In struggling with monsters,
    one becomes a monster oneself

A friend just sent me the link to the new Move On “$87 billion” ad. It’s extremely well done, and Move On claims it has actually moved Bush’s negatives where it’s been shown.

In one sense, the ad’s question is a good one: If it won’t wreck the economy to spend $87 billion helping Iraq, why would it wreck the economy to deal with some of our domestic needs? But the basic appeal is to the worst sort of isolationist stinginess that opposes all “foreign aid” because “charity begins at home.”

I suppose I ought to be pleased to see the stinginess about helping people abroad that Republicans have used against Democrats for so long turned against them. But I’m not, really. The ad mostly makes me tired.

In the real world, $87 billion is about 0.9% of one year’s GDP. If there’s something the country really needs that costs $87 billion, we can afford it. Whether or not it was a good idea to make Iraq a high-stakes place for us, we’ve done it now, and money ought to be the smallest element in our calculations. If we could pay $87 billion for a stable, democratic Iraq, that would be a terrific bargain. The idea of risking a bad outcome by cheaping out is just plain outrageous.

That’s not to say that Bush shouldn’t be criticized for the way he intends to spend that money. Arguably, we could get a lot more done by spending a lot less. (A billion dollars in moderately well-concealed bribes to the leading clerics, for example, might work miracles: think of it as faith-based foreign policy.)

But to focus on the amount of money, rather than how it’s being spent, is precisely wrong in substantive terms, no matter how effective it is politically.

None of this changes my mind about the importance of independent expenditures on anti-Bush ads. I think they’re a great idea, and I expect to give money to them, perhaps even through Move On. But the ad seems to me a pretty sad start.

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

One thought on “In struggling with monsters,
    one becomes a monster oneself”

  1. I Can Count On You, Right?

    I'm not even sure I disagree, but I do find it a bit odd that Mark Kleiman, in the middle of making an ethical argument against isolationist critiques of foreign aid, suggests that secret bribes to Iraqi clerics are a good idea. Is it bleeding obvious …

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