For it before I was against it

by John Quiggin on September 7, 2010

Last time I looked at a proposal to spend $50 billion on infrastructure to stimulate the economy, I thought it was a great idea. This time, I think it’s scarcely worth the bother. Why have I changed my mind?

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Airmiles notices the end of hyperpower

by John Quiggin on September 7, 2010

It’s always somewhat embarrassing to agree with Thomas Friedman. So when he switches from trumpeting the US as the new hyperpower to the end of hyperpower argument I was making all along,, it struck me that it might be time to reconsider whether I need to change my own views. But, that would be excessively contrarian.

As an aside, looking back at Friedman’s 2004 piece, the Gulliver trope is lifted straight from Josef Joffe who I linked in my earlier post. But then Joffe lifted it himself, apparently from this piece by Daniel Bourmaud in 1998.

A central lesson of this experience (of course, not one that Friedman or Joffe is ever likely to learn) is that the whole idea of a military hyperpower is a nonsense. The idea that military force can be used for any positive purpose (that is, other than as a defensive response to the use of military force by others) persists despite a lack of any significant supporting evidence. The US crusade in Iraq has cost, or will cost $3 trillion (not to mention the lives of thousands of American, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). That’s more than the US would spend on official development assistance for the whole world in 100 years at current rates (and the lion’s share of ODA goes to supporting military/geopolitical goals – the poorest countries get less than $10 billion a year between them). Things have gone pretty badly in Iraq, but even supposing that the ultimate outcome had been a stable and prosperous democracy, it’s clear that the benefit-cost ratio would be very low. You get a similar answer if you look at the whole period since Macarthur pushed on to the Yalu river back in 1950. And by comparison with other countries that have tried to use military power to pursue foreign policy goals, the US has done much better (or rather, much less badly) than anyone else .