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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I've Been Wondering

What percentage of the time, thoughout history, when given the choice between fighting or opting for peace while being confronted by an aggressor known for breaking his (or its) word, has choosing "peace" worked out well? From the playground bully to the genocidal dictator, how often has it worked out well to submit to their demands? From Philip of Macedon's story to the ancient Greeks of "don't worry, I'll never invade your lands," to Hitler's "don't worry, I'm just reuniting the German peoples," are there many (any?) examples of things turning out well for all (or at least most) of the parties when peace was chosen?

The "Give Peace a Chance" theme has been with us for a long time, but what is the empirical evidence that this is, on average, a good idea?

When it comes to a long (intergenerational) war, why does the term civilian have any meaning at all? For illustration, consider me. I've never been in the military. Yet I consider myself a completely legitimate military target. I've worked on a number of sophisticated and highly deadly weapon systems during my career (which have been deployed with great effect). Right now I work on autonomous robots, and while none of them are for military purposes, the technology could easily be converted for intensely effective military applications. It would be effective, perhaps even more effective than killing a soldier, to kill someone like me, an enabler of soldiers.

Anyone with my skills could easily be redirected to work on military applications at any time, so as a preemptive strike, killing technical people seems fair enough to me. And killing the people who support such people seems justified to me as well. And if they weren't even born - all the better, so kill the mothers too, or at least get them when they're children. After all, in a long war, one day they'll grow up to try to kill you.

Especially in a democracy, such as the United States, or Israel, or Lebanon, I consider the entire populace to be supporting the military, and as a result, are fair game as military targets.

Clearly, Hezbollah agrees with me. What I'm wondering is why no one else does? It seems insane to me not to hit an enemy in a long war wherever, whenever, and however you can.

Why do various intellectuals bristle when their comments and advocacy regarding Israeli policy, that if actually implemented will clearly lead to more dead jews, are called antisemitic? Even if their comments are well intentioned, or even fair and just, the comments are still antisemitic, aren't they?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Everybody's an Environmentalist...

... unless it costs them something.

Let's start with a simple assertion. If climate stability is a primary goal, rapidly injecting gazillions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere isn't a great idea. I think most climate change scientists would probably more or less agree with that assertion. I think that most engineers would agree that significantly tweaking a variable can easily lead to instability. And I think it has a nice, intuitive feel to it. It might even be true.

But should climate stability be a primary goal? For instance, should it be more important than providing clean water, public health, primary education, and dietary improvements for the impoverished masses of the world? This is an important question. Here's one answer:

Two years ago, a group of the world's most respected economists, including Nobel Laureate and FREE's 2003 Summer Scholar Thomas Schelling, were posed with a question: Given significant but finite resources, what are the best investments for improving our world? They chose clean water, public health, primary education (especially of girls), and inexpensive dietary improvements.

Addressing global warming didn't make the cut. Why not? It could consume all the funds while producing uncertain rewards in the far distant future. Instead, these funds could be invested in developing economies. By attracting foreign capital, poor nations could gain economic resiliency, the surest route to a better future.

The experiment with economists was recently replicated by John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the UN. Not one to shrink from controversy, he empanelled UN diplomats from seven emerging nations, including India and China, to prioritize the issues. After hearing from experts in the problem areas, they ranked global crises ranging from climate change to migration. The top four were again health care, water and sanitation, education, and child nutrition. Climate change was, of course, dead last. No honest policy analyst would be surprised by these rankings.

While most agree that climate change is occurring, many proposed "solutions" are monumentally expensive, uncertain, and distant. They are, in sum, the sorriest of investments. Providing vitamin A, on the other hand, costs less than $1 per person per year, saves lives, and prevents childhood blindness. Encouraging breast feeding cheaply and effectively promotes infant health.

That's my view. The return on investment for combating climate change, especially when discounted for the uncertainty inherent in any ultra long term investment, is extremely poor. And let's face it. We're not going to spend the money to completely solve any of these other problems either.

Climate change needs to go to the back of the line and wait.