Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Free Ridership Problem 

The economic concept of free ridership is pretty simple. Without effort, or commitment, certain parties derive benefit from the substantial effort and commitment of others. It happens rather often in business, inside of companies, all over the place.

It also happens in the application of government policy, and it is happening in spades in the current war. Pacifists and journalists who whine about every facet of the exercise of American power to defend and extend freedom, derive spectacular benefit in terms of their freedom to whine, obstruct and deter that same exercise of American power. The sacrifice made by the American serviceman or woman, allows the rest of us to keep our lives relatively intact. The investment in defense spending by the American taxpayer protects the European or Canadian citizen, who spends a vanishingly small amount on defense, instead lavishing social welfare benefits on the citizenry.

It may be time to figure out how to cure some of this problem, which appears to be growing to the point of frustration. Thoughts?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 19, 08:26:00 PM:

The US spends as much on defense as the 20 next top-spending nations combined: $399 billion vs. $396 billion.

The problem isn't how much other countries spend on their military, it's how much the US spends on its.

"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
- Michael Ledeen, former Reagan administration intelligence officer and current fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 19, 08:54:00 PM:

Many of those small crappy little countries are very dangerous places, and need to be smacked around by somebody. CardinalPark's point, I think, is that other countries perfectly capable of building projectible military power elect not to because they know when a small crappy little country -- Serbia, for example -- gets particularly crappy, the United States will do the dirty work. The most obvious example of this phenomenon is the Balkans crisis. The Balkans have been creating problems for Europeans for centuries, but suddenly in the nineties they were utterly incapable of dealing with them.

This free-rider spirit infuses the European media. In the run-up to the Iraq war, one of the most common criticisms in the European press was that there were other problems that "the Americans should solve first," such as Palestine, etc. How about you guys solve the problems you care about, and we'll pitch in, and we'll solve the problems we care about, and you'll pitch in? That would be fair.

Having said that, best counterargument is less militarized Western powers give largers proportions of their national income to more humanitarian foreign aid. Americans object to that, too, because we believe that it ends up in the hands of corrupt thieving weasels rather than poor people. We ourselves are learning that in Iraq.

Whether there are domestic free-riders is another matter. Obviously, very few people are going to fight in any small war, and everybody else benefits from their commitment and sacrifice. Others contribute moral support (families and friends) and material support (voluntarily, through good works and charities, and involuntarily, through taxation). Everybody else is a load.

The ugly truth, though, is that describes society in general. There are a small number of people who make life massively better for a lot of people, and a great mass of people who either add or subtract relatively little from the total "good." Left and right, I think, agree on that. They disagree strenuously, however, about who those few big contributors are.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 19, 09:36:00 PM:

"How about you guys solve the problems you care about, and we'll pitch in, and we'll solve the problems we care about, and you'll pitch in? That would be fair."

That would be medieval.

How about you guys join the 21st century and recognize international law. If the United Nations needs reform, help fix it.

"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind..."


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jul 19, 10:01:00 PM:

The United Nations under some circumstances is a useful vehicle for mediating the relations between member states. It is essentially useless in dealing with non-state actors. Unfortunately, we are going through a period in history when some of the most significant threats to peace are essentially non-state. The UN is ill-suited to dealing with such problems.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jul 19, 10:40:00 PM:

Anon - I sense your commentary moving away from debate and discussion and moving toward condescension and insult. The concept of confederation to solve problems, or at least try to address problems, extends back to the Greeks. It has not b een notably successful during any extended period. So I am not sure what you reference to the 21st century implies. The UN is only the latest failure of such a "League."

Empirical evidence continually seems to disrupt and discredit the sweet platitudes which seem to attach to your commentary...including your signature.

No matter. Canada is a superb example of the Free Ridership problem and I hope you are enjoying it.  

By Blogger Jimmy K., at Tue Jul 19, 11:14:00 PM:

Didn't Bush say you are either with us or against us? Half measure will not do. Pull out of the U.N. and watch who jumps ship and joins with the U.S.
jimmy k

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 19, 11:33:00 PM:

Your beer sucks.


By Blogger Jehane, at Wed Jul 20, 06:00:00 AM:

TH, I would expand upon your statement:

The United Nations under some circumstances is a useful vehicle for mediating the relations between member states. It is essentially useless in dealing with non-state actors.

The UN is also essentially useless in mediating relations between member states; for this reason - everyone knows it is nothing more than a deliberative body. A legislative branch with no executive powers. A loose confederacy in which none of the members have really agreed to cede their sovreignty to the larger body.

No government in its right mind would be set up that way, and if it were, it would never work because no one would ever listen to it.

And so it is with the UN - no one listens to it. Name one world crisis, to which they have responded effectively and definitively.

I thought so.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 20, 10:05:00 AM:

Cardinalpark, Cassandra, Tigerhawk: working through the UN helps you avoid the outrageous PR mess you find yourselves in now. Consider this excerpt from an opinion piece on Aljazeera.net:

"The terrible irony is that Muslims currently find themselves helplessly trapped between two fundamentalisms, between Bush's hammer and Bin Laden's anvil, hostages to an extreme right wing American administration, aggressively seeking to impose its expansionist and hegemonic will over the region at gunpoint, and to a cluster of violent, wild fringe groups, lacking in political experience or sound religious understanding."
- Soumayya Ghannoushi, "Al-Qaida: Wrong answers to real problems," Aljazeera.net

That's the consequence of not working through the UN. The don't trust you. It's all part of that just war thing.

That's what the Pope saw coming:

"As the Charter of the United
Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the
civilian population both during and after the military operations."

That's what the Prime Minister saw coming:

"We argued that a multilateral approach through the United Nations was key to enhancing the international legitimacy of military action and would make it easier after the war was over. We applied these principles in deciding not to join the coalition when the war began without a new resolution of the Security Council."

And Cardinalpark, you have no idea how much I restrain myself.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 20, 10:28:00 AM:

Bush receives message from Pope

"While Bush has signaled that he is prepared to confront Saddam Hussein even without the Security Council's approval, [Vatican envoy Cardinal Pio] Laghi said that the Vatican believes a just war can be waged only with the United Nations' endorsement.

"Laghi said before going to war the United Nations should take into account 'the grave consequences of such an armed conflict: the suffering of the people of Iraq and those involved in the military operation, a further instability in the region and a new gulf between Islam and Christianity.'

"He said that any war without U.N. approval 'is illegal, it is unjust, it's all you can say.'"


By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Jul 20, 08:25:00 PM:

PR mess?

Irrelevant. Unserious.  

By Blogger Jehane, at Thu Jul 21, 04:59:00 AM:

Good nightshirt. Who cares about PR?

If that isn't an indictment of the fundamental unseriousness of those who advocate 'working through the UN', I don't know what is.

"Sure, they won't do anything about genocide, but if you go with an org that won't do anything without 100% consensus, you'll never have a PR problem".


"Sure, they can't even define terrorism because their member states are actively engaged in it, but again, that comforting consensus helps you avoid the condemnation of member states who condone terrorism."

Right again.

The UN cut and ran out of Iraq at the first sign of trouble, after refusing the offer of security. But we're supposed to trust them?


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