“A monument to man’s stupidity”

On Keith’s post below: Note that something can be a monument to “man’s” (collective) stupidity without reflecting stupidity on the part of any actual individual or group. As Robert Frank says, lots of behaviors are smart for (every) one, even if they’re dumb for all.

War (in this respect like incarceration) always reflects the failure of deterrence. Surely there was a better outcome available to both sides. But that doesn’t mean that a better outcome was available to either side through its own action. If the war ends in more or less a draw, it’s possible that each side does better by fighting than it could have done by surrendering. If the war ends in total defeat for one side, then in retrospect that side would have been better off not fighting. But hindsight is better than foresight. And the winner sometimes – though not always – gets a prize worth fighting for, or at least avoids an outcome worth fighting to prevent.

Of course, this wouldn’t be true if people on both sides treated losses on the other side as bad and important.

Footnote Note to EU-haters: How many people died in European wars in the sixty-three years before the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950? And how many have died in the sixty-three years since? I rest my case.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on ““A monument to man’s stupidity””

  1. Note to EU-haters: How many people died in European wars in the sixty-three years before the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950? And how many have died in the sixty-three years since? I rest my case.

    I give you an “F” in “Correlation is not Causation.” Has anything else changed from the first half of the 20th Century to the second? How do I know that the credit goes to the EU/EC/ECSC instead of NATO or the UN or the IMF/World Bank?

    Not only are you way too quick to conclude causation from insufficient facts (in an overdetermined case), but you’re also substantively wrong: the world has been made peaceful by nuclear weapons and the logic of MAD. This is only a slight oversimplification.

    1. While the threats of the Cold War certainly were a factor in Western Europe standing together, I would like to point out that the same factors also applied to Eastern Europe and in that case did not create as much of a lasting peace or political stability (see especially the Balkan).

      As to giving the UN or the IMF credit, I do not honestly the causal connection for either of them having contributed significantly to political stability and peace in Western Europe.

      Mutually shared prosperity on the basis of democracy and a respect for human rights, which is specifically the foundation that the EU was built on, appears to have a much stronger track record in that regard. A good example is how Portugal’s accession to the (then) European Economic Community helped stabilize the young and fragile democracy.

        1. I am not sure how that is even relevant. I’ve been talking about the pacification of the area and the stabilization of the political situation of individual member states, especially in the context of the Common Market, not the modern EU.

          Note that the democratization process e.g. in Portugal and Spain began long after the Marshall Plan, but coincided with each country’s desire for accession to the Common Market.

          We can, however, talk at length about the democratic situation of the EU, if you wish; a different and interesting subject, and not easily disposed of by a throwaway Wikipedia reference.

  2. War is not like crime: either morally or in game theory. Nations are not individuals. At the level of nations, war might often be a lose-lose proposition. But even if this is true, it has nothing to do with incentives at the level that counts: decision-makers who control nations. For them, war might be very attractive, no matter what the payout structure is at the national level.

  3. Mark’s short post is explication of my one-liner in response to the prior Keith Humphrey post.

    The existence of saddle points makes it a certainty that two sides in a competition will choose respective rows/columns that will result in an outcome less than they could achieve by cooperation. Thus, the inevitability of such behaviors in a world where mankind is organized into competing groups (nations/tribes/etc.)

  4. If you’re going to offer an institution that reduced war in Europe, I would think that institution would be NATO.

    And if we are going to see EU backed seizures of bank deposits in small countries for the safety of the banking system (while protecting of course large bank investors), I’d suspect that the EU is more likely to precipitate war than you thought.

  5. Mark,

    I agree entirely that the Elysée Treaty and the strong personal relationship between De Gaulle and Adenauer that began when De Gaulle invited Adenauer to his home in Colombey ushered in a new era. What you say about the old Common Market is certainly true, as well, but I think it more a matter of an understanding on the part of people like De Gaulle and Adenauer that although the Germany and France were traditionally hostile societies, they weren’t completely irreconcilable peoples and both could see the importance of putting some of the ghosts of the past to rest.

    What seems clear is that (1) the EU’s supranational administrative authority is highly undemocratic and, frequently irresponsible (as we’ve seen during the banking, austerity and now with the Cyprus banking crisis) and (2) that Europe’s political class see that it can’t have both a common currency and democracy and has chosen the Euro project instead of democracy.

    What you are seeing now is the resurrection of those ghosts we thought had finally been put behind us. I believe the rise of the extreme right and the replaying of so many of the tensions leading up to the start of the World Wars is the result of Europe’s leaders having chosen the Euro over a union of democracies. We’re pretty much back where we were around pre-war and I don’t think Europe is headed in a very good direction.

    1. MItch: Your distinction between the Common Market and the modern EU is well taken (and a point I would have made myself otherwise). The modern EU certainly may have a vision that exceeds its capability to implement it, and as a consequence it may do its primary cause harm. But the idea of the Common Market, as originally envisioned by Robert Schuman, was definitely a boon to establishing consistent peaceful relations between the Western European countries at first and after the Cold War, helping with the democratization of Eastern Europe.

      However, I disagree somewhat with your point about the “EU’s supranational administrative authority” being “highly undemocratic”. A major problem with the banking crisis and austerity management is that these were things that were primarily arranged outside the EU’s normal democratic institutions, arranged between the governments of the member states under regular international law, either as independent treaties or as amendments to the EU treaties. This is, why, e.g., the European Financial Stability Facility had to be implemented through national laws passed by the member states and the European Stability Mechanism was implemented through an amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

      1. The reason I highlighted the Elysée Treaty and De Gaulle having invited Adenauer to his home in Colombey was because I felt that the rapprochement of Germany and France—with the corresponding elimination of the eternal quest by the two nations for European hegemony—was the main concern (with improving relations among the other core countries as an important but secondary concern).

        The question of whether the EU’s technocratic structure is anti-democratic is probably more complicated than we can address here but I think the concern goes beyond whether the member states get to vote about things from time to time. I have in mind the way the technocrats handled the votes in Ireland and France where they exploited their control of the EU’s administrative mechanisms to for those countries to submit to policies that the people didn’t want.

        Similarly, the fact that the elected governments of two member states were replaced by unelected technocrats who came in with instructions to impose both austerity and neoliberalism and in the case of Greece, to sell off that country’s patrimoines. Overall, I regard the EU as having become profoundly antidemocratic and very much in thrall to theories of neoliberalism and the self-interested desire to operate the supranational structure mainly for the benefits of bankers and various eurotrash elites.

        1. Even the most democratic of countries (is the US an example?) can fall temporarily into the hands of an elite who conflate their group interests into national interests. For all their faults, “Old Europe” did pass on the Iraq adventure. And the Italian electorate have passed their verdict on Mario Monti’s short-lived administration.

          I trust European electorates to “take it back”; there are grounds for trusting (in Lincoln’s words) “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people?”

  6. I enter a small bid on behalf of my old employer, the Council of Europe, founded in 1947, and isa main achievement, the European Convention on Human Rights of 1949. That’s not to say that it went far enough, and Monnet’s great leap forward of 1950 was necessary, though its technocratic form stored up problems for the future.

    FWIW, I credit peace in Europe to the fact of a European war that both France and Germany clearly lost. The basis of European peace is the Franco-German alliance, for which the European institutions are an exoskeleton, an ever-growing coral reef.

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