Opportunity cost and psychology of war

Just a quick follow up on my recent article on shifting narratives for war legitimacy.  I’ll try to make this the last one on the war for a while. 

There was a letter to the editor in the Fin Review on 19/1/07 by Barclay O’Brien that I have summarised as:

  • It is the war that was based on lies, started illegally, conducted poorly, and explained posthumously.
  • It is the war that has divided allies, sacrificed Western values (rule of law, treatment of prisoners, civil liberties), incited more terrorists and worsened life for the Iraqis.  
  • It is a war that will continue to foster regional instability, distract governments from other crucial problems (Palestine, etc), and misdirect resources. 

The misdirect resources issue was taken up by John Quiggin the other day.  As an economist, he talked about the opportunity cost foregone as a result of the war and in effect asked the question “how else could we have made human lives better and longer with a trillion dollars?”   Governments generally ask that question of their funding buckets but not necessarily in terms of war. 

He also notes the psychology behind the current narrative of “staying the course” in terms of win/lose with the psychological acceptance of a high probability of greater losses in return for a small probability of winning or breaking even.  Typical problem gambling situation it seems.  And of course as with many situations in government, it requires the generation of a crisis (in this case the failure of a military intervention) in order for the cultural narrative to be broken down and for future approaches in similar situations to be transformed.


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