The quote doctors

by John Quiggin on October 6, 2012

In the interests of inter-blog peace, I’ve decided to take this post down. As with war in general, the costs of interblog war typically outweigh the benefits.

{ 52 comments }

1

Matt 10.06.12 at 1:47 am

Just to be clear, this isn’t my only objection to Farley’s post. But it’s sufficient for me to treat the whole thing as an exercise in bad faith.

I don’t think that’s fair at all, John. You were shown, repeatedly, to be quite wrong on this, and though you’ve partly accepted it, you should just full accept that you’ve made a mess of it. Even in this quote, it is, at least, pretty unclear what you mean, especially as you elsewhere show that you didn’t know or understand the roles of the US navy in lots of conflicts. Pretty much everyone here agrees with you that too much is spent on navies, in particular in the US. But pretty much everything else you’ve said has been, at least, a very significant stretch, if not shown to be ought-right wrong. Rob is a good and honest guy who, unlike you, happens to be an expert on navel power. (I don’t think that of everyone there- there is one person on that blog is who is a self-aggrandizing fool, but it’s not Rob.) It’s time to just step back and note that you’ve botched up an attempt to make a good point in a pretty serious way, in part by getting into something that you had, at the very best, a wikipedia level knowledge of.

2

D 10.06.12 at 1:53 am

I’m honestly not sure what the problem is here. How does the first sentence change the substance of the excerpt or his critique of it? His point is that the rate of “shots fired in anger” is not a good measure of naval utility. And doesn’t the phrase “what is true of the US” imply that the statement is meant to encompass the US?

3

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 1:56 am

@Matt This response is pretty much what I expected. To repeat myself, even if the full quote was unclear (which I deny) there’s no justification for editing in a way that gives it a totally different meaning to the one I intended, and repeatedly stated in comments. Relative expertise has nothing to do with the ethics of quotation.

4

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 1:59 am

@D My objection is not to the critique presented in the post, but to the comments by Farley and others snarking about the fact that the US Navy has fired plenty of shots.

5

Matt 10.06.12 at 2:06 am

even if the full quote was unclear (which I deny) there’s no justification for editing in a way that gives it a totally different meaning to the one I intended, and repeatedly stated in comments.

Given what you said elsewhere in the original post, John, I think that the interpretation people put on it was perfectly reasonable. You stated that the US navy had done “hardly any fighting”. That was shown to be pretty clearly wrong- it’s only true in the same sense that any branch of the US military had done “hardly any fighting”. given that, I don’t think it changed your meaning at all to leave it out. Really, you were just completely wrong on all the details here, and you should accept it. The idea that Farley was “acting in bad faith” here is silly.

6

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 2:11 am

Again, if that’s true, why refuse to present the full quote, when I asked repeatedly for this to be done?

7

D 10.06.12 at 2:29 am

Because the omitted passage had no bearing on the point he was making in that particular part of the main piece. It’s a bit strong to call someone “dishonest” because they won’t change an essay when some commenters stray from the specific arguements it is making, particularly when those comments aren’t that far from the spirit of your original post. it’s one thing to accuse readers of “A Modest Proposal” of missing hyperbole in the interest of intentional provocation, it’s another to accuse them of lying because they misquote the recipie.

8

Both Sides Do It 10.06.12 at 2:38 am

Put that first sentence in context, though. What is the thing that is true of the US Navy that is even more true of the navies of other countries?

According to Wikipedia, the Navy’s budget is around $150 billion a year. What does it deliver for that money? The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945, a period during which the other arms of its military have fought five major wars, and lots of smaller ones. The record in those wars, including an outright defeat in Vietnam, a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea, and highly equivocal outcomes in the two Iraq wars and Afghanistan casts plenty of doubt on the idea of that US military as a whole is a “high-performing agency”, and raises the question of why so much of the budget has been allocated to an armed force that does hardly any actual fighting . . . [stuff about threats and intimidation] . . . Still, it’s hard to see this expenditure as good value for money – a threat that is (almost) never carried out is not a particularly credible one.

The thing that is true of the US Navy that is even more true of other navies is that it “does not provide good value for money”, partly because it “does hardly any actual fighting”; the US doesn’t engage in “naval warfare”, while “the other arms of its military have fought five major wars, and lots of smaller ones.” Right?

Bringing up the actual fighting – and the best kind of fighting, lobbing big damn American explosions from afar – that the Navy does in response to this argument is entirely appropriate. For the same reason, bringing up the crucial logistical and tactical role the Navy plays while working in tandem with the other arms of the military to fight wars (which Farley et al also do) is entirely appropriate.

Arguments about whether cruise missiles etc. are counterproductive, not worth the cost, immoral, etc. are worthwhile and necessary. Arguments about whether the current cost and make-up of the Navy is efficient or appropriate for its logistical or tactical roles are worthwhile and necessary. But the argument in the original post wasn’t about those things. It pretty clearly overlooked a lot of what the US Navy does, both in the actual fighting it does itself and the fighting it allows other branches to do, and pointing that out seems entirely appropriate.

9

Thers 10.06.12 at 2:44 am

Beg pardon, but the comparison to “you didn’t build that” is quite a distance over the top, in degree and kind. At any rate there was a direct link to the original, something that the really malicious Internet quote doctors don’t provide.

10

Total 10.06.12 at 2:53 am

Oh, God, stop digging, please. You’ve put out the original post, the update, and now this. It went from being embarrassing to being cringe-inducing somewhere in the middle of that.

11

Jamie 10.06.12 at 3:10 am

John, please just stop. You are not doing yourself any favors.

12

JamesP 10.06.12 at 3:13 am

Oh, come on, this is just getting sad. The omitted portion did not significantly change the substance of your post – it barely shifted it. Trying to smear Farley like this after he’s taken you to town on your substance-less, ignorant post is really quite embarrassing for everyone. You started an argument about something you didn’t know about, you lost it, and rather than gratefully admit defeat and say, doing some reading on the topic, you’re digging in for no particularly good reason other than pride.

13

brandon 10.06.12 at 3:21 am

You are continuing a blog fight on a Friday night. Think about what this means for just a second. Then you must chill. Step away from the computer. Chill. There is alcohol, food, other video devices. See those things? Now chill.

14

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 3:26 am

Actually, it’s Saturday afternoon in Australia. But I’m going to chill now.

15

ponce 10.06.12 at 6:40 am

“John, please just stop. You are not doing yourself any favors.”

How typical that supporters of the U.S. military are claiming a victory that they didn’t win.

Mission Accomplished boys!

16

bad Jim 10.06.12 at 6:41 am

Since this discussion has gone rather meta, I’ll mention a couple of things that seemed a trifle tangential to begin with. During the preparations for the first Gulf War in 1991, the factory where I worked had a view of El Toro Marine Air Station, where we could watch helicopters being packed up for loading into C5 transporters. Those things open up at both ends so you can see straight through them.

The point is that even the Navy’s Army’s Air Force used planes rather than ships to move its materiel to the theater. The U.S. is quite capable of projecting force even without a navy.

Some of us watching these preparations were puzzled by the question of product liability for weapons. Is the manufacturer liable when munitions work or when they don’t? They threaten lives either way. Cost-effectiveness offers a similar conundrum if you count the cost of destruction as well as the cost of production. Given a high enough value on a life, nuclear weapons which are never used might turn out to be cheaper than assault weapons.

17

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 6:56 am

I’m chilling, but I was tempted to make the same point when one of the experts at LGM quoted the aphorism about professionals talking logistics, then said that the navy was needed to take troops to the war zones.

18

ponce 10.06.12 at 7:02 am

I wonder how many Americans knew their troops in Afghanistan are getting their supplies via a road through Russia?

http://rt.com/news/nato-transit-afghanistan-russia-565/

19

Nine 10.06.12 at 7:03 am

Matt @1 “Rob is a good and honest guy who, unlike you, happens to be an expert on navel power”

It’s been several hours since Matt posted this and still no snark on “navel power” ! I just can’t take the suspense …

20

Tim Worstall 10.06.12 at 9:37 am

“I wonder how many Americans knew their troops in Afghanistan are getting their supplies via a road through Russia?”

Not that I’m an American but yes, I did know that.

1) Navies aren’t all that useful at delivering to land locked countries.

2) I’ve a cousin loading the route in the North and a brother unloading it in Afghanistan.

21

robotslave 10.06.12 at 9:53 am

I find this post to be a rather poor admission of “I have made some wild and hilariously wrong assertions well outside my area of expertise.”

Amends can be made, of course, but they might have to begin with something like:

“I acknowledge the fact that military theory is in fact an academic discipline, with a history that extends a bit beyond my own induction into the professoriat, and which has, like every other area of academic inquiry into social matters, assimilated quite a lot of problematic post-structural criticism.”

“Also, for assuming that there are no serious people who both study war and understand fancy university ideas less than 60 year old, I deserve and pledge to wear a hat made out of arse until such time as people everywhere believe I have honestly and shamefacedly rejected my very, very stupid blabberings about things that quite a lot of rather well-trained academics have been studying for the better part of their lives.”

22

spyder 10.06.12 at 10:11 am

Just a quick question. Was the budget quote for the US Navy disaggregated, or was that an overall figure for the Department of the Navy? As some of you may know, the DoN oversees both the US Navy and the US Marine Corps: ships, planes, tanks, missles, supply chains, logistical routes, and of course the various special warfare groups.

23

Walt 10.06.12 at 11:17 am

John, I want to thank you for taking the post down. The LGM/CT blogfight of the past few weeks was making me want to quit reading both blogs. I appreciate you doing your part to lower the level of tension.

24

rea 10.06.12 at 11:46 am

It’s possible to keep troops supplied by air–up to a point. But it’s a lot more expensive than sea transport, and it isn’t real practical, for example, to move a fully-equipped armored division by air–the tanks and Bradleys have to be moved by sea.

25

John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 12:08 pm

@Walt

I wasn’t aware there even was a blogfight going on, or that the original post would press Rob Farley’s hot buttons. Had I known, I wouldn’t have posted it (at least not in the terms I did).

26

Chris Bertram 10.06.12 at 2:56 pm

John @25 Me neither. Since neither blog, afaics, has a party line, all that has happened is that some people at LGM have disagreed with Henry about something and one person at LGM has disagreed with you. Not a fight, war, or anything resembling.

27

Total 10.06.12 at 4:58 pm

The point is that even the Navy’s Army’s Air Force used planes rather than ships to move its materiel to the theater. The U.S. is quite capable of projecting force even without a navy.

STOP IT. This is becoming like a thread of vaccine deniers arguing about the doctors who are pooh-poohing them.

The US does not have planes large enough or in sufficient quantity to move its military forces around the work quickly and fully. During the 1991 Gulf War, the 82nd Airborne was taken out to Saudi Arabia by plane and it was to serve as “speed bump” for Iraqi forces until the American heavies could get there, by sea. Moving and supplying ground forces by air is expensive, slow, and hard to sustain.

28

Matt 10.06.12 at 5:05 pm

It’s been several hours since Matt posted this and still no snark on “navel power” !

I wish you hadn’t noticed that, as I now feel a strong compulsion to claim that I was trying to make a joke about the size of someone’s gut, and I’m just barely able to keep from doing that.

29

rickstersherpa 10.06.12 at 5:15 pm

I admire you and Steve Keen a lot. You are probably my favorite economists, long with Peter Dorman and Robert Waldman. However, you both seem to take criticism and challenges to your argument in a real personal way that is not productive. Instead of challenging Bob Farley’s good faith, you could have said “Bob, I think you missed my point. None of the alleged fighting that the U.S. Navy has done since WWII has been for the actual defense of the United States, but for its imperial adventures, and therefore was, and is, a colossal waste of blood and treasure.” Now, I might still have a nuanced disagreement with some of that statement, but there is certainly a huge amount of truth in it.

30

Walt 10.06.12 at 5:47 pm

Chris, who do you think you’re fooling? Everyone knows that CT is orthodox Marxist-Leninist, and LGM is orthodox Leninist-Marxist. (Why do you think the acronym is L(G)M?)

31

Salient 10.06.12 at 5:59 pm

the costs of interblog war typically outweigh the benefits.

I think this is false, but only because most interblog wars consist of posters trying to outdo one another in the sport of posting increasingly excruciating campy Youtube videos.

32

TM 10.06.12 at 8:12 pm

@32

33

scott 10.06.12 at 9:59 pm

I’ll just say this. It seems pretty clear to me that you were raising a legitimate point (hey, do we need to spend so much on navies) and maybe indulged a little hyperbole in framing it. He jumped on the hyperbole and steadily ignored the substantive point because CT and LGM had a pretty heated disagreement earlier. Underneath the pose of intellectual objectivity, Scott and Rob are quite sectarian and tribal in their passions, and not immune to pulling douche moves to underline whatever rhetorical points they’re trying to make. The completely OTT reaction to what seemed to me a pretty vanilla post about naval spending tells me that this isn’t about the post, and Rob himself admitted that he’ s still steamed about what he perceives to be your earlier stupidity (ie he disagreed with you). If you didn’t know that LGM isn’t about the search for truth but is about party lines and score settling, this kerfuffle should have clarified things for everyone wonderfully.

34

grackle 10.07.12 at 12:30 am

I heartily endorse scott@33’s sense of things. I have long known there is some mysterious attraction that blowing-things-up/acts-of-reciprocal-destruction have for some folks, who believe that such matters are very serious indeed. Nowhere at LGM did I see anyone willing to entertain the economic question which JQ was actually posing.

35

Atticus Dogsbody 10.07.12 at 1:02 am

Why do you think the acronym is L(G)M?

The “G” is for Gramsci.

36

John Quiggin 10.07.12 at 2:26 am

@rickstersherpa But I did say that (not exactly, but close enough) both in comments and in email to Rob, and got nowhere. It was only after getting no response, and lots of personal abuse, from him and his commenters, that I responded with an accusation of bad faith, and even then I took the post down after a few hours.

37

Total 10.07.12 at 2:32 am

I’ll just say this. It seems pretty clear to me that you were raising a legitimate point (hey, do we need to spend so much on navies) and maybe indulged a little hyperbole in framing it.

If by a “little hyperbole” you mean “got pretty much everything wrong,” then sure.

38

Bakunin 10.07.12 at 3:22 am

John Quiggin

Your contributions are mostly very admirable but with this effort you are in danger of becoming the Fonzie of the blogosphere. It’s time to gracefully concede.

39

js. 10.07.12 at 6:43 am

Since neither blog, afaics, has a party line

Though as scott says @34, they may have a little bit more of a party line. And frankly, the way the LGM folks reacted to Henry’s original post and Henry’s and dsquared’s follow ups about the lesser evil was pretty categorically different than how things played out at CT. (Just e.g.: I’m pretty sure that JQ more or less went with the lesser evil position in the comments, and with little trouble; nothing quite comparable at LGM[1])

And it’s fairly well impossible to deny that Farley’s first response was way unnecessarily belligerent.

fn. 1: I did really like djw’s post about the whole voting shit, but I don’t think it really established the conclusion he was going for. Still, good stuff.

40

John Quiggin 10.07.12 at 6:57 am

@js Yes, I was an LGM fellow traveller until a couple of days ago

41

Thers 10.07.12 at 7:18 am

Though as scott says @34, they may have a little bit more of a party line. And frankly, the way the LGM folks reacted to Henry’s original post and Henry’s and dsquared’s follow ups about the lesser evil was pretty categorically different than how things played out at CT.

It’s that Noon character what really fries my biscuits.

42

Barry 10.07.12 at 11:20 pm

BAd Jim: “The point is that even the Navy’s Army’s Air Force used planes rather than ships to move its materiel to the theater. The U.S. is quite capable of projecting force even without a navy.”

As said above, this is really bad. Start with ‘Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War’, written by the guy in charge of in-theater logistics for the US Army in the First Gulf War.

43

bad Jim 10.08.12 at 7:08 am

The point wasn’t that airlift was adequate, but that not having a navy wouldn’t keep the US out of making trouble wherever it wished.

44

ajay 10.08.12 at 8:47 am

Why do you think the acronym is L(G)M?
The “G” is for Gramsci.

Groucho, surely?

45

Barry 10.08.12 at 11:20 am

“The point wasn’t that airlift was adequate, but that not having a navy wouldn’t keep the US out of making trouble wherever it wished.”

In the sense of deploying large land forces, yes.

46

rm 10.08.12 at 12:55 pm

As with war in general, the costs of interblog war typically outweigh the benefits.

You are totally wrong about this! If you had read my scholarship on the history of interblog warfare, you would know that . . .

. . . just kidding.

47

PeterC 10.08.12 at 1:20 pm

Very difficult to become an instant expert on the relative merits of different configurations of military hardware and personnel, even with the aid of Wikipedia.

Even those who have devoted their lives to the study and assessment of relative merits of different mixes, must, given the immense and detailed differences possible, find the task non-trivial. Data from actual conflicts, I imagine, can only form part of an overall assessment because in any conflict there are always elements of luck, good and bad, decisions, good and bad, and political directives, occasionally good.

The value of something ‘floating with guns on it’ is probably highly dependent of all the other assets around it. And the adventure in the Falklands might not have been undertaken with optimal configurations on either side. But then, assessment is doubly difficult — politics was strongly involved on both sides.

48

John Quiggin 10.08.12 at 7:22 pm

I talked about the value (or otherwise) of technical expertise in debates of this kind in the rewritten version of the main post. Feel free to respond there.

Again, while I said I was trying to cool things down, Jim and I indulged in some mild snark above at the expense of commenters who seemed to be unaware of air travel. I’m happy to concede that, for heavy goods of all kinds, including military equipment, sea transport is more economical, and to apologise for any snark. Now, can we either talk about the actual issues I raised (the main comments thread is still open), or just move on.

49

Leeds man 10.08.12 at 11:00 pm

I can’t help but think that there is some element of “separated by a common language” here. I read Quiggin’s original post as a provocation, to stimulate discussion on spending. LGM folk jumped on specifics. And jumped again. I’m beginning to think Matt’s “navel power” was unintentionally revealing. Omphaloskepsis, bitchez!

50

Barry 10.09.12 at 12:55 pm

“I read Quiggin’s original post as a provocation, to stimulate discussion on spending. “

I read ‘provocation’ the same as ‘I’m being contrarian’. It might have once meant something legitimate, but it now means ‘I’m full of it, and won’t admit it’.

51

MQ 10.09.12 at 3:20 pm

The only way the United States can exercise military power over Australia is…through the US Navy. I think Quiggin’s true geopolitical agenda in these posts is clear. If socialism in one country is ever to take root and flourish in Australia, the US Navy must be neutralized!

52

John Quiggin 10.09.12 at 7:48 pm

@Barry I wasn’t being contrarian, at least not if I understand the term correctly. I wasn’t seeking provocation for its own sake, or writing things I didn’t believe. I overstated some claims (“hardly any” instead of “less than a commensurate share”, “useless” instead of “not a good use of resources” and so on), but (as presented in the rewritten version) the position I put forward is the one I actually believe.

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