Sunday, 24 August 2014

Stop The Tyranny Or I'll Give You Something Nice

Robert Frank is generally considered to be one of the smartest economists in America. In an essay on consequentialism, however, he seemed to hit a stumbling block with this issue regarding why the British supported intervention in the Falklands rather than philanthropy:

"The British could have bought the Falklanders out—giving each family, say, a castle in Scotland and a generous pension for life—for far less than the cost of sending their forces to confront the Argentines. Instead they incurred considerable cost in treasure and lives. Yet few in the UK opposed the decision to fight for the desolate South Atlantic islands. " 

Two obvious things he's missing. In the first place, governments always severely underestimate the cost of wars - they go in hoping for a quick and inexpensive resolution - they act as though they hope they won't have to fight lengthy and costly wars. And in the second place, military mobilisation acts as a deterrent to aggression for dictators.

Somehow I don't think the warning: "Stop invading other countries and maltreating your citizens or else we'll pay for each one of them to have a Scottish castle and a generous pension for life" would have had much of a preventative effect on the likes of Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or the current vicious Islamic thugs slaughtering people in Iraq with the intention of establishing a caliphate.

* Photo courtesy of