about Bush's personal dislike for Saddam, little more. However, you appear to be a military man, so I could understand why you need a large underlying narrative to justify and rationalize the deaths of so many of your military brothers and sisters. If I saw many people I cared for sacrifice themselves for folly, I'd either go nuts or have to convince myself it was somehow for the good.

LowcountryJoe September 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

>>The Iraq War was all about Bush's personal dislike for Saddam, little more.<<

Which time, bartman? Because this most recent time, I thought it was about enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions…namely that Saddam had kicked out weapons inspectors for the second time in five years.

Per Kurowski September 8, 2008 at 8:58 am

The problem is that most, instead of looking to help create the conditions for a sustainable democracy to prosper, are mostly trying to impose their own democracy on others.

In Iraq the sine qua nom condition for having a sustainable democracy is an oil revenue sharing system that hinders the concentration of oil wealth in the hands of governments and bureaucrats. The Iraq Study Group Report, 2006, even mentioned to “redistribute a portion of oil revenues directly to the population on a per capita basis”… but who has heard a word on that truly democracy empowering proposal since?

bartman September 8, 2008 at 8:05 pm

UN resolutions? That's thin gruel, Joe. If the US really gave a tinker's damn about enforcing UN resolutions, we would have invaded Israel many times over.

It was convenient justification for Bush to eradicate his (and his daddy's) personal bete noire.

5000 US dead, untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead and over a quarter trillion dollars to satisfy one man's grudges.

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