Kling and Henderson on intervention and blowback

David Henderson, an economist at the Naval Postgraduate School’s GSBPP and also the Hoover Institution, alerted me to a remark made by another economist, Arnold Kling, about libertarian foreign policy. Both posts are worth reading, of course, but in the ‘comments’ thread of Henderson’s post, Dr Kling elicited a terse response from Dr Henderson for arguing the following:

David, the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear–there are plenty of other causes, and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think you have proved my point. Your preferred policy is non-intervention, and so blowback is your desired cause for terrorism. But you only look for evidence that confirms this. Go through the thought experiment of believing that terrorism is not caused by blowback, and then look for evidence from that perspective. That is what I ask for when someone has a “desired cause.”

You can read Dr Henderson’s response here, but I thought I’d go in a different direction with this. First, though, I’d like to thank Dr Kling for broaching this subject. Few libertarians do so (our own Drs Delacroix and van de Haar being two stubborn exceptions).

What I’d like to do is take Dr Kling’s second paragraph to heart and try to pin down some relevant facts I think are missing from his first paragraph, which I’ll break down, for the sake of dialogue, piece-by-piece.

the U.S. has intervened in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Kling left off Africa from his list of places the US government has intervened in. This is a huge omission because there has been plenty of terrorist attacks (successful or otherwise) aimed at US targets on the African continent, from Nigeria in the west to Kenya all the way in the east (a span, via each state’s respective most populous city, of 5,328 km; Los Angeles to New York City is about 4,500 km).

We have not experienced terrorism except from the Middle East, and there the role of blowback is not clear

Again, the US has been the target of terrorism in places other than the Middle East. Aside from Africa (the 1998 embassy bombings being perhaps the prominent examples, though there are more), the US has been the target of terrorism in Asia, Latin America, and Europe. I think much of Dr Kling’s confusion regarding blowback in due to his poor geographic knowledge. The Middle East (or Near East), for example, is also a part of Asia. Pakistan and Afghanistan, where many terrorist attacks against US targets have been undertaken, are not considered to be a part of the Middle East by specialists. Below is a partial list of terrorist attacks against US targets in the past:

  • In 1927, the US embassy (along with other foreign embassies) in Nanking, China came under sustained gunfire from both state and non-state actors, and at least one American died (“the Nanking Incident”);
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, many American institutions – public and private (or ostensibly private) – were bombed by left-anarchists upset over the unjust executions of two prominent Italian anarchists in Boston (“Sacco and Vanzetti”);
  • In 1964 the US embassy in Gabon was bombed twice in the same month;
  • In 1965 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, and Leftist factions claimed responsibility;
  • In 1984 a car bomb exploded outside of the US embassy in Bogota, Colombia, but no faction came forward to claim responsibility (it is largely attributed to one of the drug cartels in operation there);
  • In 1985 a Left-wing terrorist organization attacked the Soviet, Chinese, and American embassies in Peru;
  • In the mid-1980s a Leftist terrorist organization attacked US embassies in Indonesia and Italy.

Again, this is just a partial list. In the spirit of Kling’s argument, what I suggest we do here is divide up terrorist bombings into two segments: 1) the period of 1945-1991 (the Cold War), and 2) everything else. I think this is a fair move because during the Cold War the line between state and non-state actors became especially blurred.

Even if we decide to ignore my suggestion of dividing terrorist attacks into two segments, one picture that becomes much clearer is that all of the attacks are political, and terrorism against US targets does not come solely from the Middle East (or even states with large Muslim populations). I hope these two issues are conclusions that we can all agree upon. If this does not nudge the evidence in favor of the intervention-causes-blowback thesis, I don’t know what does. I think Kling’s next line of reasoning will help us elaborate on this a bit more:

there are plenty of other causes [of terrorism], and Middle Eastern terrorists seem perfectly happy to operate in countries that have not invaded Iraq.

I think this statement actually breaks the back of the hawks’ argument. First, though, when did we move from a discussion about intervention causing terrorism to a discussion about invading and occupying Iraq causing terrorism? Is Kling guilty of the bait-and-switch fallacy here? I am forced to conclude that he is, although in fairness his point was raised in a ‘comments’ thread rather than in a post of its own.

His bait-and-switch aside, Kling’s point about “plenty of other causes” of terrorism is one worth thinking through a bit more. There are four lines of thought that I’d like to explore here: 1) Now would be a good time to draw up a distinction between intervention and occupation. Up until now, we have been discussing foreign policy colloquially and ostensibly in terms of intervention, but the difference between the two concepts I just highlighted is huge and needs a bit of clarification. Some of the fuzziness surrounding the two concepts has to do with Kling’s charge of normative libertarian foreign policy. Dr Henderson, for example, cites the scholarly work of Robert Pape and Ivan Eland (as well as the observations of Paul Wolfowitz) to bolster his claim that intervention leads to blowback, but those guys are referring to the explicit occupation of territory, not intervention. This does not mean Dr Henderson or libertarians more broadly are wrong, of course, but only that dialogue on this topic suffers from a lack of detail. The Cold War-era bombings I listed above can be attributed to intervention. The terrorist attacks pre- and post-Cold War can be attributed to intervention as well, but also to occupation. Does this make sense?

2) While Kling is lazy in his assertion about “Middle Eastern terrorists” being “perfectly happy” with attacking states that did not invade Iraq, he has a really good point, albeit one made unintentionally: terrorism is an international phenomenon, and not something that can be attributed to a specific region (or religion). If we take a step back and look at terrorism more broadly (i.e. not just in a US context, which I think highlights well the consequences of intervention and occupation), what do we see? I don’t know about you, but I see terrorism in Russia, China, India, Pakistan, the US, Europe, all of Africa, Latin America, and, just for good measure, the rest of Asia, too. This leads me to train of thought Number 3: terrorism is political, as even death cults like Aum Shinrikyo in Japan or lone wolves like the Unabomber or the white nationalist shooter in Charleston are overtly political. I know I’ve harped on this already, but Dr Kling’s point helps make this much easier to understand.

Much of the terrorism, if not all of it (I hope readers will provide counter-examples), not directed at the US and its allies (which do intervene and do occupy) is done in the name of separatist movements within a state. While states claim sovereignty over their territories, and use IGOs such as the United Nations to bolster these claims, the separatist movements believe themselves to be occupied by a foreign power. Pape makes this crystal clear in his work on the (nominally Buddhist but militantly Left-wing) Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka.

If terrorism is political, but it is not aimed at foreign intervention or occupation/separatism, what would terrorists hope to accomplish by murdering people? Given the calculated political nature of terrorism highlighted above, I fail to see how terrorism could be carried out randomly, except in works of fiction like Batman comics or old James Bond movies. The fictional nature of random acts of terrorism leads me in to my fourth and last train of thought, namely that I think Kling is introducing a red herring when he states that “there are plenty of other causes” of terrorism. This is simply not true. Since Dr Kling didn’t provide any examples, and since I don’t want to attempt to read his mind, I can only hope he reads this post and provides me with some examples that I can proceed to debunk.

While I think Dr Kling raises an excellent topic that needs to be discussed way more often, he, like Dr Delacroix, simply does not have his facts straight when it comes to foreign affairs. Ideology and dialogue are important components of the free and open society, but without a good grasp of the relevant facts of a matter those tools for improving our livelihoods become worthless, at best.

From the Comments: Libertarians and Love

Rick responds to my question about heartless libertarians:

You’re spot on. There’s a mental image I’ve read (and I’m going to butcher this because I don’t remember it clearly) of a moral gradient (I’m 60% sure that’s what it’s called). The way I fit this concept in my head is that we each have a sort of a topographical map of something hill-shaped. This map represents the moral weight we put on others and ourselves. We’re at the center, and the points furthest away are those strangers from far away that we will never meet in our lives. Different areas may represent different groups of people. Even better, instead of a topographic map, you’re forming it with a finite amount of playdough. Some people might have more or less playdough than others, but they’re usually pretty similar.

Say one person’s hill is shaped like Grinch mountain (incredibly steep) he holds himself in far higher esteem than anyone else, even those very close to him. Someone whose map is a flat plain (or plateau, but it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?) is messiah-like in her even-handedness with humanity; every person is as valuable to her as her mother. Both of these are very different from normal, and we like to see other people be normal. Sometimes quirkiness is acceptable, and I suppose we might admire someone whose map looks like a ridge representing her strong devotion to the children of an African village she visits every year as well as animals of all sorts.

When I compare my moral gradient to the people around me, I notice some important differences. I put a much higher weight on strangers and foreigners. I still probably put a lower weight on the poor than a typical democrat. But that effect is swamped when you account for how much more I care about strangers and foreigners. So if I care more about the world’s poor, then who’s missing out on love? From whence came this playdough? I’m pretty sure it’s my girlfriend’s coworkers. I honestly can’t keep them straight and I can’t piece together the stories I hear about them into anything but the most abstract people.

I think my moral gradient might be pretty typical for a libertarian. Like you, I don’t want to put people out and that can appear stand-offish. But that’s really just me saying, “I don’t know you, but I believe you aren’t simply a solipsist delusion left here for my abuse or neglect.” But other-oriented sentiments come at a cost. I consider people in the abstract, where non-libertarians consider people on a case-by-case basis. Each one is special, but only a few of them actually count. Most people incorporate Dunbar’s number as both the limit of their social network and a limit to the number of people they actually care about. For me, I basically recognize “family”, “friend”, “human being”. I don’t have “second cousin, twice removed” or “friend’s ex-boyfriend’s cool cousin that I still hang out with some times.”

That’s all a very long winded way of saying “egh, their measure for love might have been focusing on love for those in-between strangers whose names I just can’t remember for the life of me.”

Here is the wiki for Dunbar’s numbers (Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist). Here is more from Rick on the topic. The ‘moral gradient’ Rick speaks of probably has to do with the research of the economists Sandra Peart and David Levy (I’d start here, if you’re interested), but I’m just wagering a guess.

The Lowest Levels of Love (with apologies to Dr Amburgey)

Different Types of Love scale

The Different Types of Love scale is a 40-item measure of loving feelings toward four different groups. Participants indicate agreement with statements concerning friends […], family […], generic others […], and their romantic partner […]

Results.

Table 4 shows that libertarians showed the lowest levels of loving feelings toward others, across all four categories (although the difference with conservatives on love for friends was not significant).

Interpretation.

Consistent with the results on the Identification with All of Humanity scale, the libertarian independence from others is associated with weaker loving feelings toward friends, family, romantic partners, and generic others. It is noteworthy that differences between liberals and conservatives were generally small (except toward generic others). Libertarians were the outliers.

You’ll always be my bro, though. These results come from a paper by a bunch of moral psychologists, including Jonathan Haidt. I’ve blogged about the paper before, in regards to intelligence. (Libertarians are smarter than conservatives and liberals, remember? It turns out that we are bigger jerks, too.)

My intuition tells me that this is an incomplete analysis, though (the paper’s authors say as much, up front, in the paper itself). It’s not that libertarians are less loving than conservatives and liberals, it’s simply that we show our love in a different way, most likely in a way that isn’t represented in the sampling process. Libertarians could not, for example, be the ardent internationalists that we are without some measure of “love” for humanity.

Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose I am walking down the street and I see a bum with a cardboard sign and a tip jar (a paper cup from Carl’s Jr). The bum is drunk, and a little stoned. I say to myself, “Damn, that guy is in a crappy situation.” I reach into my pockets to see if I’ve got some change or, better yet, a couple of cigarettes. I am comfortable in claiming that most libertarians – sans those raised on the Atlantic coast of the US – go through the same thought process. If I put myself in that guy’s shoes, anything more than what I spare for him becomes a nuisance to me. Does this make sense? So if I’m panhandling, and somebody tries to do more than give me their change or spare me a couple of smokes, they become a pain in my ass. Why would I want to be a pain in our hypothetical bum’s ass?

This same thought process can be attributed to family, friends, and romantic partners. We’re not being jerks, we’re respecting your autonomy. I know for a fact that this can be a shallow admission of truth for some to hear, but it’s the truth nonetheless.

The libertarian’s outlier-ness in regards to conceptions about love may explain why we have such a tough time politically. (Our superior cognitive skills, which prompts us to be more open to getting at the truth of some matter, also goes some way toward explaining why we fail politically, as politics is emphatically about avoiding the truth.)

Morality (“love”) is simply one of a number of different spheres of conception about how the world works (including, say, economics, history, or sociology). However, morality is often the only sphere that people can afford to use to make judgments about this or that policy or social puzzle. This is because the training that is required to understand more complex topics like economics or sociology is expensive (“time”) and hard to come by. So, for example, there are a number of explanations for why foreign aid to Somalia is bad. You can use historical explanations or sociological ones or economic arguments, but the first – and often only – line of reasoning used by most people is moral in nature. Thus:

Giving money to poor countries is morally wrong.

Not exactly a game-winner, right? Look at what a jerk you are. Should we, as libertarians, be spending more time explaining to others why we think the way we do?

New issue of Econ Journal Watch is out

For those of you just tuning in to NOL, Fred is an editor for the journal, and Warren is its math reader.

Evolution, moral sentiments, and the welfare state: Many now maintain that multilevel selection created a sympathetic species with yearnings for social solidarity. Several evolutionary authors on the political left suggest that collectivist politics is an appropriate way to meet that yearning. Harrison Searles agrees on evolution and human nature, but faults them for neglecting Hayek’s charge of atavism: The modern polity and the ancestral band are worlds apart, rendering collectivist politics inappropriate and misguided. David Sloan Wilson, Robert Kadar, and Steve Roth respond, suggesting that new evolutionary paradigms promise to transcend old ideological categories.

Evidence of no problem, or a problem of no evidence? In 2009, Laura Langbein and Mark Yost published an empirical study of the relationship between same-sex marriage and social outcomes. Here Douglas Allen and Joseph Price replicate their investigation, insisting that conceptual problems and a lack of empirical power undermine any claim of evidence on outcomes. Langbein and Yost reply.

The progress of replication in economics: Maren Duvendack, Richard W. Palmer-Jones, and W. Robert Reed investigate all Web of Science-indexed economics journals with regard to matters concerning replication of research, including provision of the data and code necessary to make articles replicable and editorial openness to publishing replication studies. They explain the value of replication as well as the challenges, describe its history in economics, and report the results of their investigation, which included corresponding with journal editors.

A Beginner’s Guide to Esoteric Reading: Arthur Melzer describes techniques and devices used in esoteric writing.

Symposium:
Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country (Part I): Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to professional economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.

Chris Berg: Classical Liberalism in Australian Economics

Fernando Hernández Fradejas: Liberal Economics in Spain

Mateusz Machaj: Liberal Economics in Poland

Patrick Mardini: The Endangered Classical Liberal Tradition in Lebanon: A General Description and Survey Results

Miroslav Prokopijević and Slaviša Tasić: Classical Liberal Economics in the Ex-Yugoslav Nations

Josef Šíma and Tomáš Nikodým: Classical Liberalism in the Czech Republic

All the links are pdfs. The website is here.

Look at what just arrived in my hands

Van de Haar's "Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology"
Van de Haar’s “Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology”

It’s Dr van de Haar’s newest book, straight from the Netherlands. You can pick up your own copy here (mine was a gift from Dr V, one of the many perks of being an annoying blog editor!). He’s got more books that you can find either on his ‘About…’ page here at NOL or on the sidebar. Thanks Dr van de Haar!

I know Dr Khawaja (of Policy of Truth infamy) was thinking of getting this book reviewed for Reason Papers, too. I don’t have the training in political philosophy to do the job, but I can say, just by reading through the first couple of pages in his introduction, that I could have benefited immensely from this book if I had been introduced to it in Political Science 101.

Aside from the introduction, I also briefly read through Edwin’s section near the back of the book (pgs. 120-126) titled ‘The Neoliberal Phantom’, and believe that it would be very useful for liberals of all stripes when confronted with poorly constructed anti-liberal arguments (the geographer – NOT anthropologist – David Harvey, for example, gets the full Dutch treatment from Dr van de Haar). It should be noted that this section is probably (again, I don’t have any training in this area) a little less useful for academics confronting more sophisticated attacks against liberalism, but it’s a very good primer for intense undergraduates and graduate students who have to deal with the relentless, poorly reasoned attacks on liberalism in their studies and at seminars.

When I read the whole thing I’ll be sure to post a review here at the blog. If I get word of somebody who wants to review Dr van de Haar’s book for Reason Papers (check out what’s on tap right now, by the way), I’ll try to post the good news here, too.

Around the Web

  1. Olivier Roy on Laicite as Ideology, the Myth of ‘National Identity’ and Racism in the French Republic
  2. Prague ’68 and the End of Time
  3. How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies
  4. The Swamping that Wasn’t: The Diaspora Dynamics of the Puerto Rican Open Borders Experiment
  5. A Voice Still Heard: Irving Howe
  6. Borders and Bobbing Heads: Postcoloniality and Algeria’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence (so close, and yet so far…)
  7. The New Yorker on the recent scientific fraud, with its epicenter at my alma mater. (Delacroix remains startlingly relevant because of it.)