Saturday, September 03, 2005

Responding rationally to crisis

This is something of a spin-off of a conversation that began when The Renegade of Junk brought up a point about the disproportionate amount of resources we've been willing to commit as a nation towards fighting terrorism.
It has always been puzzling to me, the huge difference between the resources a country will allocate to it's military spending, as opposed to everything else. Why is it that a foreign threat to a country is deemed deadlier than a threat from other more home-grown factors like poverty, environmental catastrophes, pollution or lack of basic health care? Take for instance 9/11, which resulted in the abrupt focus of American energies into the terrorist threat. It resulted in a war in Afghanistan, which was probably justified in that it was actually aimed at a regime directly responsible for the attacks. Then, we had the Iraq war, wholly unjustified, but feeding on that same focussed anti-terrorism energy, which had a tremendous cost monetarily as well as in terms of American and Iraqi lives.
In the comments there I provided a link to this article from the Skeptical Inquirer (from the Sept/Oct 2002 issue) which called for rational thinking rather than emotional as a response to terrorism. Renegade of Junk quoted the conclusion, so it seems fitting that I should focus on a point in the introduction. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Human beings might be expected to value each life, and each death, equally. We each face numerous hazards-war, disease, homicide, accidents, natural disasters-before succumbing to "natural" death. Some premature deaths shock us far more than others. Contrasting with the 2,800 fatalities in the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001 (9/11), we barely remember the 20,000 Indian earthquake victims earlier in 2001. Here, we argue that the disproportionate reaction to 9/11 was as damaging as the direct destruction of lives and property. Americans can mitigate future terrorism by learning to respond more objectively to future malicious acts. We do not question the visceral fears and responsible precautions taken during the hours and days following 9/11, when there might have been even worse attacks. But, as the first anniversary of 9/11 approaches, our nation's priorities remain radically torqued toward homeland defense and fighting terrorism at the expense of objectively greater societal needs.
Now, to further bring this into context, one might remember that I had mentioned in my argument against the invasion of Iraq that we were "diverting a significant amount of our resources to fighting in a country that previous to the invasion did not host terrorists, nor did it have weapons of mass destruction," and, more specifically, that "the war has cost 200 billion, with a projected cost of 600 billion ... yet we are operating at a budget deficit of 330 billion with a ten year projected deficit running anywhere from 1-2 trillion."

In the course of the original e-mail conversation that sparked that post I had said to my friends that I believed that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had left us with less capacity to deal with domestic threats (a point which was dismissed prima facie as absurd.) My response to this was:
The point I made was that diverting resources into Iraq, leaves us less capable of diverting resources into other measures. Can we do it? I suppose so, but we do it by cutting the budgeting of domestic programs and operating at a large budget deficit. As the ideological push to establish Pax Americana increases, so does military spending while other government programs suffer. Being concerned with this has nothing to do with being a "liberal," remember, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address that one of the gravest threats to American democracy was the rise of the military-industrial complex.
Now consider that the estimated damage Katrina has done to New Orleans ranges as high as $100 billion. Costs in terms of human lives, rebuilding, environmental clean-up, and economic consequences will, I'm guessing, end up being far far higher than that, yet a $14 billion 30 year plan was developed to protect Louisianna from hurricanes, of which only $2 billion was granted, with it being questionable how much of that actually went into the project.

See the point developing? $14 billion in prevention versus $100 billion plus in curing. And where is that money going to come from? How much of a strain will this put on our economy? What other programs will have to be cut to pay for all this? (presuming our government stays the course in its current philosophy of spending and not taxing.)


John Lombard said...

I wish all Libertarians were like you.

Anonymous said...

Our health care crisis truly is unfortunate and I hope something may be done to improve situations for all.