2011/07/24

About crazily warped interpretations of reality

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Back in 1945, Germany was a wreck. it had to be rebuilt with lots of hard work and very little consumption or even luxury.

One important aim is always to reach full employment. Full employment means anything below 2% unemployment. Germany reached that by the late 50's. Mission accomplished, right?

Well, there was a shortage of skilled workers in Germany at the time - obviously, having few unemployed means there's a shortage of unemployed workers supply for the companies. It was perverse, but this was understood to be a problem. Totally, utterly crazy and stupid.
Foreign workers were invited. Unemployment rose again years later (due to several factors) - and now this was perceived as a problem again.
Somehow the German nation could not keep its minds coherent about the issue and could not understand that event eh desired end state has *some* supposed drawbacks.
The tragedy was repeated again and again. During the last years we've had again calls for more foreign workers because there aren't enough unemployed of some particular profession to satisfy the companies. They weren't able to choose any more and had to pay high wages. How terrible!


Sadly, this isn't untypical of the human mind. We manage again and again to wish for the disappearance of something bad and once it disappeared there's a guaranteed rise of complaints by others who miss something that was lost in the process. Something that was even negative if you look at it from a certain angle, but in their opinion it was great.

Companies being able to choose workers and treat them badly was great, and workers being in a position of being very valuable and able to demand good conditions was bad. You only need to look at it from a certain angle. The angle of the bosses and shareholders, for example.

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Quite the same happens in regard to the military.

For decades, it has been understood that military expenditures are an unproductive employment of national resources. They neither create well-being as much as consumption supposedly does nor do they increase future economic activity nearly as much as capital investment does. The combination of both performances is also marginal.
The one thing they do (supposedly) is to create security against external threats. This is of course something that cannot be increased ever more, just as ever more consumption and ever more capital investment have rapidly falling returns.

A logical mind would (just my guess!) conclude that it's optimal to spend as much on the military as necessary. That is, increase spending if the environment becomes more threatening and reduce spending if it becomes safer.


Somehow many, many people - especially in the anglophone world (if not even largely confined to anglophone and sino worlds) began to perceive military expenditures (or military power, which is often implied to be proportional to expenditures) as positive.
No thought about how it's really a waste to spend more than you need for security, not any more.


That's how bloggers in the anglophone MilBlogiverse seem to manage to decry the shrinking military budgets.
They do not analyse at all against which threat we should spend more on the military. What could they come up with?
Iran couldn't even invade Turkey successfully, the Arab states have largely dysfunctional militaries and are (from a European PoV) mostly behind the Mediterranean. The Russians are weak, and increasingly concerned about Asian security topics. Moreover, European NATO and EU have -even after cuts- enough military power to defeat all non-allied neighbours in a parallel conflict without non-European assistance.

It doesn't help. Some people actually have perverted their thoughts about military power to a degree that allows them to interpret a reduction of military expenditures as decay, not as an appropriate avoidance of waste.

S O
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5 comments:

  1. Clearly the EU and the US are arming for a war against each other - neither otherwise faces anything that could be called a serious military threat anywhere

    Seems unlikely, but thats what the actual evidence seems to suggest.

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  2. "Somehow many, many people - especially in the anglophone world began to perceive military expenditures (or military power, which is often implied to be proportional to expenditures) as positive."

    It stems, I believe, from the almost universally recognised 'truth' in british politics:

    "defence of the realm is the first duty of government"

    you can find references to the above all over hansard, to give but one example:

    http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1992/feb/10/the-infantry

    so the point about GDP is not really a discussion about GDP at all, it is really a discussion of Defences declining importance as a priority of government spending, as this image shows:

    http://jedibeeftrix.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/britain%E2%80%99s-future-strategic-direction-6-%E2%80%93-uknda-is-it-truly-ridiculous-to-demand-more-money/

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  3. i think this is a residual effect of the Cold War thinking that mutually assured destruction equals security from external threats.

    MAD is a highly illogical doctrine which perceives as essential an unlimited source of combat power as an inexhaustible source of a nation's security and stability.

    however, it has gradually lost its framework in the information age. it's time for a new kind of thinking about the defense - and i think we're thinking it already.

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  4. TheRagingTory27 July 2011 11:29

    I think your arguement is quite wide of the mark.

    Simply because, not all military spending is the same, the future is hard to predict, and our actions can create the consequences we seek to avoid.

    If you are in a "peaceful" period, and disarm, at what stage in the break down of relations do you begin rearming?
    I've said before about the dangers of a nuclear deterant that isnt continuously at sea. At what point do you send out your submarines? Wait too long, and you could suffer a nuclear attack before they can be deployed, deploy them too quickly, and what message does that send to other side, your preparing a nuclear strike over a seized fishing trawler?

    I frequently call for a military budget of 3% of GDP, but I also frequently call for the active forces to be heavily curtailed, all three of them.

    The UK defence budget is some £43bn.

    Imagine if we spent a quarter of that on research, and another quarter on long term capital expenditure, with the remainder left to fund a small, extremely competant military optimised for rapid expansion.

    And now imagine if we just had the small extremely competant core optimised for rapid expansion.

    You might be able to train an infantryman in three months, but if you want a satellite communications grid, well, that cant be thrown up in weeks, no matter the funds available.

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  5. We can either be cops on the beat or a fire department. One is out there guarding the streets to prevent things. The other sits in the firehouse and when things happens goes out to put out the fire. Which is better depends on the country. Cop cost more upfront I would argue, Fireman cost less up front but more down the road in manpower killed and wounded. So is it treasure or lives which is it that is valued.

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