Tortured Logic: What Is It Good For?
a population of nearly 140 million people in an area roughly the
size of Wisconsin, if there is a nation on earth to which the term
"over-populated" applies, it is surely Bangladesh. Now, if the majority
of those people were highly productive, Bangladesh might be prosperous,
much like the densely populated cities of Singapore and Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. The average life expectancy
is only 55 years, the literacy rate is only 36%, and per capita
GDP is $1290.
a case could be made that the average Bangladeshi would be better
off if there were fewer people in the country, especially if those
remaining were the better-educated and more productive citizens.
There would be more acres of farmland per person, diseases would
spread less rapidly, educational resources could be applied more
intensively, and the productive would not have to support the unproductive.
let's roll! Here's what I propose: We infect the population of Bangladesh
with a deadly but curable disease. (Surely the US military has one
in stock that fits the bill.) Then, we sell but only to individual
Bangladeshis, not to the government the antidote at a price that
we estimate perhaps 50% of the population can afford. The other
half will be killed off. Not pretty for those who will die, to be
sure. But actually my plan is quite moral, since those remaining
will find they are better off. In time, they will come to see America
as their benefactor, and will thank us for delivering them from
my plan sound monstrously evil? Does it seem to you that I've gone
off the deep end? Well, it's entirely reasonable to our War Party,
since the "logic" of my plan is identical to one of its common arguments
for attacking Iraq. For instance, writing recently in National
Review Online, Jonah Goldberg asks, "War:
What Is It Good For?" He answers his question, "Quite a lot
actually." He closes his article by pointing out the morality of
his position: "The biggest favor the United States ever did to militaristic
Japan was to crush it militarily. Our victory ushered in prosperity,
democracy, and a productive peace. The Iraqi people would be lucky
if we did them the same favor."
logic of the War Party argument is the same as I outlined above
for Bangladesh. It is fine to kill whatever number of people in
an area one deems necessary, as long as afterwards, in one's own
judgment, the people who are left alive are "better off." Hey, we
have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right?
course, one never asks the people in the area if they are willing
to make the tradeoff. After all, we're doing them a "favor" by killing
large numbers of their countrymen. Especially, one doesn't ask the
people who are "lucky" enough to be the ones who get killed. Nor
does one ask their grieving relatives and friends. So, there will
be a few orphans left around who watched their parents ripped to
shreds by a bomb. So, a certain number of parents will lose their
children, a few lovers their beloved, some brothers their sister.
As long as they have a higher GDP once the destruction is over,
they'd have to be some sort of selfish crybabies to protest.
moral abyss from which this argument emerges is demonstrated by
the following simple fact: If the Iraqi people themselves were willing
to suffer a few hundred thousand deaths to be rid of Saddam Hussein,
he would be gone already. Therefore, it is clear that, in
the Iraqi people's own judgment, living under Hussein is preferable
to the chance of death present in attempting to overthrow him. What
the people forwarding the "better off" argument are claiming is
that, from their empyrean perches safely atop the New World Order,
they are better able to judge what the Iraqi people should and shouldn't
value than are the Iraqis. To bring about an order they judge to
be preferable, they are willing to kill as many Iraqis as necessary.
war fever of the neoconservatives rests on the same impulses that
drove the socialist utopians of the twentieth century. It is an
inability to tolerate the fact that the world is not arranged exactly
as one would like it to be, and that other people may have plans
and value judgments different than one's own. Ludwig von Mises captured
their spirit forty years ago:
driven by the dictatorial complex. They want to deal with their
fellow men in the way an engineer deals with the materials out
of which he builds houses, bridges, and machines. They want to
substitute "social engineering" for the actions of their fellow
citizens and their own unique all-comprehensive plan for the plans
of all other people.
2002 Gene Callahan
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives