From the Comments: Greece, the Euro zone, and Russian prowess

Dr Amburgey writes:

I just returned yesterday from a week in Athens for an academic conference. There seemed to be a big socio-economic divide in voting intentions. The unemployed and menial workers were definite No votes. The Yes votes were physicians and a few academics. Personally I think they should bag the euro and go back to the drachma.

Brandon: how long do you think it will be before Putin is making deals in Athens? Might be nice to have a friend in the EU when sanctions come up again. Port privileges for the Russian navy would be very conveniently located as well.

Jacques has a good, thoughtful response (“Leaving the Euro zone does not require leaving the European Union”) that I wholeheartedly agree with (and that I’ve blogged about here and here), and it appears Dr Amburgey is in agreement with us (though does he think Greece should stay in the EU?). Contra Dr Foldvary, I do not think there is any need for Greece to leave the EU. If anything, the EU should be adding more states, though not expanding its geographic space.

Regarding Russia, I simply don’t know. Russia – along with Turkey, Iran, and China – is a society that is very hard to understand let alone predict (I would add India/Pakistan to this list, but the states of the Indian subcontinent are traditional post-colonial states and are therefore much easier to predict; the other four were never conquered or carved up by imperial cartographers). The whole Crimea debacle still has me smarting. Nevertheless I’ll add my thoughts to the conversation.

I don’t think Athens will grow closer to Moscow. There are two major reasons:

  1. Greece fears Russia, which is why Athens has remained in NATO for so long.
  2. Most Greeks – even the ‘No’ voters in this recent referendum – don’t want to leave the EU; Greeks overwhelmingly want to be a part of ‘Europe’.

There are couple of minor reasons, too, though I don’t know how minor they are. 1) Greece is not Ukraine. 2) Russia’s economy is in shambles. Greeks have a higher standard of living than do Russians.

On the flip side, the Greeks are always thinking about the Turks. If an opportunity presents itself (though I cannot think of any arising), Athens may start to edge closer to Russia (a traditional enemy of Turkey) if it thinks Ankara is getting antsy about its former province. This is pretty extreme, though. Also, Russia’s economy may be in shambles, but it seems like Moscow always has plenty of money for military expenditures, and rent stemming from a Russian port in the Mediterranean Sea might be too tasty to resist for a country saddled with so much debt.

At this point I don’t think Greece has much clout in European politics, so I don’t see Moscow viewing Athens as a reliable friend in Brussels.

Around the Web: Greece Edition

  1. Tyler Cowen has been owning this debate.
  2. Unfortunately, Greek citizens have been too fed up with the rest of the world to listen.
  3. (Perhaps libertarians and their arguments were just late to the party.)
  4. This is still the best concise sociological analysis of Greece and the EU I’ve come across.

It’s worth noting here that the overwhelming majority of ‘No’ voters – the ones who just rejected the EU after their elected, far Left leader walked out of talks days before said talks were scheduled to end – don’t want to leave the EU. Confused? See the Cowen link.

Matthew and I had a dialogue on Greece awhile back here at NOL that might be of interest.

From the Comments: Intervention, Blowback, and Bad Faith

I find the debate they’re having somewhat confused. Your response to Kling is on the right track, but I would question the terms of the debate from the outset.

The relevant question is whether US intervention produces armed resistance, and whether that resistance counts as blowback. It does, on both counts. Whether that resistance/blowback counts as “terrorism” by some narrow definition is really beside the point. And whether the resistance is morally justified is yet another issue altogether.

Kling mentions US intervention in Latin America and claims that there’s been no “terrorism” in response. How would he characterize the Cuban-Soviet precipitation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a response to the Bay of Pigs invasion? Soviet positioning of nuclear weapons system was meant to strike fear in us (and did). “Fear” is a synonym for “terror.” The Cuban-Soviet policy was a response to our intervention. That’s blowback.

Re Asia, you’re right to adduce the Saigon counterexample you come up with, but that understates the relevant point. The relevant point is that the whole Tet Offensive was blowback for our intervention! The NVA and Vietcong may not have attacked the mainland of the US, but they killed more Americans than Al Qaida did, so again, I don’t see the point of a narrow fixation on a particular tactic, terrorism.

While we’re at it, why not try US intervention in…the US? Think Wounded Knee 1973 and generally, the armed confrontations between the American Indian Movement and the FBI in the mid 1970s (which most Americans regarded as terrorism on the part of the Indians). AIM regarded Indian reservations as occupied land and acted in kind. That was blowback for our Indian policy.

This is not to deny that terrorism can arise from causes unrelated to blowback or perceived blowback. Nor is it to deny that Islamist terrorism may have distinctive features. But it’s very misleading to suggest that Middle Eastern terrorism is sui generis, and confusing to distinguish “Middle East” and “Asia,” as you correctly point out in your post.

This is from Dr Khawaja (of Policy of Truth infamy). I found the dialogue somewhat confusing, too. I think the fact that economists, who are used to thinking in terms of costs and benefits, were stepping outside of their comfort zones (something I wish more of them would do, by the way) goes a long way towards explaining why there is so much confusion.

Yet I also think that there is much to learn from narrowing the terms of the debate. Kling wants to talk about “terror” rather than “armed resistance,” and I think it’s good to meet him on his own terms. This way it is easier to knock down ignorant arguments for all to see. Dr Khawaja broke down a complex misunderstanding (or simply Kling’s bad faith) in a straightforward manner, but sometimes I find that arguing on Mr Bad Faith’s own terms  – knowing full well that his argument is being made in bad faith – leads to useful outcomes. Jacques, for example, has become noticeably less hawkish since he first tried to pick on me. He has not necessarily become more dovish mind you, but he has become much more cautious about promoting US militarism abroad.

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.

From the Comments: Types of Federalisms, Good and Bad

Adrián‘s response to responses by me and Michelangelo on his initial response to a comment by Michelangelo that I highlighted in a post of mine (whew!) deserves a closer look:

Guys, thanks for your comments, and apologies for the delay in responding!

1. I share your love for idle speculation. I’d say my fundamental difference with you lies elsewhere: you grew up/are very familiar with a country where federalism has worked pretty well (with notable exceptions, such as slavery and the Jim Crow laws), while I came from another where federal institutions are full of perverse incentives. So, whenever somebody proposes a federal arrangement, I immediately perceive the costs, while you’re more open to the potential benefits.

2. That said, I think an useful way for thinking about federal structures is to analyze the incentives faced by subnational governments. (a) Some subnational governments are accountable to domestic audiences, and thus they seek a federal structure where subnational governments retain considerable autonomy, including autonomy over taxation. This is the kind of federation that fosters tax competition and experimentation, with the US and the EU as good examples. (b) In other contexts, subnational governments are not fully accountable to domestic audiences (even with elections) and thus they devise federal institutions as mechanisms for extracting and distributing rents among themselves, and they use these rents to perpetuate themselves in power. Rather than keeping authority over taxation, they purposefully delegate their tax authority in the federal government to collect taxes for themselves. In other words, the federal government acts as a enforcer of a cartel: it establishes the same tax rate everywhere, collects the money, and distributes it between the states according to some highly politicized formula. This is the kind of federalism that predominates in Latin America: Argentina, Mexico, and to a lesser extent Brazil.

In sum, my point is that creating a federation among governments that are not responsive to voters will lead to the second type of federation. I don’t see the Middle East creating a fully functional federal system unless governments in the region become fully responsive to voters, which will require much more than competitive elections.

3. Michelangelo: I agree with 95% of what you say about Turkey and Israel, especially the EU part, and I obviously believe that it is a good thing these countries trade more and develop better relationship with each other. That said, the main reason why I don’t see these countries forming a federation is a more fundamental one: (a) that neither Turkish nor Israeli politicians have anything to win by creating a federal arrangement, and (b) given Turkey’s enormous size with respect to Israel, this problem is especially important from the Israeli point of view.

There is more on federalism at NOL here. Check out Adrián’s posts here, and Michelangelo’s are here.

From the Comments: The Suprastate and the Substate

My post on American Senator Rand Paul’s recent remarks on Kurdistan elicited the following response from fellow Notewriter Michelangelo:

If a neo-Ottoman federation arises I suspect it will begin as a political alliance between Turkey and Israel. Perhaps such a federation will arise from the Mediterranean Union, who can know really. The two countries are already relatively close in interests and are, alongside a few of the Gulf States, the closest things the region has to secular liberal powers. The Turks at this time would not favor an independent Kurdistan though and I fear they might withdraw support for a federation if that was part of the package.

I think it would be easier to first form an Ottoman federation and afterward grant Kurds their independence within the federation.

It is hard for me to imagine the Arabs joining said federation either way. The Egyptian-Syrian Arab republic went nowhere. Part of me (an infinitely small part!) kind of hopes ISIS manages to defeat the Iraqi and Syrian forces and creates the core of a Pan-Arab nation.

I’ll let him have the last word here (be sure to scroll though the entire dialogue), but I just want to take this opportunity to stress the importance of thinking about the world in terms we might not be used to. The standard unit of measurement – for lack of a better term – for thinking about international affairs is the nation-state, but this way of thinking about the world has, like all devices humans use to make sense of their world, weaknesses as well as strengths. To my mind, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected thanks to liberalization, the nation-state becomes less and less useful as a tool for understanding human action.

What Michelangelo is doing here is thinking ahead of the curve; he is applying the notions of suprastate and substate to international affairs. A suprastate is an organization or union that is composed of various nation-states, such as the ones Michelangelo uses in his argument (i.e. “Mediterranean Union”). A substate is a region within a nation-state, such as Kurdistan or Scotland or Somaliland.

Often, especially in debates here at NOL, the notions of suprastate and substate are used in conjunction with the developing, or post-colonial, regions of the world. This doesn’t mean these notions can’t be applied to places like the United States or Argentina. Indeed, the US itself was created as a supranational union in order to combat the strategies of the British, French, Spanish, and various Native nations. If you can entertain the notions of suprastate and substate when you think about human action, you will be that much closer to advocating clearly for the free and open society (see this piece on the informal economy by Dr Gibson, for example).