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Politics : Actual left/right wing discussion

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To: dybdahl who wrote (8631)11/23/2010 7:52:17 PM
From: TimF  Read Replies (1) of 10074
 
If you disregard economical aspects, war was not always a zero sum or negative sum game.

I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean by that phrase. Disregarding economic aspects doesn't make sense when your considering if the conquest is a positive, zero sum, or negative sum game. Its an economic question, in the sense I was discussing it, "zero sum game" is largely an economic term. Economics is not just an issue of money balances, its a general way of looking at much of human activity.

The Roman empire existed in a very different world than what we have today. Basic agriculture and land was a much larger part of the economy. Take over more land and you had a large economy. Slavery was legal and generally acceptable, and slaves were valuable. Conquer your neighbors and you can grab some slaves. Killing fairly indiscriminately to put down a rebellion was considered more acceptable than it is today, so conquering large areas often resulted in less of an insurgency problem (not that it never had such problems).

And yes the Romans where more efficient and advanced, so a fair amount of people wanted to join anyway, which could make assimilation easier. The US (to name the closest equivalent we have to ancient Rome in today's world), is also more efficient and advanced than many countries of the world, but the idea of wanting to be assimilated in to the US (as a country, not individuals moving to the US and/or becoming citizens), is a bit less popular than it was back then (many people didn't accept or want it back then either, but now perhaps no country is full of people who generally want to become a conquered territory of the US).

I think your point may refer back to the fact that because Rome was more advanced and efficient, it could raise the living standards in the areas it too over. The US could do this as well, if it had the stomach for it, and if the people in the other countries accepted it without vast amounts of death and destruction, and if having them become Americans, didn't change America too much in possibly negative ways, but all of those ifs are somewhat doubtful. Also modern economies are more complex than the economies where back then, so replicating the efficiency may be a bit more complex, and to the extent it could be done, better government in the potential conquests combined with open trade would get you much of the potential benefit, without the risk and destruction.

Your original post also mentions that conscription is not a kind of economic activity that reduces unemployment. That does not make sense - how does conscription differ from hiring construction workers for constructing roads, except for the voluntariness part of it?

Build a road (other than perhaps the most horribly designed road, or a "road to nowhere", and even those may be of minimal use, or become useful later for example as development happens along the areas that where formerly "nowhere"), and you have an asset you can use later.

Fighting a war for the most part destroys assets rather than creating them. To the extent some forces are not destroying something (say they are holding an area with no combat), any useful building of assets that can be used in the civilian economy after the war is at most a secondary issue. Putting a bunch of soldiers overseas or across the border, or having them man defenses in your country, is unlikely to produce nearly as much items of long term usefulness as using the same resources to produce things that have a market demand in the civilian economy, or that are highly useful civilian public goods. Going back to the ancient comparison, modern weapons can cause more destruction more quickly, and the same weapons on the defense can make capturing useful assets intact more difficult.

War has a very dark and destructive side, but it shares many things with projects like going to the moon, creating Airbus Industries, mapping the human genome, nuclear fusion, creating a greener future etc.

Some of those projects are also rather questionable. If going to the moon produced a net benefit it was only by the inspiration it provides (which is hard to quantify, and its even harder to measure the counter-factual of no moon trip). Sure there where spin-offs that where practically useful, there normally will be when you spend so much on a project, but you have to consider what that massive amounts of resources, money, equipment, highly skilled and motivated people, could have produced if they had been used elsewhere. You have to consider the unseen as well as the seen. (See econlib.org ) The program cost over $200 bil in today's dollars (and that doesn't count the cost of the Gemini and Mercury programs that fed in to the Apollo developments). If it had brought cheap access to space that might have been a bargain, but instead it brought mostly a few inspiring missions that produced little in the way of direct practical results (at least no $200bil worth of results).

Creating Airbus was creating a company to produce civilian goods. It might have been a net benefit (and I certain say it produced a gross benefit), but that's somewhat questionable. Extra competition in aircraft is a benefit. But it also shows how much of Airbus's gain came from Boeing's (and Boeing's now defunct or absorbed competitors) loss. Meanwhile the subsidies used to start Airbus, effectively got taken out of the rest of the economies of the countries that supported it. Everyone looks at "the seen", but who know what benefits would have come from using those resource in different ways. I tend to think leaving it to the market will usually produce better results. But even if we assume that Airbus was better than the unknown alternatives, it doesn't support your point much, it wasn't an effort for a war, or a program that spent a lot leaving relatively little behind like Apollo.

Nuclear fusion and the genome project are/where largely basic research. While its easy to waste money in that area a much stronger case can be made for government funding than in areas like ordinary production or spending a quarter of a trillion to be a dozen men on the moon, and a stronger case can be made for eventual benefit from the research than from war. (To extent Apollo was also such research, but much of it wasn't, it was a very expensive project for the amount of pure science and basic technological development that came directly from the program.)

As for government efforts to "create a greener future", there is some basic research aspects about it, but there is much distortion of real investment towards unprofitable endeavors. So far I'd say it was a large net loser, in fact more of a loser than if the government money was spent paying people to dig holes and paying other people to fill them back in again, because at least that effort wouldn't distort private market decisions as much (unless you paid enough people to distort the market for labor in a significant way).
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