Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Orleans

So New Orleans is underwater, and hundreds are dead, and everyone is wringing their hands about how everything should have been handled better...

Really, people, it’s time to wake up to reality. The government will never handle anything better, since it has no interest in doing so. What will the results be of this latest disaster?

Hmm, let’s see. Slipping on the psychic data helmet, I see…

- Increased funding for government disaster relief agencies…? Why yes, I think I can see that!

- Wait – what’s that? A new department of Homeland Disaster Relief? In charge of all the other alphabet agencies? Yeeees, there it is!

- Cries for accountability, followed by promotions for all the guilty… Naturally!

- Ah – ah! – my eyes water from the constant blurring of evidence and facts. It was a category four hurricane! (No, it was a category two when it tangentially hit New Orleans). The dykes could only handle a category three! (No, they weren’t even breached – the water just slopped over the rim and washed away the foundations on the far side.) It would have cost billions to make the city safer. Let’s say 1.5 billion dollars – even though I bet that the private sector could do it for one tenth that amount – over 500,000 inhabitants, that’s, oh, $3,000 per resident, over twenty years, that’s about $200/year with interest. Worth it? Of course! If the free market had been allowed to operate, market forces would just have automatically deducted that cost from the cost of housing, as an incentive for people to come and live in New Orleans..!

- Oh, and last but not least, let’s try wading through the river of cash that the Army Corps of Engineers will now be getting to reinforce other cities at risk. And will they be efficient? Well, imagine if tomorrow they found a way to reinforce a city for a tenth of the cost they claimed New Orleans required. The result? Outrage! Oh, no, I think we can with confidently predict that flood-proofing other cities will turn out to be far more expensive than what was even claimed for New Orleans.

How much does the government care? Well, they found all the money in the world for a war in Iraq. But for saving US citizens? Sadly, there’s just no money for that! Let’s get the private sector and charities involved!

The fact that people respond to incentives is the first law of economics. Every time a government department screws up, it gets additional funding. 9/11 came completely out of the blue – and intelligence funding went up exponentially. When crime increases, police get more money. When drug use goes up, the DEA gets more money. Students doing badly? Let’s shovel more money at the DOE!

If you pay a salesman for losing deals, or a doctor for worsening illnesses, how do you think they will perform? More importantly, what kind of workers prefer negative incentives? The competent ones?

Naturally, the general public will remain blind to all of this. They will get angry at individuals, roundly attack certain policies and loudly demand that funding be increased. And more and more people will die, in terrorist attacks and natural disasters, until people’s eyes open.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A war to be proud of..?

(a response to Christopher Hitchens's artcle - http://www.canada.com/national/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=88b9506a-c155-4dd3-829b-bd8b43a936b2)

The reality of war is so often obscured by abstractions. Let us take a closer look at Mr. Hitchens’s obfuscating language and get to the meat of the matter.

War is organized murder, pure and simple, just as dictatorship is. Mr. Hitchens can proclaim that the murder of tens of thousands of Iraqis – who had done nothing to threaten the United States – was worth it, but he does not explain just how he achieved the exalted position of determining the value of other men’s lives. A man living under a dictatorship may choose to risk his life resisting it – or he may choose to live with his circumstances. We know for certain that the vast majority of Iraqis preferred to live under Saddam rather than risk their lives resisting him – since before the US invasion, that is exactly what they did. The tens of thousands who have been killed for the sake of ‘regime change’ would have far preferred to live, and that is not a decision that can be made for them.

Mr. Hitchens also says: “Anyone with the smallest knowledge of Iraq knows that its society and infrastructure and institutions have been appallingly maimed and beggared by three decades of war and fascism…” This is of course true. What is pointedly not mentioned is the fact that Saddam Hussein was armed and helped into power by the United States government in 1963. Or that the majority of his war crimes were committed while he was receiving support from the US government. Or that the US sanctions against Iraq – which did nothing to topple Hussein – caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children. Imagine a neighbourhood where people suffer terribly because the local police arm and aid the Mafia – are these same people then expected to support the police when policy changes, and policemen kick down doors and spray random bullets in the hunt for their former friends?

What is also conspicuously absent from all justifications for the invasion of Iraq is that the war was justified solely on the grounds that Iraq had WMDs and was going to use them against America. (The mere possession of WMDs – and support of terrorism – is not enough, since the US supports – among many such states – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.) Changing justifications after the fact does not turn falsehood into truth. The invasion of Iraq was justified by the threat that Iraq posed to America. Iraq, in fact, posed no threat to America. Thus the war is unjustified. It really is as simple as that.

Last but not least, I am utterly out of patience with armchair philosophers who sit in air-conditioned offices thousands of miles from the terror and slaughter and write articles about the benefits of war. Mr. Hitchens informs us that invading Iraq was a responsibility “that no decent person could shirk”. I am sure that we can then assume that, as a decent person, he is going to Iraq to help with the fighting. No? Is he too old? Well, then he must be lecturing his own sons and daughters that they must go and fight for Fallujah, or be condemned as indecent. No? Well, perhaps he has no children. Ah, then he must be selling everything he owns in order to send gifts and guns to the soldiers. Is he doing any or all of these things? If not, then he should take a long look in the mirror and ask himself exactly why others must murder and die for the sake of his beliefs. If you are not willing to lay down your own life – or the lives of your children – then you have no right to demand that others do so.