Blogs > HNN > Coyne on Iraq

Aug 8, 2005 10:35 am

Coyne on Iraq

In a recent Newsweek poll, President Bush and the War in Iraq did not fare well. 61% of those polled disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq, and a stunning 64% of those polled stated that they believed the War in Iraq did not make the US safer from Terrorism.

The war obviously is an emotional issue that demands rational discourse. As a libertarian, I have been against US intervention from the start. But I understand the argument that those who advocate military action tried to make. It is just that they were wrong on the political economy and social analysis of the situation.

Christopher Coyne defended his dissertation this past spring at GMU and the subject of his thesis was After War. Chris’s work on the subject has been published in Constitutional Political Economy, The Review of Austrian Economics and his thesis has been accepted as a book with Stanford University Press. Chris addresses the issues of post-war reconstruction in the 20th century and shows that outside of Japan and Germany US-led efforts must be judged a failure in terms of establishing sustainable democracies with a vibrant economy. Chris’s reasons are straightforward economics and, in presenting his argument in this manner, Chris is able to address these pressing issues in public policy with reason and evidence, rather than just with the passionate ideological rhetoric of someone against the war effort. The stated goals of US efforts might well be lofty (e.g., modernization, political freedom, economic prosperity), but the means chosen (US-led military confrontation) are simply ineffective in terms of achieving those ends.

Chris’s work is available at his web-site here.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Peter Boettke - 8/9/2005


Of course.

I am against intervention on principled grounds and consequentialist grounds. Rather than run away from Jeff Friedman's libertarian two-step, I embrace it as the best we can do in building up an argument for liberty. I don't believe we have knock out arguments, what we have our good reasons for believing --- those good reasons come in the form of philosophical argument, historical evidence, and economic theory.

I believe in the Rothbardian happy coincidence where rights and utility go together.

The war violates our principles and it leads to bad consequences.


Sudha Shenoy - 8/9/2005

1. What I had in mind was the following: Both Germany & Japan had been defeated in a long & bloody war in 1945. The war party had lost all credibility in Japan -- 1945 marked the end of militaristic nationalism. Thus non-militaristic, peaceful forces could re-emerge & move forward. The same for Germany. Thus post-1945 moved on from developments before -- in both countries.

2. Exactly the same in Bosnia: post-1995 carried on from pre-1995. Even the most cursory knowledge of the Balkans is enough to know that the same bitter conflicts & divisions would simply continue.

3. Germany, Japan & Bosnia -- all three had/have 'cultural products'. What matters is the _content._ Remember that the occupiers censored intellectual & artistic publications for a period after 1945, in Germany & Japan. But even so, it is clear that militarism was dead. Balkan papers, books, etc., are full of ethnic/nationalist bombast, myth, hatred. It is impossible to publish anything about Balkan history without one or the other side complaining bitterly that the author has swallowed wholesale the Serb/Croat/Muslim/take-your-pick line. Thus there is continuity here too: the same political ideas continue their awful influence.

4. "US efforts that were successful....those that were not..." So the Balkan/German/Japanese historical contexts were so much clay which the US _could_ have re-shaped? But didn't? "Re-construction" -- by Americans: who sees things this way? The people being re-constructed? Professional historians? Or is it a term used to mobilise political support in the US? Are we looking at historical reality -- or American political mis-conceptions about the world outside?

Mark Brady - 8/8/2005

Pete, thank you for your response to my post. I understand your point about ends and means. However, I can't let you off the hook so easily! <a>

1. You haven't explained why you're against U.S. intervention. May I assume it isn't just a question that the means are inappropriate to secure the stated end? And if it isn't just a question about means and ends, would you be willing to provide the reasons for your objection? <a>

2. We're not just economists. I don't think--and I'm sure you'd agree--that an argument, say, to the effect that jailing dissidents is unlikely to prevent the spread of sedition is not on its own an entirely satisfactory response for a libertarian to make in response to government repression. I hope that libertarians, even libertarian economists, would have questioned the legitimacy of Nazi plans to eliminate the Jewish population from Europe rather than just the likelihood that their chosen means would fail to achieve their stated end. Likewise, I hope that they would question the legitimacy as well as the workability of U.S. foreign policy. Or should commentators in the U.S. never--or at least in the first instance--question the "stated lofty end[s]" of their rulers?

Peter Boettke - 8/8/2005


Good question. Chris, of course, is trying to deal with this endogeneity issue quite a bit. It is not an easy one to answer.

I think Chris tries to address this issue by comparing pre- and post- number of newspapers, films, and other cultural products to show that a vibrant civil society was in fact in operation and that US efforts that were successful respected that civil society, whereas those that were not did not.

This is very relevant for his more recent paper on The Institutional Pre-Requisites for Successful Reconstruction.

Peter Boettke - 8/8/2005


What I mean is that for sake of argument I can agree with all the US government's stated objectives, yet still show that the means chosen are ineffective with regard to achieving these stated ends.

On my own personal position --- I am against US intervention as I said in the beginning of the post. But following Mises I always think our argumentative strategy is best when we grant the ends of those we are arguing with and can still show that their means will not achieve the ends they seek. If in the wake of this demonstration they still utilize those means, then perhaps the end being sought is different from the stated lofty end and we can expose that for others to see.

Mark Brady - 8/8/2005

Pete, what exactly do you mean when you write: "I understand the argument that those who advocate military action tried to make"? It sounds as if you agree with them on some level. If so, what level? <a>

You continue: "It is just that they were wrong on the political economy and social analysis of the situation"?"
May we conclude that you dismiss or discount arguments against intervention on principle, and that your opposition to the war on Iraq is based on the particular circumstances of the situation?

Sudha Shenoy - 8/8/2005

I refer to the joint Cowen/Coyne paper. How do the political developments in Germany & Japan after 1945, fit into their lines of political development _before_ then? So too for Bosnia: how do the political developments post-1995, fit into the lines of political development _pre_-1995? In other words, do these countries' own political histories consist of noises offstage, while the real action onstage, consists of American reconstruction? Or are American interventions merely yet another episode in these countries' histories?