how a super sized military always gets us to the same place

August 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, i saw this post  from Eric Martin about the pattern we always follow toward military intervention:

  • Step 1: How can the President not at least condemn [Regime X] publicly for its abhorrent actions? A public condemnation is the very least the President can do. It wouldn’t cost much, but it would be an important show of our resolve and support for freedom!
  • Step 2 (with Regime X still in place): So what, the President condemned the regime publicly with some harsh words and called it “illegitimate.” Words are cheap and inconsequential. We need sanctions and coordinated efforts to isolate the regime. That will do the trick!
  • Step 3 (with Regime X still in place): Sanctions? Regime isolation? Is that all the President is going to do in the face of Regime X’s perfidy? Those timid jabs will never work, and the President’s dithering will make us look weak and lacking in resolve. Our enemies will be emboldened. The President must use our military to deal a swift blow. No one is advocating a prolonged occupation, just a decapitation maneuver, and then a rapid hand off to the indigenous forces for democratic change.
  • Step 4 (with Regime X toppled by our military): Now that we’ve committed our military, and brought about regime change, we have a moral obligation to see the mission through to the end. Besides, if we withdraw, chaos will erupt and our enemies will fill the vacuum. We owe it to the locals, we can’t afford to lose face, we can’t show weakness and our credibility depends on staying until a relatively stable, friendly nation emerges from the rubble.
  • Step 5 (repeat as needed): We’ve turned the corner, shifted the momentum and victory is within reach. The next six months should prove decisive.

This misses the hardest point of all,  #6)  “If we stop now, it means those who fought and died before have died in vain.”  Welcome to foreverwar.  Matt Yglesias  adds the observation that the US has a lot of problems putting the brakes on between steps 2 and 3.

This eflects the perils of keeping a lot of military “excess capacity” on hand. If someone asks the president of Chile about some egregious human rights abuses happening somewhere and he condemns them, that statement clearly is what it is—a condemnation. If he says “Dictator X should go,” he’s making an ethical observation about the impropriety of so-and-so’s regime. Nobody expects Chile to follow up its words with actions. Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to take a stand in much the way that an editorialist might. But precisely because the United States has a lot of military assets at our disposal that clearly aren’t needed to repel a Canadian invasion, it’s difficult to find a middle ground between turning a blind eye to atrocities and calls for military intervention.

This works like a a self winding clock.  Because we have this enormous military capacity, we tend to see everything through a military lens and prioritize those resources to them.  Today, Fareed Zakaria, on how even modest defense cuts could start to correct that:

Defense budget cuts would force a healthy rebalancing of American foreign policy. Since the Cold War, Congress has tended to fatten the Pentagon while starving foreign policy agencies. As former defense secretary Robert Gates pointed out, there are more members of military marching bands than make up the entire U.S. foreign service. Anyone who has ever watched American foreign policy on the ground has seen this imbalance play out. Top State Department officials seeking to negotiate vital matters arrive without aides and bedraggled after a 14-hour flight in coach. Their military counterparts whisk in on a fleet of planes, with dozens of aides and pots of money to dispense. The late Richard Holbrooke would laugh when media accounts described him as the “civilian counterpart” to Gen. David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. “He has many more planes than I have cellphones,” Holbrooke would say (and he had many cellphones). The result is a warped American foreign policy, ready to conceive of problems in military terms and present a ready military solution.



want more jobs? how about the medium chill plus universal health care.

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

What would happen if all the people who are stuck in 40 hour a week drone jobs that they can’t leave because they are chained to a health care plan…what if they suddenly were free to start a business of their own or cut back their hours to do the things they really like and not lose their own or their families health insurance?    How many new jobs would that create?  I think a lot more than lowering some marginal tax rate by 3 percent.

I complained a lot during the health care bill debate last year that Democrats and Obama were missing the whole point of having universal health care.  Sure, poor people would get health insurance, which is sweet and decent of us but nobody gets far in American politics appealing to our collective guilt.  For whatever reason that is just the way it is.   Instead, Americans are aspirational when it comes to supporting new laws and programs.  We don’t aspire to be poor and sick and needing a handout.  But we will take a pell grant, a mortgage deduction or a small business loan, right?  If you want to change something in the US, make it in line with this thought:  “Government is here to help those who help themselves.”

I said in 2009 that the administration should’ve called the ACA the “Health Care Freedom Act” and pitched it as the most awesomest way for aspiring entrepreneurs to unchain themselves from dead end jobs and start their own businesses.  Just because you are a responsible parent who wouldn’t take the chance of losing your kids insurance shouldn’t prevent you from starting your own business in the best market economy in the world, right?   Shouldn’t people with diabetes or some other pre-existing condition be able to start their own business, too?   So how about that Unlock the Freedom Enterprise Healthy Family Act of 2010!  fuck yeah! You just go ahead and salute when you call that Obamacare.

The thing is, I forgot all about the people who hate their soul grinding jobs and all the near retirees out there that are too young to get Medicare.  If all those folks cut back, moved on to something that they liked to work at but doesn’t come with health benefits right now or simply retired earlier because 60 year old folks could actually get insurance on their own…that is a boatload of new jobs opening up.  One man’s crushing toil is another’s golden opportunity, after all

So, what is the “medium chill.”  This is the choice for people who work enough to afford the life they want and no more.  I saw it from Julian Sanchez here  first as a response to why tax policy is just not the big economic lever it is supposed to be.  Economics cannot easily account for the fact that not everyone cares about money the same way.

Will Wilkinson has a great piece on medium chill and how  autonomy is profoundly important

Reihan Salam, on medium chill,  entrepreneurs and “killers”:

My own view is that a fairly large number of people are believers in “medium chill” and that a relatively small group of people — I call them “killers” — constitute a neurotic, ultraproductive minority that drives our economy forward, and sometimes backward. Roberts might see these people as deeply mistaken about the sources of the good life. I think of them as differently wired, like the sleepless elite, and their tireless efforts account for many of the things the rest of us enjoy. … I tend to think that our policy environment is not sufficiently pro-killer, but of course others will disagree.

So, what would happen to unemployment if the killers and chillers did their thing.  How many jobs would that open up and create?

Grist follows up today:

I suspect there are many, many medium chillers who would be happy working 30-hour weeks and trading the extra income for leisure time. Or perhaps they’d like to share a job. Or maybe they’d like to work more when they need money and less when they don’t — just “work and get paid for it” when they need to. Those options aren’t workable for most people today because of the specter of health insurance. To deviate from the 40-hour employee model is to take on risk beyond what all but a few brave souls are willing to bear.

Similarly, there are all sorts of people who might like to be “killers” and start their own business or invent something new but are inhibited from taking the leap by the fear of losing or not being able to afford health insurance. Plenty of people take that chance, of course, but how many more would there be if that risk were taken out of the equation?

In short, America’s stupid health-care system prevents people from shifting their work-life balance to less-work-and-more-life, but it also prevents people from doing the inverse! It locks people into a rigid system that serves almost no one (except insurance companies) very well.

To me this looks like an argument for universal, single-payer healthcare. Not only would it achieve better health outcomes for less money than the employer-based system, but it would free people to pursue much more diverse working arrangements. It’s a step toward “de-formalising and de-bureaucratising labour,” as Wilkinson seeks. Work-sharing along the lines of what Germany does would be another nice step.

I bet my math on this is better than the tax cut math. All day.

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