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A while back I wondered what Chris Coyne would say in response to Daron Acemoglu’s paper showing institutional improvement in areas the French Revolution spread to. Oddly enough, I found Yglesias citing the Austrian-anarchist’s essay on recent books from the more left-anarchist’s James Scott and applying those ideas to modern counter-insurgency. His paper (with Adam Pellillo, who I’ve never heard of before) has a footnote referencing Acemoglu’s paper. Since it’s short, I’ll just quote the whole thing here:
In a recent article, Acemoglu et al. (2009) argue against this position. They contend that the impact of the French Revolution on European institutions proves that good institutions can be imposed from outside. Specifically, after 1792, French forces invaded numerous countries and imposed a civil code while abolishing guilds and the remnants of feudalism. They argue that the countries invaded performed better economically than those that didn’t. This, however, misses the point. The use of the guillotine is a means of raising the cost of enforcement. Demand curves do indeed slope downward and if you raise the cost of certain behaviors high enough people will respond. Stated simply, if the gun is big enough outsiders can get insiders to behave differently. Putting aside the issue of ethics, this is an extremely costly means of changing behaviors.

So I guess Coyne would agree with Daniel Klein that drug prohibition reduces drug use and gun laws reduce gun possession.

Steve has been on a tear recently about the “deep state” in Pakistan. So when reading more of Chris Coyne’s “After War”, it occurred to me that bits of it illuminate who has influence within our own government.
“Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as other key members of the Bush administration, initially favored the quick transfer of power to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi. In contrast, the CIA voiced their support for Ayad Allawi, a Baath Party defector in the 1970s. Finally, some in the State Department favored Adnan Pachachi, another Iraqi exile, as the next leader of Iraq.”
So what happens when we roll the tape? Chalabi was interim oil minister for a couple of months and deputy prime minister for a year. Allawi was president of the governing council for a month, and for a year was the first prime minister of the new Iraqi government. I had never heard of Pachachi, he apparently refused the position of president when a U.N envoy nominated him and became the oldest man in the Iraqi parliament. So it looks like the CIA is the most powerful of these factions. It has also been said that CIA opposition was important in blunting the later push for war with Iran, but I don’t put as much weight on that for now. Greenwald headlined Petraeus’ move to CIA and Panetta’s move to DOD as “A more militarized CIA for a more militarized America“, but maybe it’s wrong to think of the CIA as helpless victim of DOD colonization (recall also that outgoing DOD secretary Robert Gates is ex-CIA). On a contrary note, Coyne quotes Robert Dreyfuss saying about the run-up to the Iraq war “The war over intelligence is a critical part of a broader offensive by … the Bush administration against virtually the entire expert Middle East establishment in the United States – including State Department, Pentagon and CIA area specialists and leading military officers.”

I was disappointed in the section on Halliburton. Coyne details that among major Iraq contractors, they received the most money (almost 11 million, with the runner-up getting a bit over 5) despite being middling in terms of campaign contributions (2.4 million over 12 years, while two others gave over 3 and two gave just over 1). He then notes that in the three election cycles prior to Cheney joining Halliburton in 1993, their total campaign contributions were 740K. In the next three they spent 1.6 million and received 2.3 billion in contracts. What’s the obvious piece of data that could have been presented but was left out? The contracts they received in the three prior election cycles under a different head.

I got Christopher Coyne’s “After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy” (previous mentions on this blog) a while back, but put it aside for more interesting stuff. I bookmarked a passage a while back to write about, but before I get to that I’ll give my overall impression. It’s a thin book, both literally and figuratively. The era of exporting democracy is fairly short (“exporting civilization” is eternal) and his analysis seems aimed at people who wouldn’t normally read academic publications anyway. The book presumes readers have not heard of game theory, and so far all its focus is on the prisoner’s dilemma. There’s also an explanation of the concept of public choice, but that also seems very basic. His main point seems to be that exporting democracy via military occupation can easily go wrong and often does. There’s lots of listing of ways in which problems can occur, but no fine-grained analysis of how prevalent or harmful particular problems are. I’m still interested in what he thinks of this.

Onto the bookmarked passage. I’ll append endnotes at the bottom, replacing cites with the complete titles from the bibliography:
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James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” is perhaps the best introduction to a sub-genre of books on how the best laid plans can founder. Jane Jacobs had earlier applied that sort of analysis to city planning, William Easterly does to international development and Chris Coyne does to reconstruction & occupation following war. Robin Hanson ought to apply his “near/far” theory to those ideas some day. The introductory example Scott uses is Prussian forestry, so it only makes sense that there should be an example specifically dealing with forest management*. Someone commenting on one of Arnold Kling’s half-formed arguments/metaphors**/dichotomies mentioned Alston Chases Playing God in Yellowstone, which gets a rather favorable review (despite its bashing of the environmental movement) from IndyBay here. The reviewer states that part of his argument is a critique of a “hands off” approach involving “natural regulation” but his own recommendations aren’t that different in general approach (maybe “be more pragmatic and use good science”?), so it might be hard to slot him in as a Hayekian/Polanyian***.

*Randal “The Antiplanner” O’Toole is actually has his degree in forest management. But he seems to devote most of his time these days discussing roads & rails. And he’s not a fan of Jane Jacobs. I told him some day I’d send a copy of Donald Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” to review.
**Karl Smith complicates the ranger/curator dichotomy with is metaphor of the arborist, though he could have simply pointed out that the actual curators seem to do a decent enough job in managing a pleasing park. He earlier tried to add nuance to Kling’s hydraulic macro economist type with a hydrodynamic metaphor.
***I actually read “The Great Transformation” months ago, procrastinated and ran out of library renewals while writing a review around the time I moved to Chicago. I do plan on eventually finishing & posting it.

A little while back I cited “The Horse, the Wheel and Language” on the attractiveness to some of a less egalitarian social structure. Mancur Olson has a similar story in “The Rise and Decline of Nations”: “Though multigenerational distributional coalitions foster inefficiency, inequality, and group prejudice, it is nonetheless important to realize that some individuals and groups outside the society containing these coalitions may improve their positions by joining that society, even if they enter at the bottom. Tribes without settled agriculture, for example, might in some circumstances have found that they would be better off joining Indian society than by staying out of sit, even though they were accorded the lowest status and were victims of special-interest groups to boot. There have been many observations of such assimilation of tribal groups into India’s caste system, and they must help to account for its great diversity.”

This narrative contrasts with that of writers who view truly primitive life as preferable (judged by per capita standard of living) to most agricultural lifestyles. Examples of that perspective are Jared Diamond and James Scott. The latter has even discussed how such cultures are marked by their nomadic resistance to being assimilated into settled agricultural states.

Patri Friedman’s fondness of this book may explain why he is more partial to “resets“, while from my more Burkean perspective the idea reeks of disaster. To argue from my perspective, Mancur’s perspective seems dated in the 70s as America & Great Britain have made France & Germany look like laggards again, and Australia is also doing much better than he would have expected. The continued success of post-Deng China does support his theory, but it still seems to me largely the result of catch-up growth. A final counter-argument against that is How imposed institutional reforms can work: Lessons from the French Revolution. I’d like to hear Christopher Coyne comment on that.

I had thought I’d have to purchase Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable, but found that it’s freely available online. I wonder if Block would defend IP piracy? I read it in pretty much one sitting and liked it (it even has funny one-panel comic strips). My objections are to the sections on the non-government counterfeiter and the litterer on public property. Sure, we can object to the government intervention that forms the background for their acts. However, given that background their acts harm others and so they are not heroes. Some months ago I got Herodutus’ Histories but left it at home while I was at school. It’s pretty good and I just finished book seven. Given the frequent references to Thucydides in the notes and its current spotlight at Voxiversity, I am considering reading up on the Pelloponnesian war after the Persian ones. Meanwhile I’ve been at part four of Der Staat for some time now and after I finish that I’ve sworn to read Public Opinion. I think part of the problem is that as long as I’m on the computer reading these I’m too tempted to read other stuff online. Any further suggestions are welcome.
UPDATE: I’ve been inspired by my own lament to finish the rest of Oppenheimer. As it progressed it began to resemble Jouvenel, but viewed from a different angle. The conclusion was disappointingly optimistic, or “Whig” as MM is putting it now. It predicted that from the constitutional/capitalist state the forces of the economic means would eventually win their long struggle with the political means and so society would evolve to statelessness. He explicitly rejects the Marxist or “proletarian”/”anarchistic” theory of revolution, which would violently destroy much of society including the beneficial stuff like division of labor. In that respect he seems to resemble Herbert Spencer, who was inspired by biological evolution (though Lamarckian rather than Darwinian), though he cites the “pre-Manchester liberals” Adam Smith and Quesnay on that point instead. Spencer only gets a nod for scoffing at racial theories. I recommend reading it together with the contrastingly pessimistic On Power.
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In the latest EconTalk, Russ Roberts interviews Chris Coyne about his book After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy. Along with the few relative successes like post-WW2 Germany and Japan, it goes over numerous failures and explains why best laid plans went awry (a paper of his taking a public-choice perspective on the bureaucracies of reconstruction can be found here). Chris is a contributor to the Austrian Economists blog and Russ manages Cafe Hayek with Don Boudreaux. A list of foreign interventions by the United States starting with Wounded Knee and ending in 2001 from ZMag is here.

Steve Sailer points out Stanley Kurtz’s “I and My Brother against My Cousin” in NRO on the importance of tribalism in the Middle East, as opposed to Islam. It has plenty of bashing of post-modernist/post-colonialist and Marxist academics as well. Steve previously highlighted Stanley’s anthropological perspective on the Middle East here and here. I’m sure this will lead to another complaint from Lawrence Auster on “non-Islamic theories of islamic extremism”, a complaint I don’t think much of for reasons explained here. The classic article on the distinction between old tribal codes and the orthodox tenets of Islam is Pushtunwali: Honor Among Them.

I just learned from this post at The Daily Burkeman1 that the cause of the recent trouble at TakiMag was Prozium (UPDATE: Prozium states that he had already left Taki’s before the trouble started and Alex Linder from VNN was responsible). I’ve come to have a low opinion of the average commenter on the internet (at least for relatively large/popular sites like TakiMag) and so registration seems like a reasonable solution to the problem. I haven’t had any problems here with my few readers and for the moment intend to let people post whatever they want as long as it isn’t spam. Savrola at TDB1 has plenty of mockery for the Zmiraks of the world (and Kevin Carson) that seems to blend into a cynical take on the paleo movement more generally (although displaying anything but pessimism about the prospects of conservatism might be grounds for expulsion from paleoland). Prozium is strangely optimistic, as he believes that paleos will ultimately achieve their goals despite their utter failure to accomplish anything themselves. Plenty of other reactions elsewhere. On a somewhat related note, James Poulos claims that deconstructionism is more a threat to postmodern bourgeois liberalism than postmodern conservatism in a post that reminds why I generally don’t bother reading postmodernism of any sort.

Lawrence Auster’s “View From the Right” does not have a functioning comments feature. You have to send him an e-mail. Maybe he’ll post it and maybe he won’t. Recently I sent him a few comments which fell into the latter category, so I figure I’ll put them here. (more…)

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