"Warmonger psychology" or "If warmongers were smart and educated in economic theory"

I am no psychologist (I promised myself to read more on the very interesting cognitive psychology), but I have a suspicion that warmongers have a desire for war, military bullying and general boasting of national strength that is not related to common cost/benefit thinking.

They just like the idea of national military strength and of using this strength. It appears to give them satisfaction in itself. This would also explain why and how they can consider even disastrous conflicts "successful": They gave them satisfaction. Everything else appears to be a mere pretence.

I don't think countries should spend billions or go to war just to satisfy this population share's desire for it. Maybe a modified Flottenverein model could be a solution: Whoever wants more military spending than required for national and collective defence should join the 'club of offensive military sponsors' and pay club fees.
But unlike the Deutscher Flottenverein, these fees would not be used to lobby the government for more military spending: The club would instead pay for the additional, unnecessary spending which serves only the warmongers' taste.

Now if smart and economic theory-educated warmongers would come to this blog and comment, they could put a lot of argument pressure on me with my cost/benefit approach: Warmongers' desires for offensive military capability and actions is in econ theory a "preference".
Preferences are a kind of dark matter to economists; it would take god-like mind reading skills to learn about them directly. That's why economists need to retreat in many, many cases (more than they actually do) to a position of "We don't have enough information for a calculation, so the best approximation to the ideal is to let preferences show themselves in a vote".

A warmonger could attack my writings like this (but no smart or educated enough ones come to face me, so I play devil's advocate here). My next line of defence against their warmongering would then be to point at the votes/polls which oppose war and huge military budgets and an examination of the votes/polls which do support it.
And that's where we're at political science and psychology research, for there are plenty ways how a vote can be manipulated to not reveal the best interest of the voters (or the population as a whole).

This is the real area of activity of warmongers; they don't calculate cost/benefit, for it never seems to support their case anyway. Instead, they try to manipulate populations into supporting their agenda, so they can satisfy their antisocial desire.

And this is where societies need to meet, counter and resist them as long as possible. This resistance fades in strength as memory of failures dwindles and inexperienced people replace experienced people, so warmongers will eventually succeed in some countries, but we could at the very least lengthen the intervals at which they succeed.

It's an ever-lasting conflict with a particular kind of dangerous idiots.



  1. I don't think that this is a fault unique to warmongers. In my experience, vast majority of people use cost/benefit analysis to only justify a preexisting decision. And when that is not working out, they only need to twist the probability of some unlikely event to massage the numbers to work out "right". Given how poor we are at assigning probabilities to unlikely events, it's easy to do even subconsciously.

    As to the "warmongers club", it's unworkable. Can you name a proposed military action (in a democratic country) that was not couched in terms of national defense?

    1. I'm fine with it being unworkable. That's part of the point.

      The British empire did lots of wars which nobody thought were about "defence", other than defence of honour or reputation. Sometimes it was quite openly about teaching lessons.

      In German history, no colonial conflicts including the China expedition were billed as defence afaik.

      ISAF famously was by MoD Struck, and he was ridiculed for it. Then again, it was only a later MoD who finally called the conflict in Afghanistan a "war" at all.

    2. Adam F gets to the empty center of Sven's 'metrics'.

      The definition of 'cost' and the definition of 'benefits' simply happen to not be within simple, general, his or many or possibly any folks' 'objective' purview.

      Any old public statement will send him running to push his 'app' into overdrive based on his 'reading' of what was stated, while actual context of the decisions, if not the actual decision itself remain classified or at least not known for a bit.

      Here's the model:
      - Sven assumes (personal and exquisite) claims of clarity of 'seeing' 'facts' which he then proceeds to plug into his formula.
      - Then he reaches for the 'fudge-factor' of thin-ish psych-claims to sprinkle over everything to dress up this progressively improbable concoction of assumptions.
      - And when that fails too, it's quickly deep into name-calling self-indulgences.

      That works only in a rather confined 'echo-chamber'/broom-closet.

      Out here, where hard decisions have to be made, folks who show up with 'objective metrics' (via I-phone App ?) to determine responses to enormously complex challenge tend to be looked with caution and weariness.

      Those objective-truth'-'mongers' have been plenty destructive often enough when their metrics simply disintegrate due to a
      - lack of input,
      - incapacity to recognize/code input-quality,
      - incapacity to gauge the correct amount of input-quantity,
      - incapacity to recognize what is 'input' and what is not,
      etc. etc.,
      the stuff that make Nobel-Prize winning economic theorists throw up their arms in frustration.

      It's the old 'Rational Actor'-Retread again and again, as if those giddy claims have not been tiresome enough in their incapacity to recognize reality if internal conceptual and data myopia are rampant. What would define the 'rationality' of said actors ?? It sure ain't a cute formula...

      Hence Sven's early penchant for 'name-calling' of individuals and casual condemnation of most fellow citizens' intellectual and memory capabilities under the heading "Nobody get's it."

      And that is just a bit thin.

      So, onwards with carrying on without such 'good counsel'... and we are getting better at this with every episode of war-mongering interventionism.

      More folks are freer to affect their own freer future than ever before, and with much less loss of blood than ever before for the number of those liberated.

      Sven metrics of sort-of-isolationism (except for the aggressive economic machine that he lives within) would have condemned those folks to the crumbs of 'hope' delivered via church-bazaar or union-chapter fund-raising-based hand-outs, while he and cohorts bemoan the evil of dictators... Perhaps a prayer for the 'poor souls out there'...??!!

    3. You don't get the point. It's not necessary to apply cost/benefit analysis. But without it, there's no justification for intervention. Intervention means spending and at the very least the likeliness of destruction of property, the maiming and killing of humans.
      You need a good justification for such an action, and the mere feeling that intervention is a good idea is no sufficient justification.

      Your neighbour could have a feeling that killing you is a good idea - nobody will think that's enough of a justification for killing. Why would anybody think that guessing works better when it's about killing scores of people?

      Cost/benefit isn't only an intervention blocker tool - it's potentially an intervention justification tool. It just happens that interventions usually suck, and cannot stand a cost/benefit test.

      And quite frankly, you've moved into trolling territory and will be blocked from now on.

  2. I can see two problems with applying cost-benefit analysis to wars. First, there are aspects which cannot be converted to monetary value. How much is a national honor worth? How about the perception of security? I can safely predict that your valuation would be much lower than a typical conservative US "red-neck." And what's to say that you are right and he is wrong. I have seen people using studies trying to put a price tag on such concepts. They usually fail quite pathetically. I seem to remember one that found out that the US gov should spend $15 billion a year trying to save polar bears from climate change. The second issue is with putting value on human life and suffering. If pressed (confidentially) any politician will admit that a life of one of "our" soldier is worth a hundred lives of "their" people (and their own personal life is worth at least a dozen soldiers). And most people will agree with this in private conversation. Yet saying so publicly is likely a political suicide.

    I also disagree very strongly with your treatment of TwentyTwenty. It's your blog to do as you like, but I very much dislike silencing speech. He may have been trying to get a rise out of you, but he was neither vulgar nor outright trolling

    1. Cost benefit analysis can also be applied if part of the equation is unknown. in such cases you calculate everything known, add your expectation for some unknowns and then look at the remainder. This way you can at least make a plausibility test.

      2020 had obviously made his points already and I felt he head clearly gone from making points to smearing and confused blathering.
      I don't think he's silenced; he may set up a blog or whatever and continue. He's just not welcome here any more.

  3. A simple model:
    Economies of scale make costs sink. Doubling reduces them about 20%.
    If a state doubles its economic size, it has better economics of scale and a bigger army - more security because numbers matter most.

    I think it's pretty difficult to argue that the US was worse off due to their wars with the Indians and Mexicans to gain their western lands, China is worse off with their expansion south or the Mongols did not benefit from their great conquest tour. Same applies to many other nations. Calculated over enough time, economies of scale pay back for war efforts.
    It gets more complicated if you don't have outright conquest of land with people, but conquest of access to key ressources and commodities. Access is another version of creating economies of scale and reap benefits.
    The problem with that thinking is what investment level for gaining and maintaining the economy of scale is required in order to calculate a pay back effect. It's possible that some current actions do not pay back under such calculations. On the other hand, these actions have longterm effects and are meant to provide security against rare events that would otherwise lead to spikes in cost for the items in demand. It's a profit by the nonoccurrence of events.

    1. Well, the age of conquest and Viking- or Mongol-like marauding campaigns is over.
      Nowadays you can still reap economic benefits with military activity, but it's extremely hard to reap more benefits than the action and the preparation therefore in peacetime costs.
      I'm not sure how you see economies of scale at play in your model, maybe because the idea that military forces become more efficient with size is quite alien to me. The large armed bureaucracies appear to be inherently inefficient.

      And again; one of my points is that you don't need to justify non-intervention. Non-intervention is not destructive. To not prepare for intervention doesn't incur costs.
      It's the expensive, destructive and lethal intervention and preparations therefore which require a justification.

    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economies_of_scale
      Economiesof scale is a fixed term.

      The Nazi wars were such a conquest attempt as well as the reintorduction of colonial rule after WWII (that was defeated, but attempted).
      Any war between great powers that is about to erupt is about such conquests, not so much in land, but in know-how nowadays.

      Concerning the US wars, they reap economic benefits, they do have improved control over oil and rare earth resources. That does overall affect longterm price development of commodities. My argument is that the US is not waging intervention without an eye on economic benefits. They do currently invest a lot and it will take a lot longer for the gains to pay back for the effort. It can be disputed whether the military effort projects enough security for a long enough timeframe to harvest economic benefits that make it a beneficial action. Beneficial in this sense can mean less worse off than without this commitment.
      I simply don't know and judge the matter too complex to assess myself.
      If warmongers were just bent on intervention for political gains (that is certainly part of their reasons), they would have an intervention-heaven in Africa that is clearly not the case. Economy trumps in interventions, but political factors are part of the equation. You distort it by overemphasizing the political without looking at the economic component of achievements by interventions.

    3. A wrote: "Concerning the US wars, they reap economic benefits, they do have improved control over oil and rare earth resources. That does overall affect longterm price development of commodities. My argument is that the US is not waging intervention without an eye on economic benefits."

      Sorry, the USA spent more than 3000 billion OSD in order to "secure" oil and have faced an four fold higher oil price since 2001. To find here any economic benefits requires a lot of fantasy.

      HINT: With 2000 billion USD I could have easily reduced the US demand for oil by at least 50% and much of these expenses would have come back as taxes or repaid credit.


    4. There's U.S. improved control over a rare earths production either. They're being mined in the PRC mostly. That's why people as us have heard about this rare stuff at all.

    5. Rare earths are not that rare, the current production sites are convenient in the sense of being cheap, more others are available.

      The other aspect of rare earth are that their need is often hyped, a few years later alternatives emerge, here oil is a saver bet.

      Phosphor is in my opionion more interesting, huge demand, quite few large deposits and almost no infrastructure for recycling, here both ends of the spectrum -securing supply and recycling, respectively- offer a lot opportunities.


  4. I think the cost/benefit analysis has been made.
    You identified a problem which is already being solved at tactical levels. Strategic level is a different matter and there is little US and it's vassals can do.

    The cost of interventions has been reduced to very low expenses.
    Hiring or generating insurgents is cheap.
    We could observe the great success obtained at very little cost in Libya and the current also very cheap attack on Syria.
    Islamic brigades are a very good cost effective tool to get the job done. They solve the cost/benefit problem in a satisfactory manner. Of course sometimes some air force intervention is necessary to help the boys on the ground, but that is quite cheap also. The necessary infrastructure exists and is already paid for.

    White elephants like the F 35 are a different matter. They tend to generate large constituencies in the metropolis. Plenty of influent people earn significant amounts of money from them. But it ain't warmongering. It is more correctly called looting and corruption.

    As I said at a strategic level things are different. US/NATO ability to control the global empire is decreasing. We can see that rival powers are expending their military capabilities and are pressing whenever they believe they can get away with it and avoid a premature war with US.
    We could see a good and well presented in the media example in the same Syrian theater of operations. Russia and China blocked the US/NATO air forces from helping the Salafi brigades on the ground. That is a strategic level where the gradients of power between US/NATO and Russia or China have been eroding.

    It is a classic conflict for resources made rather more acute by the limits of geology we are already hitting right as we speak.
    So some sort of classic warfare is probable in the future.
    Or US/NATO declares bankruptcy and reduces the armed forces a la Soviet Union in early 90s.
    The collapse in living standards and the economic disruptions are so large that I would not bet on such a scenario. If that happens it will be as a result of a military defeat.


    The Bundeswehr gives us the area where "warmongering" has to take place. Because that is where the fundamentals of our industrial society are.

    PS. I would also add the map of Africa to the nice graphic image the German Army gives us. It is a less known area of conflict between NATO and China. It seems Africa Command can not stop the large front of Chinese geopolitical penetration in Africa.
    But I would not define the conflict in that area as "warmongering". It is warfare pure and simple. A low intensity one for now. But warfare non the less.


  5. Lots of debates now about the issue you identified.
    Cost/benefit equation in relation to violence or threat of violence.

    Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is showing signs of anger towards its protector, the USA.
    So suddenly everyone noticed that KSA is the basis of the petrodollar system. Which system allows US to print as much as it wants. And to run deficits as large as it wants.
    Not much, only 560 billion in 2011, 540 in 2012.
    Plus by being a defender of the crown it means US controls the flow of energy from the GCC. Which means a lot of leverage almost everywhere. More money through preferential contracts for infrastructure and delivery of expensive military equipments etc.

    We are talking about enormous wealth. The kind of wealth which support not only the military industrial complex but also the living standards of common people in US.
    Without the oil exporters and the oil importers pouring gargantuan amounts of money into US treasury bonds a very sharp adjustments of US standards of living and a very much reduced government - including army and the all too curious NSA( army department) - is inevitable.
    So there are very large benefits which derive from being the defender of the oil wells and protector of the shipping lanes which carry the precious fuels around.
    No warmongering needed. Pragmatic calculus is enough to explain why US needs to maintain its status of protector of the oil extraction and transport and it needs to snuff anything which might threaten its protection business.

    Now that we have the biggest importer of oil and the 2nd and now the first exporter showing signs of displeasure with the way business is done these days - them having to swallow enormous amounts of US interest bearing securities, it looks like things are going to be heating up a bit.
    The middle man demanding a percentage of everything produced anywhere in exchange for a license to live and some useless - ultra-low interest, never gonna be payed back - securities is well armed and quite aggressive. But not because of being a warmonger or something. Only because it needs to protect its main income source.

    I do not believe a confrontation between US and KSA is imminent. But I also believe that KSA is well prepared for that inevitable event. Far better prepared then what is considered common knowledge, but that is another issue.


    1. I have seen some macroeconomic models on how industrialised countries became prosperous, but none of them included 'being protector of the Saudi crown'.

      And even if there was a substantial benefit, fancy storytelling doesn't substitute for calculation. It's not the benefits, but the net benefits (benefit minus cost) which matter.

      The U.S. suffers from inadequate public capital investment. Look at the reports about how much growth would be enabled by more such investment. Next, imagine billions taken from the military spending and channelled into public capital investment (such as public transportation infrastructure). It's 'hard' to match such opportunity costs with benefits from military spending.

  6. Difficult issue the long term projection is.
    On the short term anything which allows a political structure
    to receive a tribute/run a deficit of - according to WTO of around 800 billion dollars/year is a good thing to have.
    In the long term is probably lethal.

    About macroeconomics you might want to look at how the large amounts of money received by the oil exporters - the nice Assyrian style democracies from the Gulf -were recycled into US/UK treasuries. That is tribute.
    In order to have access to the same resources others like China or Japan had to send money to US treasury indirectly through Ryadh and another amount directly.
    Now imagine that Pakistani troops with Chinese logistical support take over the role of "defender of the oil well ".
    How many hundreds of billions per year are they going to send to NY and London?

    The republic has become an empire. The starting point is pretty irrelevant, the external environment selects what works and shapes the form imperial society takes.
    If it starts as an Assyrian whatever that was or a Roman republic or a Spartan whatever - OK here I pushed it a little bit - the end shape starts being very similar. Just like sharks and orcas look so similar.
    "It's 'hard' to match such opportunity costs with benefits from military spending."
    I'd say you are too shy. Military and financial complex - hired guns and tax collector from the vassals - tend to suffocate the host society.
    Middle classes are obliterated. Productive investments are pushed away by more profitable activities connected to the army and financial structures. Oligarchies take over all levers of power, riding the huge wave of tributes.
    Usually large migrations follow either forced ones or economic ones like today when the financial structures are sofisticated enough to coordinate a complex economy etc

    So in the end the metropolitan area loses its productive activities, transforms its formerly prosperous and educated empire building ethnic group into impoverished proles and usually even replaces them in their own homeland.
    And all the benefits are that small politically powerful groups of people earn enormously. For a time, until the whole system comes crushing down. It always does due to the above mentioned reasons.
    So yes it is bad. Empire is like heroin. Gives strong feelings of pleasure but it is lethal if you go on doing it for too long.
    But as long as you can keep it going it is very good. Money flow freely to the center, the ones with enough pull get very rich, cadres of the system are very well remunerated ,former middle class receive their bread and circus, Army is well financed and happy, country is strong etc. What is not to like?
    In a sense you are right, at strategic level. Once you go the way of the gun your future as a society is set in stone. Except a premature defeat which might change the course of the ambitious upstarts.
    So yes it seems that warmongering might not be so profitable as it looks like. But that is clear only on a a very long time frame.

    PS. As the imperial center becomes more militarized and financialized - tributes become the back bone of the economy - a retreat form the empire and an attempt to re-balance the state becomes a political impossibility.
    Because it means that the first stage is default, army/security structures plus all their contractors are out of business, standards of living collapses as formerly well payed ladies from a financial center start competing with former subjects in the textile industry, etc.
    It can not be done. It is humanly impossible.
    As the challenger rises, the empire gets weaker and the tributary states start to become restless and better armed we can see what a nice future awaits us.


    1. Gulf tyrants buying U.S. federal bonds is no more a tribute than it's a tax when U.S. billionnaires lobby successfully for a tax cut and invest the savings in U.S.federal bonds.

      They simply have no good use for their export earnings because they lack the skilled work force for making good use of a huge domestic capital stock.
      And buying blue chip shares provokes trouble beyond some point.

    2. Correct.
      And if Pakistani army supported by China takes over the protection business - meaning they can push sharp objects up the behinds of the kings/sheiks they don't like after they kill their families - then we would see the oil going to Pakistan and China and some quantity of various kinds of useless papers going the reverse way.
      It is as simple as that.
      Just think that instead of US army you have Chinese army protecting the wells. Who get the oil then?
      Who gets the money recycled into its financial sector?
      Simple to answer.

      So in order to have the oil sent west - we are beneficiaries also - we need to keep political and military control of the area. It is bad enough as it is right now with the Chinese out bidding us. If the recycling into treasuries stops - they are useless junk supported only by the threat of violence - then we are in big big trouble.
      At least some of us. Germany for example chose to get closer to the ellipse the Bundeswehr drew by having a good relationship with the owner of a part of the before mentioned ellipse. In this case Russia.
      Others chose to follow US on the warpath.

      We have seen something similar in WW2.
      France, Holland, Romania, Denmark etc all sent various products to the Reich.
      Dear uncle Adolf was having a nice war going on so his human and industrial resources were pretty tight up by the military industrial complex. Understandable.
      So dear uncle had no consumer good or any other king of goods to sell in exchange for oil, grains, trucks, whatever.
      He gave Reichsmarks which his faithful commercial partners recycled then into securities. Of course dear uncle had the same intension to pay back as the US has to pay back trillions to the sheiks or to China or to whoever might want to cast the American people into a life of debt slavery.
      Of course any attempt by the Romanians , French or Dutch to take over German companies might have "provoked trouble beyond some point".
      And a very sharp reprimand would I might say.

      This is the way the financial circle is closed in accountancy. The ones who have stuff give some of it to the one who has the gun and receive treasuries. It is a good system which is adapted perfectly to the way our financial system works.
      If the one sending the oil/grains whatever is king Abdullah or marechal Antonescu does not make a difference. Both receive securities and no matter how many of those papers they have there is no chance in hell they will ever receive control on any of the economic structures of the their hegemon.

      US is fighting for its economic life in MENA. But China is also fighting for survival on a more basic level.
      So we have a nice heated debate right now.
      Neither US politicians and their proxies nor the Chinese ones and their proxies - I have problems placing Russia, it acts both as an independent actor and a Chinese proxy, lets call it a security contractor with a private agenda in this case - are warmongering per se.

      I mean they are warmongering but with a clear purpose. To get the black stuff and/or the cash flow it generates. It is a normal human behavior to prefer being wealthy and powerful/respected instead of being destitute and spit on.
      We have something called "the golden billion" - that's us. And now another billion wants to become golden. It ain't enough for all of us.
      Hence the "warmongering" taking place.
      If you know a way to double the supply of oil in order to accommodate another "golden billion"and collapse it's price 5-10 times to the 2000s level to make the financial burden of the energy sector tolerable then "warmongering" would lose its appeal.


    3. When thinking about dollars and oil, keep in mind that the U.S. produces the dollars, and does so at negligible costs (none if it's not printed, but only on accounts).
      The U.S. doesn't need to get USD from others; it's their sole producer after all.
      Some foreign countries use the U.S. as market for their output and then don't have a good choice of investment or consumption opportunities because the U.S. doesn't produce enough interesting stuff.

      This whole "foreigners buy U.S. bonds" thing is really just accounting, deferred material trade, manipulation of currency exchange rates and so on.
      It's not tribute, and it's not essential for sustaining the U.S. economy or government.

      Let's stop this layman trade theory stuff, please. Reality is much more boring and frankly, I dislike the vicinity to conspiracy theory (at least vicinity in regard to style).