Resources are Scarce

by Don Boudreaux on June 21, 2011

in Reality Is Not Optional, Seen and Unseen, War

Here’s a letter to the Los Angeles Times:

Jonah Goldberg says that, although American military intervention in Libya is unwise, an end now to this intervention would send a signal to tyrants everywhere that “the West’s bark is worse than its bite” (“Libya and America’s commitment problem,” June 21).

Perhaps.  But it’s more likely that the signal that withdrawal now from Libya would send is that, because Uncle Sam doesn’t persist in wasting resources on unimportant fronts, the U.S. military will have more resources to deploy and concentrate on fronts judged to be more pressing.

If you were contemplating an armed attack on America, would the fact that American resources are currently mired in campaigns of dubious importance, indeterminate length, and unpredictable outcome really make you less likely to launch your attack?

Donald J. Boudreaux

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DG Lesvic June 21, 2011 at 10:02 am

You’re both right.

Ryan Vann June 21, 2011 at 10:08 am

Absurd at face value. Your criticism not withstanding, what about the recent wars (causing thousands of deaths) suggests a whimpering passivity?

As an aside, I can’t come to grips with Jonah’s prominence at all. Nothing he ever rights ever seems to resonate with me.

DG Lesvic June 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Jonah Goldbert is one of the greatest political historians and commentators of all time. His Liberal Fascism is one of the few books that could even be mentioned in the same breath with Human Action, though, of course, that is far above any other.

Scott June 21, 2011 at 10:17 am

What difference does it make what tyrants think about us. All they need to know is that we posess the capability and intent to kill them if they attack us.

They don’t need to know what we will do if they violate their own citizens’ liberties.

dsylexic June 21, 2011 at 10:36 am

Operation Independent Libya = Operation Iraqi Liberation = Oil

vikingvista June 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

That might be a rational reason for war if it were true. But it really is rhetorical nonsense. Dictators like selling oil as much as anyone else, and US intervention in the Middle East decreases, not increases, supplies.

Dan J June 22, 2011 at 1:30 am

We have billions and billions and billions of barrels of oil in our own lands without even exploring all possible sites, yet. We don’t need their oil, as we could drill our own and stop the transference of wealth while creating tens of thousands of domestic jobs and billions in tax revenue. Intervention for oil as a plausible theory will require much more information.

nailheadtom June 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

“. . .premature withdrawal spells disaster for the country and for Obama’s legacy.”

Disaster? For what country? The US? Expecting Ghadaffi and his supporters to relinquish power, even under an aerial assault by the NATO forces, to “civilians” led by former officers in his own military is the strangest form of illogical optimism. And what does Goldberg care about the Obama “legacy”? Does he seriously think that NATO’s failure to crush by bombardment what has been the internationally recognized government of Libya will somehow become a sad chapter in US high school history books’ analysis of the Obama regime?

Ken June 21, 2011 at 11:55 am


Do you think force is ever necessary? I understand that US action in Libya is simply Obama posturing as tough; however, say he committed to military action to depose Qaddafi and help build a stable, liberal Libya, would you be in favor?

When do you think, if ever, the US should use force? Is it only after the US is attacked? Seeing as how you think that individual liberty is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of human life, are you not in favor of using force to depose oppressive tyrants or governments affecting a change to more liberty? If not, why not?


geoih June 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

If you think fighting for somebody else’s liberty is important, then why don’t you get yourself into the fight. Get on a plane, fly to wherever the fighting is and start fighting. Stop hiding behind this collectivist talk about the “US” this and the “US” that. If it’s that important to you, then put your body where your mouth is.

Ken June 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I all ready am a part of the fight. I’m not hiding behind anything. I was asking Don when HE thought the US would be justified to use force.

Shidoshi June 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

You’re writing emails from Libya?

vikingvista June 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

What too few people recognize is the COST to human liberty inherent in all state action, including state military action.

The contradiction of ostensibly small government conservatives, is that you cannot have a small government and a big government military.

Ken June 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm


I’ve never argue otherwise. However, individual liberty is the most precious of things. It is worth fighting and dying for. It is why people in the colonies fought the Brits in the late 18th century. It is why Americans fought each other in the mid-19th century. It is why the world fought the Axis in the mid-20th century.

So my question is now, if it was worth it for people to fight for the liberty we now enjoy, in the US and much of the west, should we help others who fight for it, or at least fight against oppression? If so, why not Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc? If not, why not?

If anything is worth fight for, surely liberty is it.


vikingvista June 21, 2011 at 5:48 pm

It isn’t a matter of what is worth fighting for, which is more than just liberty. Ask Mike Tyson. It is a matter of what is worth empowering the state for. That is, when are you willing to sanction the abuse of your unwilling peaceful neighbors, and establish through growth of the state, greater long lasting abuse?

To simply ask “What is worth fighting for?” is a demagogic rhetorical technique to fool someone into criticizing positives, while removing negatives from discussion.

Methinks1776 June 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm


Economiser June 21, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Well said.

Don Boudreaux June 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm


Ken June 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm

” It is a matter of what is worth empowering the state for”

Of course. As the state was empowered to fight the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the world wars.

“That is, when are you willing to sanction the abuse of your unwilling peaceful neighbors”

What abuse on which peaceful neighbors? Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya? Seriously? Saddam, Qaddafi, and the Taliban unleashed all sorts of unspeakable violence on the people living in those three countries. None of that violence can be considered “peaceful”, nor can the global terrorism they facilitated. Eliminating such dreadful people from inflicting their violence is not “abuse”.

“To simply ask “What is worth fighting for?” is a demagogic rhetorical ”

The question is a simple question simply to find out “What is worth fight for?”


vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 1:17 am


Clearly you are sincerely oblivious to the enormous and lasting costs of war spending. I refer you to the writings of the great Robert Higgs.

As to your rhetoric: your question paints the picture of John Wayne courageously risking life and limb leading the cavalry against the bad guys. Who would stand up in front of the cap-gun toting 10-year-olds to disrupt the cinema with protests?

Self-sacrifice is NOT the issue. When you decide to utilize state power, it is the sacrifice of unwilling OTHERS that you are committing. You are proclaiming that to you, the glorious benefits of your martial fantasies are worth…the abuse of your unwilling countrymen. There is nothing noble, heroic, or at all tasteful in that.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 2:08 am


“Clearly you are sincerely oblivious to the enormous and lasting costs of war spending”

How is that so clear? How am I ignoring, much less being “oblivious” to the costs of war? I am willing to weigh those costs against the costs of terrible oppression. It’s shocking the way you claim I ignore the costs of war, where you are doing everything in your power to avoid the realities that there are costs with oppression, as well as you complete avoidance to asnwer the simple question “What is worth fighting for?” It’s like you’re afraid to admit that force is sometimes necessary to deal with those who only understand force.

“it is the sacrifice of unwilling OTHERS”

This is incredibly disengenuous, since we have an ALL VOLUTNTEER military. In fact, ALL military personnel in the military today either joined, or reaffirmed that joining, since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“the glorious benefits of your martial fantasies are worth…the abuse of your unwilling countrymen.”

I don’t see the benefits of using martial tools as glorious, but to ignore the very real and terrible abuse of non-countrymen is your fantasy. Or do non-Americans not count as real people for you?

“There is nothing noble, heroic, or at all tasteful in that.”

There is nothing noble, heroic or at all tasteful in watching other, be slaughtered systematically in the most terrible imaginable way, and doing nothing.


vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 2:26 am

“This is incredibly disengenuous, since we have an ALL VOLUTNTEER military.”

Like I said, oblivious. Utterly and totally oblivious. I’m tired of going through this with others who also find the sacrifice of me and their other countrymen “worth it” to them. Maybe someone else will help you here.

“What is worth fighting for?”

If you continue to choose to ignore my polite response to how your question sorely misses the point, I may give you answers worthy of your question.

Ken June 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm


Yet another nothing answer.


vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm

“Yet another nothing answer.”

If you don’t read them, you can’t see them. I’m not obliged to repeat myself indefinitely.

Scott June 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm

If your definition of a small government is one that performs only the functions which are necessary to protect citizens’ liberties, then a big military can exist in a small government scenario. A military is exactly the entity that performs the protection of citizens’ liberties when threatened by external aggression. We are not nor were the founders anarchists.

vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 2:28 am

Whatever we are, the government military is part of the government. If it is big, so is the government.

Scott June 22, 2011 at 7:58 am

Under this logic, a state couldn’t have an ample police force without being considered “big government”. No need to argue here, I just think that it dilutes the argument against real big government (liberty killing government). Again, the military’s whole purpose in life is to protect liberty.

vikingvista June 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm

“Under this logic, a state couldn’t have an ample police force without being considered “big government”.”

Under LOGIC, a state with a big police force, is a big state.

Government action always abuses liberty, and government police action is no exception. The problem with conservatives, is that they do not recognize this.

Dan J June 23, 2011 at 12:51 am

Can’t have a large state supported military without the large state….. It would be an enormous contradiction.

PrometheeFeu June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Somehow, I doubt this is going to be an issue. US military spending is greater than the next 10 spenders. By every measure, the US could win a war against any other superpower. As for leaving Libya or Afghanistan, that is politically difficult. It may also be difficult to do without messing things up on the way out. If the US was under attack, all those considerations fly out the window and the boys can be brought back to defend the motherland and to hell with the consequences for Libya. (Not to mention we can always nuke anyone who gets too close to winning) That does not mean the intervention in Libya is a good thing, but I don’t find your argument very convincing Don.

Dave June 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Although I would argue the wasteful intervention in Libya is not worth continuing for the sake of our image abroad, it’s naive to think that a premature withdrawal wouldn’t be taken as a sign of weakness.

Dan J June 22, 2011 at 1:37 am

Good point on vulnerability of a nation using scarce resources limiting it’s abilities to properly defend on other fronts. Such as defense of monetary value as debt climbs.
But, not assuming economic literacy of many dictators or enemies of US, would they be wise to such a weakness?

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