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The fallacy of war as an economic benefit
From the Captain:
I also disagree that war doesn't have lasting benefits. First, since forever, war was the greatest driver of innovation. Atomic energy, the internet, civil aviation, satellite navigation, are just few examples of technologies that were developed first for the sake of war. I am not doing a balance sheet, and if you want to argue that the net benefit is negative, fine. I honstly don't know how to calculate this "net benefit". But I am communicating with you right now thanks to a benefit of war. In addition, there are the benefits that come to one contry from defeating another. That's a different issue.

From Heinz ....
war has no tangible economic benefit whatsoever - it is a waste of resources. the ONLY point of importance in this context is the fact that 1. the resources diverted to war-making would have been used for something else had they not been diverted, and 2. that something else would most likely at least in part have been productive use (capital investment) that would have improved out overall economic lot (in fact, even private consumption makes more economic sense than building arms).
by contrast, the resources wasted on war are clearly put to the opposite of productive use, namely destructive use.
the fact that the state spends money on something is by itself not proof of an economic use of resources - it is usually waste, and nowhere is it more wasteful than in war making. defense (as in legitimate defense against potential invaders) is a COST of business, not a benefit. the benefits derived by the makers of war implements (arms, munitions, etc.) pale in comparison to the economic damage done to everybody else.
there's nothing else to discuss in this context - it should be obvious. the 'war is good for the economy' meme is a Keynesian fallacy.

From Mish ....
I would have thought this was obvious but apparently not
The captain and others are looking at what appears to be the seen benefits, but ignore all of the unseen costs. There is also an assumption that the products that supposedly came from war would not have come regardless. Perhaps even better uses for that money would have been found elsewhere. There is no benefit to war except to industries that benefit from it at the expense of everything else. Short term it might be argued that war reduces the chance of recession but is that a benefit? Of course not, recessions are a necessary thing to eliminate malinvestments from the previous boom. War not only further reduces the pool of real funding, it also missallocates resources better spent elsewhere.

Mish




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<missallocates resources better spent elsewhere.>

Resources, such as a country's most valuable resource: its people.

How many inventions were never made, because the inventor was killed, in a war?

Going back over 2,000 years, there is evidence, in the Archimedes palimpsest, that Archimedes, the Syracusan-Greek mathematician, was working on a form of calculus, when he was killed, by a soldier, in one of the interminable wars among the Greek city-states.

http://www.archimedespalimpsest.org/

How would human history have been different, if Archimedes had worked out and published calculus, 2300 years ago (the productive human history, of science, technology and medicine, not the destructive human history, or warfare and politics)? What else would Archimedes have discovered? What if Newton and Liebnitz had grown up studying calculus?

How would the 20th century have been different, if the millions of victims of wars had lived? Just think of the contributions of the few who escaped the caudron of Europe, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud.

Mish, I am with you, 100%. Necessity is the mother of invention. If war is the necessity, inventors will invent weapons of war. If commerce is the necessity, inventors will invent useful, productive tools. The memes of the inventions spread, benefiting all of humanity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invention
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

One of the most destructive memeplexes is the one that glorifies war. Personally, I believe that this is deeply embedded in human DNA. Even chimpanzees go to war. We all recognize the memeplex - war is glorious, the warriors are brave, the economy benefits, the inventions of war would not have happened without it, etc. Like all memeplexes, the war memeplex evolves, as it propogates.

For as long as there has been war mongering, there have probably also been anti-war feelings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysistrata

However, the war-mongers generally have the upper hand -- pun intended, since the upper hand, whether a clenched fist or holding a club, sword, or gun, threatens violence against the gentler, anti-war people.

Wendy (mourning all the lives lost)
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The way I interpreted the capitan's original assertion was that

- some results of war can have economic benefits, even long-lasting economic benefits

but not necessarily that those benefits represented the best possible cost/benefit result from resources expended (or destroyed.) Looking at opportunity cost it would be hard to argue that war could possibly be of net benefit.

(On the other hand, you could argue that sometimes war helps to force resources into technological research that otherwise would have gone into luxury/entertainment/discretionary consumerism that would not have driven the same level of innovation and long-term gain.)




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thanks wendy, I just may do a blog on this idea
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some results of war can have economic benefits, even long-lasting economic benefits

That is essentially the same as arguing that a tornado causes benefit when it destroys houses.

A tornado does no such thing and neither does war

Mish
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Mish, if you do a blog on war, please describe the magnetic psychological attraction of the romanticization of warfare.

So many of the most interesting tales of chivalry are based on ancient warriors (such as the Greek myths or knights in shining armor). I loved these stories, when I was growing up. Who can resist tales of gallant knights rescuing beautiful princesses?

Many years ago, I dated a very bright guy (eventually got his Ph.D. in Physics), who shared my interest in the old stories. We both fenced (I with a foil, he with an epee). I made costumes, which we both wore with authentic panache. He used his calligraphic skill, to transcribe the following poem, which he hung over his desk. I sewed a beautiful velvet coat of arms, with a lion rampant, to go with the poem.

http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/cult_of_chivalry.html

"My heart is filled with gladness when I see
Strong castles besieged, stockades broken and overwhelmed,
Many vassals struck down,
Horses of the dead and wounded roving at random.

And when battle is joined, let all men of good lineage
Think of naught but the breaking of heads and arms,
For it is better to die than be vanquished and live. . . .

I tell you I have no such joy as when I hear the shout
'On! On!' from both sides and the neighing of riderless steeds,
And groans of 'Help me! Help me!'
And when I see both great and small
Fall in the ditches and on the grass
And see the dead transfixed by spear shafts!

Lords, mortgage your domains, castles, cities,
But never give up war!"

--Bertrand de Born, French aristocrat and troubadour


It wasn't until much later, that I realized that the gallant knights were actually armed thugs. Not only did the knights keep Europe in the dark ages, for a thousand years, they massacred thousands of helpless Jews, during the Crusades.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_and_the_Crusades

Why are war and warriors glorified? Simple. The writers, poets, and balladeers depend upon the patronage of the victorious. Of course they glorify their patrons!

Describing war as glorious, for the warrior and his society, has very deep roots. It isn't lightly given up.

Never mind the cold fact: Warfare has destroyed many of the finest civilizations the world has seen, over and over again.

Some of these civilizations were destroyed from within, by constant civil war. These include Golden Age Greece, and Judaea (with plenty of help from the Romans, but the Jewish civil war greatly weakened the defenders).

Others, which built themselves into Great Powers, squandered their resources on war, and declined.

If you haven't already read "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers," by Paul Kennedy, I encourage you to do so.
http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Fall-Great-Powers/dp/0679720197/sr=8-1/qid=1168283666/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-4524575-8760010?ie=UTF8&s=books

Asking those who were raised in the warrior tradition to give up war, is like asking those who were raised in a religious tradition to give up religion.

I am not saying that warriors should not be created and supported. The fact is, without a strong defense, a country will eventually be attacked, by those who want to pluck the fruits. However, the realistic national defense needs of the U.S. are vastly smaller than the political-military-industrial complex would have us think.
Wendy
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war has no tangible economic benefit whatsoever - it is a waste of resources.

You made your claim. I made mine. The difference is that I supported mine with logic and evidence and you and Heinz keep repeating the claim that "war has no benefits."

the resources diverted to war-making would have been used for something else...that....would most likely at least in part have been productive use.

That is a nice assumption, but not supported by any evidence except your say-so. The resources might just as well not been used at all.

The captain and others are looking at what appears to be the seen benefits, but ignore all of the unseen costs.

I do not ignore the unseen costs. But succesful wars tend to put the costs on somebody else. Costs you do not have to pay do not matter from an agent's perspective.

There is also an assumption that the products that supposedly came from war would not have come regardless. Perhaps even better uses for that money would have been found elsewhere.

Perhaps, but isn't it funny that I have to argue with facts against "perhaps"? You give me $1000 and I'll "perhaps" give you $2,000 in return. Deal or no deal? I take the evidence as it comes, not as I fancy it. War is hell. That doesn't make it less profitable unfortunately. I wish it did.

There is no benefit to war except to industries that benefit from it at the expense of everything else.

I agree that iit is the largest benefit. And that is the benefit that results in decisions based on self-interest, such as decisions to spend money on lobbying the governmernt.

Short term it might be argued that war reduces the chance of recession but is that a benefit? Of course not, recessions are a necessary thing to eliminate malinvestments from the previous boom.

This is the heart of the whole discussion. If I want to chose the ratio of my long/short positions for the next two years, that's quite relevant, isn't it? In the long term we are all dead.

War not only further reduces the pool of real funding, it also missallocates resources better spent elsewhere.

War no doubt reduces resources. Sometimes the resources aquired by war more than compensates. But the main issue is that the market values assets based on profits, not based on the totality of existing resources, which is absolutley irrrelevant for all the agents. You make the implicit assumption that "the invisible hand" makes sure nobody turns a profit without benefiting the whole community. Perhaps in the land of Oz.

Regards,
Capitanfracassa
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Wendy (mourning all the lives lost)


Wendy,
I agree with your feelings. I just don't see the relevance of it. I do not advocate war. I do not want war. I do want however, to understand war, and to understand why the U.S. is constantly at war. And genes do not cut it as an explanation. People in Sweeden have the same genes as people in the U.S.

Regards,
Capitanfracassa
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{{That is essentially the same as arguing that a tornado causes benefit when it destroys houses.

A tornado does no such thing and neither does war}}


What if the war reallocates capital to better uses? The result of the Civil War, while catastrophic and long lasting, allowed for future capital to go into manufacturing and other allocations instead of just the slave based agrarian society in the South.


c
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It wasn't until much later, that I realized that the gallant knights were actually armed thugs. Not only did the knights keep Europe in the dark ages, for a thousand years, they massacred thousands of helpless Jews, during the Crusades.

They also managed to defeat the Arabs and Turks trying to conquer Europe. See, for example, the battle of Tours
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tours
and the battle of Vienna and the siege of Vienna
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Vienna
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Vienna

Warfare has destroyed many of the finest civilizations the world has seen, over and over again.

It has also preserved many of the finest civilizations.
See, for example, the battles of Salamis and Thermopylae
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Salamis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae

DB2
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Wendy,
I did read Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" - although it has been many years ago, so my memory might be foggy or I may be mixing it together with some other books on the same subject matter that I read back then.

The main thing that I seem to have retained from that was the impression that "great powers" can be in decline for many, many years before most people even realize it, and that economic strength and military strength are, in the long run, intertwined. You cannot over a long period sustain great military strength at the expense of economic strength, but at the same time in a very short time period economic strength that might take decades to build can be destroyed if you neglect your military.

One other thing I think I recall is that the difference between the rise and fall of a "great power" can be as little as a percentage point or two of growth per year. (We're not just talking about the difference in performance of your investments that year, but the difference between being a "superpower" and being a second-rate power, in relation to other nations.)

Obviously in keeping with that, if you strangle your economy with excessive military spending eventually you will no longer have the ability to support that military. However, there is the legitimate question of whether economic interests rely on that military. Would pulling back on military spending cause political losses that would lead to economic losses?

I think that is always going to be a complex question that can not be easily answered by a knee-jerk reaction in either direction. An overly pacifist view has as much potential for harm as an overly militarist view.

I will avoid going away from the intent of this particular board by going too much into current events, but I will throw out that another legitimate question to ask at any given time is whether military spending is being used to the benefit of the nation as a whole, or serving the particular interests of a few without a net gain for the whole.




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<People in Sweeden have the same genes as people in the U.S.>

In past centuries, Swedes were known as ferocious warriors. In fact, they gave Russia a serious run for its money, in the days of Czar Peter the Great, winning the Battle of Narvia, and even invading the Ukraine, in 1709.

The Norwegians, today among the most civil people in the world...well, you know all about the Vikings.

So, what makes a nation warlike, at one point, and peaceful, at another?

Its culture, and its leadership.

Look at how the leadership of Japan has influenced its warlike tendencies, over the past 500 years. From civil war, to Shogunate, to the Meiji restoration, the aboloshing of the samaurai, the militarism of the first half of the 20th century, the pacifism of the second half.

I believe that all people have the potential for being either warlike or peaceful, either constructive or destructive. The direction that a society takes depends upon its leadership.

In democracies, the people choose the leader. Don't you think voters are influenced by propoganda, from the same people who make money, during wars? Don't you think the propogandists understand how to push the buttons of the people, to support war?

Why is the U.S. constantly at war? No less a flaming liberal than President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex.

http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together....

We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow....

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative."

If only every child in America was taught this outstanding speech, side by side with the Gettysburg Address.

Wendy
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That is a nice assumption, but not supported by any evidence except your say-so. The resources might just as well not been used at all.

Of course it cant be proven
Can we "take back" the Vietnam War, the War in Iraq, WWI, or any other war in history? You ask for proof when it is illogical to ask for proof.
Try and ask any dead person if they want their life back. It can't be done, nor can we take back a war so you are saying that you win. Ridiculous.

I do not ignore the unseen costs. But succesful wars tend to put the costs on somebody else. Costs you do not have to pay do not matter from an agent's perspective.

So it's OK if the costs are on someone else?
Without war there are no costs on anyone else!
Based on this irrefutable logic alone, you lose the argument.

There is also an assumption that the products that supposedly came from war would not have come regardless. Perhaps even better uses for that money would have been found elsewhere.

Perhaps, but isn't it funny that I have to argue with facts against "perhaps"? You give me $1000 and I'll "perhaps" give you $2,000 in return. Deal or no deal? I take the evidence as it comes, not as I fancy it. War is hell. That doesn't make it less profitable unfortunately. I wish it did.


Let me turn the tables on you and demand evidence that war provides a greater economic benefit than to not have it. You have no such proof only illogical assumptions while ignoring your own statement on costs. The "evidence" that you provide can not be proven while it can be proven that wars destroy lives and property and consume resources. You have a funny way of measuring "benefits". Tell me, what is a life worth?

Mish



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So, what makes a nation warlike, at one point, and peaceful, at another?

Its culture, and its leadership.


Yes, but why not its economy, its geopolitical situation, or even a particular but very dramatic event in its history?

Japan was turned into a pacifist nation by the devastation it suffered in WW-II. Although the U.S. was quite warlike before, the combined experience of the great depression and the economic bonanza of WW-II turned the U.S into a country addicted to war. The U.S. never demobilized after WW-II as it did after previous wars.

Why is the U.S. constantly at war? No less a flaming liberal than President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex.


I think we can agree on that. Eisenhower's fears are now solid reality.

But I don't believe education is going to help a lot. Economic history is path dependent. The U.S. and Japan cannot just switch between peaceful development and war economy at will. Just as a 60 years old plumber and a 60 year old MD cannot exchange their professions. Decisions taken in the past get embedded in institutions and limit the choices available in the present. I believe it would take a major defeat or economic collapse to wean the U.S. off war.

Regards,
Capitanfracassa
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What if the war reallocates capital to better uses? The result of the Civil War, while catastrophic and long lasting, allowed for future capital to go into manufacturing and other allocations instead of just the slave based agrarian society in the South.

Did it?
There is no way to know.
For starters the South actually banned the importation of slaves if my facts are correct. Of course that did not free the ones that were already here. But let's assume for a second that there are moral reasons to support a war even if there are not economic ones.

That is a different issue and very tough to measure. The best example of this that I can think of is WWII. Of course if you understand WWII it came about as a direct result of WWI, a war which should never have been fought and one that the US had no business entering at all. It is even hard to say that if we "had" to enter that war that we entered on the "correct" side. But it was WWI and the War reparations after that led to the rise of Hitler and WWII. Had we not had WWI Hitler would not have come into power. Speculation, and no one knows, but a strong case can be made for it.

Now back to the moral issue...

But even if there was moral reasons for entering WWII (I believe there were), that does not mean there was an economic benefit to the War that would not have arisen otherwise. Those resources we spent dropping bombs would have had a better economic benefit doing almost anything else IMO.

Mish
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<Would pulling back on military spending cause political losses that would lead to economic losses? >

That is, indeed, the key question. (Your post was excellent.)

The more complex question is not only how much is spent, but on what military resources, and how would the military be used.

For example, Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives believed that technological developments (such as better communications, weapons, and defense armor) would allow a smaller force to accomplish the same goals as a larger force, with lesser equipment. They may have been correct, as shown by our swift military victory, in 2003. However, they completely disregarded post-war strategy and tactics.

Clearly, the U.S. needs a military force. Defense of our national integrity is necessary. A military force will always be necessary.

However, U.S. borders are probably not going to be under threat of conventional military invasion, in the near future.

So, the need for conventional border defense is relatively small. (Terrorism is a separate issue, and requires unconventional solutions.)

Considering the rest of the world, what kind of military expenditures are necessary to protect American economic security?

Is it important, to our economy, to secure source of vital commodities, most notably, our oil supply?

A purely imperialistic approach (for example, invading, taking over, and defending the oil-producing regions of Iraq) would be the most efficient way to protect oil, if one wanted a military solution (as opposed to simply purchasing oil on the open market). Lost lives aside, would imperialism be cheaper, for the U.S., than simply buying the commodity? Obviously, hideously, the war has been much more expensive!

Of course, the U.S. can't be blatantly imperialistic...it's against everything we stand for, not to mention the U.N. charter. Public opinion would never stand for the kind of slaughter and repression that would be required (which would make Abu Ghraib look like a picnic.) So, we have a non-imperialistic mess, instead...and the economic interests of the U.S. aren't being served.

It is my opinion that the best use of American force is to protect the rule of law. The entire world benefits, when there is free trade (or as free as the negotiators will allow), without the interference of violence and war.

I certainly do not consider myself a pacifist. However, I believe it is against our economic interests, all other issues aside, when the U.S. engages in war, for any reason other than to protect our borders, those of our allies, and the rule of law.

Wendy
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It has also preserved many of the finest civilizations.
See, for example, the battles of Salamis and Thermopylae
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Salamis
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Thermopylae


Nonsense
In both sited cases the war had already started.
There was no benefit to starting the war.

Mish



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It is better not to argue in parallel lines that never meet.


So it's OK if the costs are on someone else?
Without war there are no costs on anyone else!
Based on this irrefutable logic alone, you lose the argument.


Whether is OK or not is a question of ethics (I think it is not OK). I try to keep my discussion to economics. Unless you want to argue that the economic system we now live in is based on people making decisions out of altruistic concern for the common good of humanity, I do not see what the relevance of your point is.


Let me turn the tables on you and demand evidence that war provides a greater economic benefit than to not have it.


Just like you, I cannot prove a negative. I said from the beginning that I do not know how to measure the net benefit of war to humanity as a whole. You on the other hand claim that you do know how to measure this net benefit and that this net benefit is negative. So I am pointing out merely that you have given me no concrete way to calculate the balance sheet of humanity with vs. without war.

Rather than the benefit to humanity I gave reasons and evidence pointing to the differential benefits of war to certain countries, industries and companies. Your only argument against it is that war destroys resources. That is completely true, but it does not prove anything. Driving in my car around the block also destroys resources. Dumping toxic waste into the Hudson river also destroys resources. The question is: does it produce profits and does it increase the values of certain assets?


Regards,
Capitanfracassa
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<I believe it would take a major defeat or economic collapse to wean the U.S. off war. >

The 2006 elections show, clearly, that the electorate is getting ready to be weaned off war.

Just as Clinton cashed in a peace dividend, a future leader, elected on a peace platform, could do the same.

I'm more optimistic than you are. I hope that the 2008 election will decisively express the majority's disgust with war...and bring peace, without a major defeat or economic collapse.

Wendy
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<They also managed to defeat the Arabs and Turks trying to conquer Europe....[Warfare] has also preserved many of the finest civilizations.>

Surely you see that these were defensive battles? And that we are seeing them as victories, because we are Euro-centric?

I'm not saying that a strong military, for national defense, is unnecessary! Golly, I'm not a pacifist, recommending that defenders bare their throats to the aggressor!

I'm saying that warfare causes waste and suffering. That society would be better off, with negotiation and the rule of law. That all of humanity would be better off, if there were no aggressors...but, since there are aggressors, that a nation should only maintain enough military force to defend its national security, not to become an aggressor, itself.

Wendy
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I'm saying that warfare causes waste and suffering. That society would be better off, with negotiation and the rule of law. That all of humanity would be better off, if there were no aggressors...but, since there are aggressors, that a nation should only maintain enough military force to defend its national security, not to become an aggressor, itself.

Wendy


ding ding ding
I will further add that we have more than enough defense to protect us for the next 20 years if not longer.
Mish
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Why are war and warriors glorified? Simple. The writers, poets, and balladeers depend upon the patronage of the victorious. Of course they glorify their patrons!

Describing war as glorious, for the warrior and his society, has very deep roots. It isn't lightly given up.


War is glamorized to induce people to enlist. General Sherman's "war is hell" speech was given at a graduation ceremony, before a class of new officers itching to see action. Sherman's warning was that they had no idea what they would be in for and it wasn't glamorous.

Steve
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In both sited cases the war had already started.
There was no benefit to starting the war.


Sure, but there was a benefit to the Greeks in fighting to keep the Persians out. Mish, if you write a blog about this you will need to differentiate between spending for a military and spending for a war. They are two different things, and both come under the heading of (sometimes) necessary evil.

There is, and always has been, a lot of bad mojo in the world.

DB2
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General Sherman's "war is hell" speech was given at a graduation ceremony, before a class of new officers itching to see action

"I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!' "

W.T. Sherman

I've read that wasn't the first time Sherman used the phrase "war is hell". He was about to torch a plantation manor in middle Georgia during his scorched earth policy march to the sea. The matron of the manor was pleading with him to spare her home. Sherman reportedly replied, "War is hell, madam. Torch it boys", with which the home was promptly burned to the ground.

His and Grant's plan was to make war so painful for the enemy it would give up the fight. It worked.

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After Mexico´s war for independence against Spain ended in 1821, Mexican statesman Melchor Ocampo served as governor of Michoacán and as senator for the same state, as well as an official spokesperson for Mexico serving in Europe and the US, and supported Mexico in the war with the US in the mid 1800´s .. and later bargained with the US for loans to support Juarez in an internal war with Zuluaga, a rival who claimed to be a valid Mexican President.

Melchor Ocampo said ´It is through talking, and not killing each other, that we will be able to understand each other´.

He was known as a strong statesman who valued the political solutions over war solutions. He was shot by a firing squad by Zuluaga for his part in securing monies from the US to support Juarez´s fight against Zuluaga. Juarez eventually won.

Unfortunately Mexico continued to have splintered factions in various parts of the country who fought with each other every 20 to 30 years, until the early 1900´s ... every 20 to 30 years an internecine war would destroy the country´s infrastructure and kill many of the men ... and Mexico has today, the economy it has ... at least in part due to the constant destruction of resources.

FWIW
ralph
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the resources diverted to war-making would have been used for something else...that....would most likely at least in part have been productive use.

"That is a nice assumption, but not supported by any evidence except your say-so. The resources might just as well not been used at all."

In a world that is increasingly understood as finite rather than infinite in resources, this is also a benefit. No? There's an economic cost to the future, of waste in the present.

respectfully
BJ
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And genes do not cut it as an explanation. People in Sweeden have the same genes as people in the U.S.

Those who argue that war results in no economic benefit are pretending that war is an option.

It is, and always has been, fight or be conquered.

Conquered people are sometimes called slaves.

Conquered people (slaves) have no options. That they exist and how they exist is at the whim of the conquerers.

Want to pass on your genes, religion, heritage? Prepare for war.

In the final analysis it is resist or die.

War is not an option.

War is the natural progression of individual animals fighting for turf. (Turf = nesting/hunting territory)

The animal that holds the territory lives and passes on its genes.
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<historical discussion commencing>

His and Grant's plan was to make war so painful for the enemy it would give up the fight. It worked.

Sherman's vow to Grant "I will make Georgia howl"

As discussed earlier war was glamorized. The fathers and mothers would see their sons dressed up in their spiffy uniforms, marching over the hill with bands playing, and be proud. Sherman is regarded as the first "modern general" for taking war to the civilian population far behind the front: livestock killed, crops burned, cities destroyed. Think of Sherman's column as the Civil War equivilent of the 8th Air Force's bombing campaign against the Third Reich. Anything and everything his troops could get their hands on that supported the Confederate war effort was destroyed.

<excerpt from Sherman's letter to the Mayor of Atlanta urging the civilian population to be evacuated>



You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.

We don't want your negroes, or your horses, or your houses, or your hands, or any thing that you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and, if it involves the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.


http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~josephkennedy/Sherman_1864.htm

<speech at the Michigan Military Academy, June 19, 1879>

I've been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

'Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!'


http://www.mi5th.org/warishell.htm

Steve
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<War is glamorized to induce people to enlist. >

And it starts early. Took my three year old to see Happy Feet and had to sit through a recruiting ad for the National Guard. Made me sick.

miro
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In a world that is increasingly understood as finite rather than infinite in resources, this is also a benefit. No? There's an economic cost to the future, of waste in the present.


I think you are very right, but that is merely increasing the already counted negative externalities of waste. Not only you waste labor to provide goods and services that decrease rather than increase the welfare of their unwilling recepients, but you consume finite resources in the process.

The real issue debated here hinges on one thing alone: does the economic system we have today translates real costs and benefits to humanity into economic signals that manifest themsleves to agents in the form of economic rewards and punishments?

According to our friends of the "invisible hand" here, the answer is yes. Logically, that makes war impossible, or at least irrational (and since irrational behavior selects itself out, we should have witnessed a decrease in war together with increase in development -- this is Tom Friedman's thesis). Since war happens and the most warlike country today is also the most developed, it must be a "distortion" introduced by government (and government must be logically an external factor whose actions cannot be explained within the system itself).

I think there is plenty of evidence to debunk this idea (as this thread shows). War is systemic and profitable. Governments are internal to the economic system and behave in ways that can be explained by factoring the interests of economic agents. And therefore there is no necessary link between the rewards and punishments for agents' decisions and the real benefits to humanity as a whole. (Sometimes the link exists, and sometimes it doesn't).

Regards,
Capitanfracassa
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Resources, such as a country's most valuable resource: its people.



Historically, war and genocide - along with diseases and starvation - were unfortunately necessary, because there was no other way to keep human population at a sustainable level. Wars were very often the direct results of population pressures (the second-, third- or fourth-born son, with no prospect of an inheritance of land, often saw war as their only way out).
It is only recently that the invention of reliable contraception has obviated the need for periodic mass slaughter.

If wars had not been, there would likely have been vastly more environmental destruction through human overpopulation, and as a result possibly even more deaths through starvation and a smaller resulting human population in the end.
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Rather than the benefit to humanity I gave reasons and evidence pointing to the differential benefits of war to certain countries, industries and companies. Your only argument against it is that war destroys resources. That is completely true, but it does not prove anything. Driving in my car around the block also destroys resources. Dumping toxic waste into the Hudson river also destroys resources. The question is: does it produce profits and does it increase the values of certain assets?


I think this is the central point. War is really no different than everyday life. It is just another way of economics. The way we waste resources today is costing lives somewhere else, just as sure as dropping bombs does. The only thing that is different is the label. That the label "war" is associated with strong emotions is readily visible in this thread.


That society would be better off, with negotiation and the rule of law

Rule of law includes enforcement of that law. And of course the question of how that enforcement is done. If it is done like today, by imprisoning and fines, then I fail to see the difference between war and law. If however the enforcement is compensation based (towards the victim), then I would agree.


"That is a nice assumption, but not supported by any evidence except your say-so. The resources might just as well not been used at all."

In a world that is increasingly understood as finite rather than infinite in resources, this is also a benefit. No? There's an economic cost to the future, of waste in the present.


Hmmm, why save resources for later?. I love my kids, but objectively seen, who has more "right" to consume resources? Remember that all men are created equal.
Waste however is something different. Waste is a negative towards other people. Wether they live now or in the future. As such waste should be avoided or treated like a crime.


One last observation: The US is arguably the most advanced society on earth, economically, technologically etc. It is at least odd that if war is as destructive as it is thought to be that the US is also the most warlike nation. Evolution of nations would have ensured that a more productive nation would be more advanced?

Best,
Rien.
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In a world that is increasingly understood as finite rather than infinite in resources, this is also a benefit. No? There's an economic cost to the future, of waste in the present.

~~~~~~~~~

we are getting into the metaphysical of economics.....

first this war is a waste of life...period....it is an immoral war....and I feel badly having supported it earlier on......I understand how after 911 we got to where we are today....but we can change our behaviour at any time.....god will Pelosi will do just that......

As far as deficit spending goes.....the old "political saw" is that our children will have to pay for it......

This is a myth.....a total mix up of time v. cultural reality.....

The US has a few types of leads over the rest of the world....

....one...the oceans protecting her and allowing her to prosper....
....two plenty of oil in N. America......
....three the first major central banking system that works more independently of any dictator or central control......

the synergies of this are amazing....

with the slaughter in WW II we brought an end to the massive endless bloodbath of Europe......excluding the Stalin days......

counter point in the Middle East they talk and talk...they are hotblooded like the hot sun they live under.....but their war talk is far more talk than war....unlike the Europeans.....or Americans.....

With the end of WW II we sank untold amounts of American capital into Japan and Western Europe.....and got fantastic partners.....

Today we simply dont have the stomach or the will to slaughter people as we did in Germany...into surrender in order to rework an entire culture......THANK GOD WE ARE GOING TO MORE THAN LIKELY PULL OUT WITH THE NEXT ADMIN......the Arab communittee needs to work all this out....not us.....not with the sword.....but one day they may say we started the ball rolling....if we get an ounce of credit.....

============

The control of the printing press and modern cultures.....

WE would not have our culture or civilation without the central bankers doing what they do.

The main fallacy about deficit spending is that taxes will be raised to pay it back.

In fact our silly wasteful way of life....our fantastic ability to harness resources en mass.....our wealthy life styles based on institutional power.......depend on an economy that can be expanded at will by the FED....and too a growing degree by the ECB....the BoJ...and a few other major western central banks....

I am not say the economy will or has to grow endlessly....I think as I type a recession is gathering steam in the US......

But I am saying that to pull out of any recession takes an independent central bank......

In an earlier thread Mish and others agreed on an old axiom that there are no real profits.......this is true......over time.....

There are economic profits though...such as keeping folks employed.....and there are fleeting nominal corperate profits....which come out of someone else's pocket......

So what makes economic profits? shift's in the economy.....technological and institutional for the most part......opportunities arise.......

What makes nominal profits? Opportunity costs....where something financially works better than a more expensive product already in place.......


And what runs all of it? Growth by deficit spending and/or taxation....and govt spending.....


If we tear that down we might as well start the treck back to being a third world country.......

To the point deficit spending creates huge amounts of advantage within the first world economies.......over the rest of the world.....and fills the coffers of the first world many times over year after year.......

A change is coming to the political/economic landscape of America....we will be getting into demand side economics.......we will see the US come alive with more production....not necessarily added productivity.....but actual real increases in the GDP........not this year...but thereafter going forward......

Demand driven it will be coming from the population as a whole....not just a few wisearse at the top.....it wont be like the ME ME society of the 80s.......

it will be about raising the standards of the world around us.......

dave...good night....

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And what runs all of it? Growth by deficit spending and/or taxation....and govt spending.....


If we tear that down we might as well start the treck back to being a third world country.......

To the point deficit spending creates huge amounts of advantage within the first world economies.......over the rest of the world.....and fills the coffers of the first world many times over year after year.......

~~~~~~~~~~~

two things about my statement above:

One if in a given hypothetical year we only have tax receipts covering about 80% of the Federal govt's spending.....and we allow for a deficit to cover the rest of the short fall of 20% of the spending.....

Well well dont we have a tax break? It seems to me that both RR and W...worked it that way.....and ate their cake as well......

They both claimed that economic growth came out of this pattern....and that tax monies rose in the following years.....that is plural....years......

yet they both said they did not want deficit spending, because such spending leaves a bill to our children.......so cutting spending on the poor is a must......

The latter is a lie......both parts of it, that our children will be paying the bill and that cutting spending on the poor is a must....

the second thing....people following the latter political saw.....were part of the ME ME generation......

GIVE SUCH S A BIG REST FOR THE REST OF US....PULLLEEEEAAAAASSSSSSE.....

It was ugly then and it is ugly now....even if RR glamorized it for you.....tax breaks to starve the poor were just sick.....

dave
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But let's assume for a second that there are moral reasons to support a war even if there are not economic ones.

That is a different issue and very tough to measure. The best example of this that I can think of is WWII. Of course if you understand WWII it came about as a direct result of WWI, a war which should never have been fought and one that the US had no business entering at all. It is even hard to say that if we "had" to enter that war that we entered on the "correct" side. But it was WWI and the War reparations after that led to the rise of Hitler and WWII. Had we not had WWI Hitler would not have come into power. Speculation, and no one knows, but a strong case can be made for it.


I think we can be a little more precise about the causes of German resentment.

The Armistice of November 11, 1918 was not regarded by the German side as anything even close to a surrender: it was subsequent “negotiations” that turned a truce into a defeat, and created the burden of reparations.

Perhaps we cannot avoid consideration of moral issues even here, perilous though they be. Was it morally acceptable to use an armistice as leverage to create a defeat? And was it appropriate or legitimate for Germany to bear the economic liability that, as you say, created the circumstances that ultimately brought power to the Nazis?

These are not irrelevant questions. Remember that in 1991 the UN applied open-ended reparations against Iraq as punishment for the invasion of Kuwait. By any criterion (duration, area, deaths), the US-led invasion of Iraq has been vastly more damaging, and there is a moral case that USA should be paying reparations to Iraq for this immoral act for the next fifty years, based on the Kuwait precedent.

Now back to the moral issue...

But even if there was moral reasons for entering WWII (I believe there were), that does not mean there was an economic benefit to the War that would not have arisen otherwise.


I respectfully disagree, but I think you may find that my exception proves the rule.

You may recall that within the last two weeks the UK has finally paid off the money owed to USA and Canada under the “lend-lease” arrangements specified in 1945. Many people overlook the non-cash costs exacted by USA in consideration for the original lend-lease arrangements of March 1941. Under the agreements forged between FDR and Churchill, Britain gave up the rights to and royalties on innovations such as radar, antibiotics, jet aircraft and nuclear research. It is unarguable that penicillin, the jet engine, and radar provide civilian economic benefit, even if in time of war their primary advantage is perceived as military. The UK's forfeiture of intellectual property rights on these technologies provided USA with economic advantage, which in the case of penicillin at least they were not slow to exploit. Of course, at the time USA was not an active participant in WWII, and indeed continued to permit dealings with Nazi Germany, so in this case I think USA derived economic benefit from standing on the sidelines, which I think is probably consistent with your thesis.

Those resources we spent dropping bombs would have had a better economic benefit doing almost anything else IMO.

The allies' bombing campaign in the later phases of the war threw up some alarming moral anomalies. The selection of Dresden, for example, as a target for the creation of firestorms, was based rather less on the military significance of the city than on its flammable architecture. Just as when you have only a hammer every problem looks like a nail, when you have incendiary weapons I suppose you examine local construction techniques rather discriminatingly.

On the other hand, in some cases both moral and economic equations may have been more convincing: relatively few missions to destroy V2 launch and support facilities, for example, probably prevented severe cumulative economic effects in London from these terror weapons.

Again, I suspect that my exceptions prove your rule.

Scollag.

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{{For starters the South actually banned the importation of slaves if my facts are correct. }}


That was in the Constitution as a compromise.




{{Of course that did not free the ones that were already here. But let's assume for a second that there are moral reasons to support a war even if there are not economic ones.}}


I was trying to ignore the moral implications and instead look at asset allocation before and after the Civil War.


{{Those resources we spent dropping bombs would have had a better economic benefit doing almost anything else IMO.}}


Are you sure? The resources spent dropping bombs required that capital be allocated towards manufacturing facilities for those bombs and the airplanes and the tanks. While I am opposed in prinicpal to government forcing allocation of capital, I can not deny that sometimes it can create benefits to the private sector. That manufacturing base, built up during WWII helped drive the post war economy.



c
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Wendy, you said:

"However, I believe it is against our economic interests, all other issues aside, when the U.S. engages in war, for any reason other than to protect our borders, those of our allies, and the rule of law."

I'll break out those three things:

1) our borders
2) our allies' borders
3) the rule of law

No problem with number 1. The others get increasingly slippery though.

On (2), how exactly do you define our allies? Does it have to be someone with whom we have a mutual defense agreement ahead of time? What about an example like Kuwait being invaded by Iraq?

Another problem with (2) is, often borders are under dispute, or even the legitimacy of entire nations. What about Israel, the "occupied territories"? What if, during the days of Saddam's rule, the Kurds had declared independence in Northern Iraq? Are borders always static, no matter the will of the people within them? At what point in time do you take that snapshot and say "nothing will ever change again after ... RIGHT NOW." Or can you go back and say "this border isn't right because this territory was taken in a war"? If you do that, how far back can you go?

If you only defend the borders of your formal allies, then would you do nothing if some dicatator grew an empire by conquest that controlled more and more resources? Even if that empire was hostile? Even if your economy was hurt to the extent that over time your nation was going to decline and might no longer be able to effectively defend itself?


(3) International law is a difficult subject. Who decides the law, and where does it apply? Ultimately each nation is sovereign within their own borders right? Unless ... the UN passes something that says otherwise? Unless ... they do something with which we REALLY disagree? Then are we supporting the rule of law, or just our own will?
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"So, what makes a nation warlike, at one point, and peaceful, at another?"

Great thread, but I question the legitimacy of the question. Ask not what makes a "nation" warlike, ask what makes "man" warlike. The problem is not with a nation state, the issue is with the nature of man.

Understand the base problem and you can (and only then) frame a solution

Take care.....
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Under the agreements forged between FDR and Churchill, Britain gave up the rights to and royalties on innovations such as radar, antibiotics, jet aircraft and nuclear research. It is unarguable that penicillin, the jet engine, and radar provide civilian economic benefit, even if in time of war their primary advantage is perceived as military. The UK's forfeiture of intellectual property rights on these technologies provided USA with economic advantage, which in the case of penicillin at least they were not slow to exploit. Of course, at the time USA was not an active participant in WWII, and indeed continued to permit dealings with Nazi Germany, so in this case I think USA derived economic benefit from standing on the sidelines, which I think is probably consistent with your thesis.

What country benefited is not the issue
The US may have gained
Other countries lost more
net net war is an economic loss
That is both factual and logical
When someone nukes the US I guarantee you we will have a net loss and it might not "cost" someone much to do it either. Buffet is on record as saying he thinks it will happen (at least that is what I have been told). When it happens, we will see if the Captain thinks war provides economic benefit TO ANYONE. I will tell you it that it is 100% obvious that it doesn't.

Mish
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The US is arguably the most advanced society on earth, economically, technologically etc. It is at least odd that if war is as destructive as it is thought to be that the US is also the most warlike nation.

I think the issue is that the US is the world's security Central Banker. The sheriff of last resort. Japan, Europe, etc. could count on America to be the security underwriter of last resort. They did not have to spend on the military because the US was.

There are non-economic benefits to maintaining a military. Aside from self-defense, one is necessary if you want to do anything about ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or genocide in Rwanda or Darfur.

The European forces, I believe, have only 11 heavy military transport planes; fewer than Australia. The U.S. forces have 250. The lack of heavy transport planes makes it essentially impossible for European nations to do anything in Darfur, for example.

DB2
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Are you sure? The resources spent dropping bombs required that capital be allocated towards manufacturing facilities for those bombs and the airplanes and the tanks. While I am opposed in prinicpal to government forcing allocation of capital, I can not deny that sometimes it can create benefits to the private sector. That manufacturing base, built up during WWII helped drive the post war economy.

Yes I am sure.
You are looking at things from the US point of view.
Even then your model is slanted.
From a worldwide point of view how much productive capacity was destroyed?
Even from our point of view, how much trade was lost?
How much did costs of goods go up?
There are other hidden costs even in the US that you miss.
What would happen if and when the US is nuked?
Not a problem right?
Is the world better off because there is ample productive capacity in China to cover?
Will enough economic benefit come out of the cleanup so that we should all be "economically happy"?

This is of course the nonsense that happens when people assume the US is all that matters and that is we benefit so does the world. Well I disagree. And one day we are going to be a big time recipient of the other end of the mess. I hope I never see it but I assure you it will not be good for ANYONE's economy now will it?

Mish
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The European forces, I believe, have only 11 heavy military transport planes; fewer than Australia. The U.S. forces have 250. The lack of heavy transport planes makes it essentially impossible for European nations to do anything in Darfur, for example.

DB2


Is that to their detriment or benefit?
Mish
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<Ask not what makes a "nation" warlike, ask what makes "man" warlike. The problem is not with a nation state, the issue is with the nature of man.>

Like every other human trait, aggression (warlike nature) varies, from individual man to man. Some men are much more aggressive than others. However, on the whole, human history has been formed by aggression and war.

I believe that human nature can be understood, by looking at human evolution and human history.

Practically every mammalian species (and many non-mammalian species) places a gene survival benefit on aggressive males. The more aggressive male mates with more females, and has more offspring. Thus, even if high aggression causes the early death of the individual male, the larger number of offspring causes the gene to propogate, through the population (cf. "The Selfish Gene," by Richard Dawkins).

Like other mammals, primate males are aggressive. The level of aggression is determined by the level of testosterone. Gorilla silverbacks (dominant males) battle for supremacy. When a silverback loses the top spot, his testosterone level, and level of aggression drops, as he fades into the rank and file of the troop.

Warfare takes individual aggression a step further. Warfare is defined by organization. An aggressive group attacks an individual or another group.

Primatologists were surprised to learn that chimpanzees practice group aggression, a primitive form of warfare.

http://www.lessonsforhope.org/abc/show_description.asp?abc_id=47

Here is an interesting article, on the origins of war.
http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/040426/26war.htm

The article mentions that archeological evidence shows that javelins were invented about 500,000 years ago.

Switching to my personal observations...

A number of years ago, the American Museum of Natural History, in NYC, presented a wonderful exhibition, "Dark Caves, Bright Visions." The exhibit focused on the explosion of creativity and invention, in Europe, 30,000 years ago.

Although the exhibition focused on cave art (there is a book, of the same name), there were many examples of artifacts, including weapons of both humans, and the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe, when the humans invaded.

The Neanderthals had lived in Europe, successfully, for about 250,000 years, before the humans arrived. However, within 5,000 years of the human encroachment, all the Neanderthals were gone.

Why?

Looking at their weapons, it was easy to see why. The Neanderthals had crude, stone weapons. The humans had sophisticated, well-chipped stone weapons, killing clubs embedded with flint, javelins, and the atlatl (throwing stick, which increases the length of the arm, and increases force and distance). The arms race was clearly on the side of the humans' superior armaments.

Saying that humans wiped out the Neanderthals is controversial. Fortunately, I'm not an anthropologist, so I don't have to be as careful ;-). Personally, I thought it was obvious.

The humans wiped out the Neanderthals.

You said, "...the issue is with the nature of man."

I agree with you.

Men are naturally aggressive. Based on primate evolution, the more aggressive men become group leaders, if they are also intelligent enough to organize the group.

Men have organized into aggressive groups, since at least the Stone Age. The more successful the war, the more resources the warriors took, including women, to propogate the genes of the victors.

Does this mean that humanity is doomed to eternal warfare?

There have been periods of peace, in human history. These periods of peace often allowed great civilizations to arise. The advantages of peace should have been obvious. However, the periods of peace (some very short, such as the Golden Age of Athens) always broke down, into warfare: either civil war, or because they attacked or were attacked by enemy nations.

We can hope that modern people, with the threat of nuclear annihilation, can understand that widespread war is no longer an option.

If rationality can triumph over evolution, humanity can work out a peaceful solution to problems.

Since wars are often caused by scarcity of resources, people can be encouraged to control their populations, using birth control, rather than war, to steal their needs, or destroy excess population.

Since the idea of the rule of law provides a conceptual framework for negotiating peacefully, there is hope.

However, the urge for war is deeply embedded in human DNA, as I wrote, in an earlier post. Cultural change can redirect aggression, into more creative, productive, peaceful directions. However, the warrior instinct will still be there. It doesn't take much, to get men raring for war. With nuclear weapons in the hands of some militaristic nations (such as North Korea and Iran), the threat of destruction is real.

Wendy

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Wendy, sounds like you read Bloom's "The Lucifer Principle"? If not, you want to pick it up and tear through it in one weekend. Backs up much of what you just said.
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The European forces, I believe, have only 11 heavy military transport planes; fewer than Australia. The U.S. forces have 250. The lack of heavy transport planes makes it essentially impossible for European nations to do anything in Darfur, for example.
---
Is that to their detriment or benefit?


It limits the options of the Europeans. It is certainly to the detriment of blacks in Darfur or Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.

DB2
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It is, of course, a major fallacy. Sure war sometimes causes major reallocations of capital, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But so do other things like technological breakthroughs, etc.

So, if war is so great for economies, why not just build cool [expensive] things, blow them up, and skip the killing part?

The whole concept is silly. If all, or even half, expenditures on war were instead spent on research and development, the world would be a far better place. Of course reality often intrudes on utopia :-)
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One last observation: The US is arguably the most advanced society on earth, economically, technologically etc. It is at least odd that if war is as destructive as it is thought to be that the US is also the most warlike nation. Evolution of nations would have ensured that a more productive nation would be more advanced?

Best,
Rien.


Too little. Too late. Tied up with work yesterday.

But the US spends 49% of its tax revenue on defense. It is the only Western industrial nation without universal halth care. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Its public education system that serves poor (and there are lots of them) is a disaster.

The US certainly is "advanced" militarily but not the areas touched on above.

HH
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Hi DB2

The US spends 49% of its tax revenue on defence including war. That figure includes VA care of vets and bond payments. Internationally we spend disproportionately on defense/war. That money could go for health care, inner city education, rebuilding the country's infrastructure, medical research, etc. The allocation of resources for war has a cost in the form of lost opportunities to make the country a better place to live for its citizens.

Most Vietnam vet who saw combat that I have encountrered have been emotionally harmed by the experience. Lots of others have been physically harmed. Aside from the morality of it all, there's a significant cost in lost productivity, families rendered disfuctional, and other negative effects that can be caused by the emotional cost of battle.

The US does not need to spend so much more than the rest of the world on war/defense. That expenditure does seem to need justification through wars including the new "Long War" against terrorism with conventional war weaponry instead of diplomacy and effective policing.

HH
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<sounds like you read Bloom's "The Lucifer Principle"? >

No, I haven't read it. My conclusions are my own.

Sounds interesting, though.
Wendy
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markr33...hope you sold your forward pos. today...it hit 5.30..I sold mine at 5.15...good luck
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How would human history have been different, if Archimedes had worked out and published calculus, 2300 years ago

How true. IF Archimedes had discovered calculus earlier, scientific endeavor would have been advanced considerably. Hitler's scientist would have been that much more advanced. Instead of missing it by what amounts to a matter of months, they could have perfected the atom bomb and the intercontinental ballistic missle to deliver it before Russia and the Allies overran them.

Darren
Who is feeling particularly smart alecky today
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(3) International law is a difficult subject. Who decides the law, and where does it apply? Ultimately each nation is sovereign within their own borders right?

As I understand it, any international treaties to which a sovereign nation has subscribed take precedence over national law. Thus, USA's violation of the Geneva protocols is a prima facie crime, regardless of anything the administration might say or claim.

Unless ... the UN passes something that says otherwise? Unless ... they do something with which we REALLY disagree? Then are we supporting the rule of law, or just our own will?

The UN Security Council has the power to grant legitimacy to coordinated multinational actions, as they did in 1990-91, but I don't think this provides immunity from legal jeopardy. For example, the "Highway of Death" massacre north of Kuwait in 1991 was almost certainly illegal, since by definition the troops had already withdrawn to their own territory, which was the limit of the force sanctioned by the UNSC. It is undoubtedly a weakness of the UN that the Security Council is unable to waive the right of veto in consideration of war crime accusations.
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Whatever it is, the UN is not a world government. There is no government of the world. Therefore, there is no law that covers the entire world, just treaties, customs, agreements and disagreements and negotiations, and lots of questions about the legitimacy of almost anyone who tries to make and enforce any kind of "law" outside of their own national borders. Therefore, my thinking is that using the military to enforce law is not as simple as it sounds, unless you are using them domestically.



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