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  • “[T]here is … a real difference between having something rationed by a process and having it rationed by a person.”

    Posted by Lexington Green on August 11th, 2009 (All posts by )

    If you design a formula to deny granny a pacemaker, knowing that this is the intent of the formula, then you’ve killed granny just as surely as if you’d ordered the doctor to do it directly. That’s the intuition behind the conservative resistance to switching from price rationing to fiat rationing. Using the government’s coercive power to decide the price of something, or who ought to get it, is qualitatively different from the same outcome arising out of voluntary actions in the marketplace. Even if you don’t share the value judgement, it’s not irrational, except in the sense that all human decisions have an element of intuition and emotion baked into them.

    Megan McArdle

    UPDATE:

    Wow. Megan McArdle’s next post on this topic is even better:

    I have voiced my various practical objections to the particular options on the table at various moments. But the main thing is that I don’t want to give the government a greater role in health care markets. Nay, not even if all the other countries . . . well, all the cool countries, anyway . . . are doing it. To the liberals proclaiming that, unlike those of us in the conservative or libertarian camps, they are practical people just seeking the best way to make us all better off, I say: I think your utilitarian calculus is badly wrong.

    Most definitely, RTWT.

     

    35 Responses to ““[T]here is … a real difference between having something rationed by a process and having it rationed by a person.””

    1. tdaxp Says:

      Both formulas and prices in health care are methods whereby humans socially & indirectly organize who lives and who dies.

      Just as importantly, it is a method for influencing the morbidity and mortality of a population. As mortality -> morbidity transformation (that is, the last 30 days of care) costs much more than morbidity -> wellness transformation (regular health care check-ups, encouraging a good diet, affordable prescriptions, etc), there is a real question to be asked of how how many “well people” one “sick person” is worth.

      How do we quantitative alms for the sick and alms for the well? Our Lord, in spite of His humanity, did not face this choice. He could resurrect Lazarus, give him health, and go out and feed the poor with fishes & loaves. What if His choice was to feed 50 of the poor, or give Lazarus life but not health?

      (As an aside, our Catholic adoration for Mary and the Saints comes from a sense, I think, that there are these pains, that we and they share, which the Son of God did not.)

      Of course, some are in a position where they are stuck with morbidity for an extended period of time. They may require organ transplants and other expensive procedures. Is there a difference between letting someone die and killing them? How would that influence social spending, on, say, Trig Palin?

      There is hysteria in among the opposition to ObamaCare. The hysteria comes from a real sense that these questions will be asked.

    2. Lexington Green Says:

      “There is hysteria in among the opposition to ObamaCare.”

      I see proponents accusing opponents of Obamacare. I see actual hysteria on the part of people who are afraid that someone will actually read the legislation. I see a lot of genuine anger over a gigantic change in our lives and our economy and the power of the state, done in a rushed fashion, with little justification beyond “trust me” and “its a crisis” and “anyone opposing it is a Nazi”. I get a lot of emails from people who are against it. Usually, these emails cite to specific language from the proposed legislation. An entirely rational way to try to figure out what it means. I also hear from medical professionals whom I know who are against it. I am seeing a case emerging against it based on many provisions in it. Those who have the expertise are building that case, in non-hysterical fashion.

      To dismiss opponents of this bill as “hysterical” is a baseless insult. There is hysteria on all sides, but the core of the opposition here is not hysteria. It usually a bad idea to assume that some large group of people are motivated by irrational urges, anyway. Most people are motivated by pretty comprehensible motives most of the time.

      Obama’s so-called stimulus was a pointless waste and a mess. It was basically Nancy Pelosi’s legislative wish-list, mislabelled as a stimulus. This proposed legislation seems to have emerged from the same process. They do not want to answer questions or put up with public scrutiny. Obama’s press conference was a joke. He has no mastery of the details of this bill. Say this for Bill Clinton, a genuine wonk, he would not have embarrassed himself as Obama did with a dud speech and dud press conference where he restricted himself to platitudes.

      There is no basis to trust these people. This bill should be stopped and fully examined before it is voted on. Then, most likely, it should be voted down.

      I don’t think this guy (who claims to be a physician) sounds hysterical. He sounds knowledgeable. There are lots more just like him.

    3. methinks Says:

      Both formulas and prices in health care are methods whereby humans socially & indirectly organize who lives and who dies.

      Wrong. Humans don’t socially organize death unless that organization is through government. In a system free of government intervention, we each get to decide as individuals and families how much our loved ones are worth saving, not “society”. I assure you that I care way less about your children than you do.

      wellness transformation (regular health care check-ups, encouraging a good diet, affordable prescriptions, etc), there is a real question to be asked of how how many “well people” one “sick person” is worth.

      This is nonsense. Most people have insurance and most people can get regular check-ups and just don’t bother. Doctors encourage a good diet already. The fact that people go home and shove french fries and ice cream down their gullet in shocking amounts has nothing to do with what doctors do or don’t encourage. You can’t possibly believe that people don’t eat a healthy diet for lack of encouragement. If you want “affordable prescriptions”, they are available. These meds were developed decades ago and aren’t as effective as the cutting edge, expensive stuff you really want. The problem isn’t the price of pharmaceuticals. The problem is that you want the cutting edge treatment, but you prefer to rob someone else (by having government hold a gun to their head so your hands don’t get dirty) to pay for it. You can wrap your thievery in the some convoluted cloak of legitimacy all you want, but it’s still theft.

    4. tdaxp Says:

      Lexington,

      I think we generally agree.

      By hysteria, I meant Palin’s comments about death panels, similar emails I have received from relatives about “death counseling, etc.”

      Are these things accurate reflections of what is actually in the bill? No.
      Are these things accurately reflecting valid concerns about where this is intended to lead? Yes.

      There is not going to be any NSDAP-style command-and-control death industry. But can I guarantee after 20 years of ObamaCare we won’t be using the tax code to reward those who euthanize elderly & sickly parents? No.

      Methinks,

      Humans don’t socially organize death unless that organization is through government.

      If by socially you mean governmentally, then of course, that’s a tautology.

      Otherwise, I stand by my claim. In the same way, prices are mechanism that society uses to allocate resources efficiency. This is, if I remember correctly, a basic axion of the sort of Austrian-style economics that this blog is named after!

      The fact that people go home and shove french fries and ice cream down their gullet in shocking amounts has nothing to do with what doctors do or don’t encourage.

      Perhaps, but this doesn’t argue against my point. If you based tax rebates on BMI, or alternatively allow people to claim disability for obesity, or allow widows & orphans to collect social security if the breadwinner died for a diet-related illness…

    5. Lexington Green Says:

      Palin is right, actually.

      The government is going to have to make the tradeoff decisions for whose life is worth any further expense, or up-front expense. This will not take twenty years. At the moment, these decisions are widely distributed throughout society. Once we have nationalized health care, they will be centralized.

      Most people will feel bad when their own parents are selected for no further care, and will feel like money saved on other peoples’ parents is a good use of public money. People see dollar signs when it is somebody else’s pain, they see pain when it their pain or a loved-one’s pain.

      Will their be mandatory abortions for Downs’ Syndrome kids? If you put it to a national vote, with the question, “should your tax money have to pay for the additional costs of a Downs Syndrome person”, the public would vote “yes”. Only Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics even have them anymore, anyway. They are routinely aborted by everyone else.

      Palin is using a graphic expression to describe an inevitability that will develop pretty much immediately.

    6. tdaxp Says:

      Lexington,

      So we agree on everyting, except perhaps for speed.

      “Will their be mandatory abortions for Downs’ Syndrome kids? If you put it to a national vote, with the question, “should your tax money have to pay for the additional costs of a Downs Syndrome person”, the public would vote “yes”. Only Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics even have them anymore, anyway. They are routinely aborted by everyone else.”

      True. The remedy for this won’t be command-and-control, but financial incentives and disincentives. The federal government could neatly ramp up the abortion rate for Downs syndrome simply by forcing the parents to buy (through wage garnishments, perhaps) insurance at some rate.

      China has pretty much the same symptom. An older friend of my wife remembers the police busting into neighbor’s home at the birth of a second child, but that is old fashioned. Rather, consequences include cuts to retirement, education, vacation, and pay benefits. No gestapo. Only the tax man and the pension plan.

      Less dramatic that Palin describes, but no less insidious.

    7. david foster Says:

      Decisions…should we spend a lot of money on an expensive overseas vacation, or go somewhere less-expensive and eat out a lot more when we are at home? Should the kids go to wilderness camp, or sports camp, or computer camp? Should we be Protestants, or Catholics, or Jews, or agnostics/atheists?

      All of these decisions would be difficult to the point of impossibility if we had to make them collectively, in a manner binding on everyone. They become much more feasible when made on an individual/family basis. Indeed, considering the last example, when it was accepted that religious decisions could be an individual rather than a universal matter, society took a big step forward.

      Certain decisions–war and peace–*have* to be made on a collective basis, but the “progressives” seem to want to move more and more of our lives into that category.

    8. tdaxp Says:

      Certain decisions–war and peace–*have* to be made on a collective basis, but the “progressives” seem to want to move more and more of our lives into that category.

      Good point.

      The purpose of the State is to make war against the state of nature. This is true rather we are reclaiming the wilderness, establishing peace, or defeating disease. As our medical knowledge has increased, for the first time in history, we are capable of converting our treasure into quality of life for those who are sick (as opposed to basic interventions, like nutrition and clean drinking water, etc).

    9. newrouter Says:

      “The purpose of the State is to make war against the state of nature”

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    10. tdaxp Says:

      Newrouter,

      Thank you for your supporting comment. It is kind of you!

      The two great philosophers who have described our enemy, the state of nature, are also the two philosopers to whom our Founding fathers are endebted — Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. [1]

      My our Consitution continue to protect us from the state of nature. Death to our enemies, whether they be tyrants across the ocean, thugs with guns, or microbes too small to see! Death to all those who would take away our rights!

      [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_of_nature

    11. Jonathan Says:

      It’s unfortunate that a controversy started over the word, “rationing,” because that’s a rhetorical issue rather than a real one. (“Rationing” means one thing in a political-economic context and something else in an academic-economic context.) The real question is: Who gets to decide? Is it going to be govt bureaucrats or the patient and his family? If the govt becomes the monopoly provider of services then it will decide, no matter what the formal rules say, and no matter what government-implemented “consumer protection” provisions are nominally in place. And if there are competing providers of service then it is the customer who will decide.

      The Obama administration and Congressional Democrats want to create a system in which politicians and bureaucrats have the power to deny you medical services, because they will have the power to decide which services get funded and how those services will be allocated to patients. If the govt wants that kind of power, why would anyone trust the govt with it?

    12. david foster Says:

      Tdaxp…if I understand correctly (and I may not), you are saying that *any* large-scale human activity is the equivalent of war and should be organized in the same way.

      If one follows that model, then the restrictions on human freedom which are an inevitable part of being at war would be eternal and all-encompassing.

    13. newrouter Says:

      yea wiki AUTHORITATIVE. settles it for me.

    14. newrouter Says:

      If one follows that model, then the restrictions on human freedom which are an inevitable part of being at war would be eternal and all-encompassing.

      see j goldberg liberal fascism for woody wilson game plan

    15. methinks Says:

      In the same way, prices are mechanism that society uses to allocate resources efficiency.

      No, that’s not the basic axiom. “Society” is a false aggregate. Prices are not a mechanism. Individuals decide how much they are willing to pay for something, prices emerge from those many individual decisions. The prices are signals that allow suppliers to allocate resources efficiently. You have a very wrong top-down view of prices, efficiency and “society”.

      Perhaps, but this doesn’t argue against my point. If you based tax rebates on BMI, or alternatively allow people to claim disability for obesity, or allow widows & orphans to collect social security if the breadwinner died for a diet-related illness…

      Of course it argues against your point that we need behaviour micro-management and Big Brother enforcement. The BMI is a terrible measure of obesity. How is allowing people to claim obesity disability discouraging it? Perhaps you mean the opposite. What if you have hypothyroidism and you’re fat for that reason? What if you’re genetically heavier? Why would you punish the children and spouse of the obese for the behaviour of the obese individual?

      How about just letting those people suffer the natural consequences of their own choices – higher health care costs and chronic disease. That way, you don’t even have to have a giant government bureaucracy to decide who is fat and who isn’t fat enough for punishment by Big Brother.

    16. methinks Says:

      If the govt wants that kind of power, why would anyone trust the govt with it?

      That just bears repeating – over and over again.

    17. Bill Waddell Says:

      I think your arguements miss the point of this health care bill. You all seem to be arguing about the cost of health care, in one fashion or another, and how much we can afford.

      There is nothing in the Obama health care plan that seriously addressess the cost of health care. To his credit, I don’t beleive he ever claimed that his plan would reduce the cost. Its sole focus is to provide health insurance to the 40some million people who currently don’t have insurance – many by choice. The issue is who is going to pick up the tab for all of those 40 million+ insurance policies – which CBO says comes to a trillion bucks.

      The schemes proposed include jacking the tax rate on higher income peole to north of 50%, and they include takng some of the money away from Medicare, and they include charging employers a fee, which would have the unintended consequence of having employers discontinue their programs and putting everyone into the kluge of government run Obamacare.

      But make no mistake, reducing the cost of your health care or mine, or anyone’s health care for that matter, is not part of the plan. If it were, we would be talking about the cost of defensive medicine and the bureaucratic messes that mire doown the entire system. No, the only dispute here is over who is going to pay the trillion – and since the government is going to run the program, no matter how they cast it, the answer to that question is ultimately the taxpayers.

    18. Bill Waddell Says:

      The only reason for dumping Sarah Palin’s baby on the scrap heap is the libs need the money to help cover the trillion bucks – and that is only because they got caught trying to slide the trillion in as new spending and the public wouldn’t have it any more. If it were up to them, they would pay for the baby, and cover the 40 million uninsured, and pay for everything else you could imagine, and have us all paying better than 50% taxes

    19. tdaxp Says:

      Jonathan,

      Well said.

      Some government control will be necessary as long as we have public funding of health care. Moving to a more rational system will be painful for some.

      David,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Tdaxp…if I understand correctly (and I may not), you are saying that *any* large-scale human activity is the equivalent of war and should be organized in the same way.

      No, I must have spoke to vaguely. I apolgoize for that.

      I meant something closer to this: the only reason the government exists is to protect our rights. The most important of these are life, liberty, and property. We are extremely lucky to live in a country where many of our rights are explictly protected in a Constitution which gives limited powers to our state and national governments.

      The first war we fought to defend our rights, even before this constitution, was the Revolution against King George III. We have fought a number of wars since then.

      Around 1980, we acquired the tools to fight the deadliest of our enemies, and the one most dedicated to taking away our rights: disease. Before the rise of assembly-line surgery and prescription drugs, our health efforst were limited to programs such as good nutrition, fluridation, clean drinking water, and so on. That is like defending against al Qaeda if the only weapons we had were nuclear weapons. We wouldn’t be defenseless, but there wouldn’t be much to do, either. 1980 is the period in which health care spending began to correlate with longer life expectency in industrialiazed countries. Before that, health care spending beyond the basics may have killed as many people as it saved, because of crude tools, disease, medical mistakes, uncessary surgeries, and so on.

      After 1980, our arsenal expanded dramatically. We now have the ability to engage disease and death in a way that is unprecidented in human history. To use a DOD analogy, all of a sudden we have COIN capacity in this war against microscopic terrorists.

      And it is a war. They are taking away our liberties. They are red in tooth and claw. They try to deprive us of our right to speech by taking our tongues, our assembly by taking our legs, our press by taking our hands, our faith by taking our hearts and minds. Every right we have disease takes from us.

      clauswitz, a johnny-come-lately, spoke of war only against thinking enemies who are capable of negotiating. But this is a European idea that is foreign to us.

      If one follows that model, then the restrictions on human freedom which are an inevitable part of being at war would be eternal and all-encompassing.

      Indeed. Hobbes even advocated this, because he believed as long as an individual retained the right to his life and the right to withdraw (that is, turn on the State), he was better off than in the state of nature. Of course, post-John-Locke, our founding fathers have a much more limited role of the government. We have constitutional rights and protections.

      Newrouter,

      yea wiki AUTHORITATIVE. settles it for me.

      Feel free to read the relevent primary sources and come to your own conclusions. If you have a question, feel free to mention it. You obviously have much to learn, but that is the fun of blogging!

    20. methinks Says:

      There is nothing in the Obama health care plan that seriously addressess the cost of health care. To his credit, I don’t beleive he ever claimed that his plan would reduce the cost.

      Are you kidding? In every speech before the CBO weighed in, he has claimed that we MUST have reform to cut health care costs. Our deficits depend on it, etc. His claim is that his reform will make health care in America better, faster and cheaper. He has abandoned that since the overwhelming evidence is that it will be none of those things, but he was selling exactly that fantasy until the end of July.

      …which would have the unintended consequence of having employers discontinue their programs and putting everyone into the kluge of government run Obamacare.

      Calling that an “unintended consequence” is quite a stretch.

      No, the only dispute here is over who is going to pay the trillion – and since the government is going to run the program, no matter how they cast it, the answer to that question is ultimately the taxpayers.

      That’s rather vague. The promise is that the top 2% will pay for everyone else. The reality is that this is the group that is most mobile and has the most options – including just reducing how much the work and invest in taxable ventures. No matter what Obama tells you, the cost of medical care will be borne by the people receiving the care. The payment will be some combination of higher income taxes on everyone (including the supposedly put-upon middle class), out of pocket expenses to avoid wait lines and pain and suffering by patients.

    21. Bill Waddell Says:

      Methinks:

      Of course you are right – Obama creates the sense of urgency by citing the cost of health care, but when he or Pelosi actually give their vague descriptions of it, it is only about coverage. I haven’t heard Obama or anyone else give any credible basis for thinking this plan will in any way reduce costs.

      In your final comment,”That’s rather vague. The promise is that …” I think we are saying the same thing. It is going to end up being a middle and upper income tax, directly or indirectly, no matter how it evolves.

    22. newrouter Says:

      Why is health care a priority? 16 years since hillarycare. MANUFACTURING CONSENT yo seui and acorn losers

    23. david foster Says:

      Txadp…”Around 1980, we acquired the tools to fight the deadliest of our enemies, and the one most dedicated to taking away our rights: disease.”

      Maybe a little off-topic, but seems to me that very major advances in the fight against disease occurred much earlier than 1980. For starters…

      –vaccination
      –antibiotics
      –anaesthetics
      –Pasteurization
      –clean water

      Indeed, the collective impact of these changes (all of them pre-1940) was so strong that it arguably had a major impact on the whole way people perceived human life.

    24. tdaxp Says:

      David Foster,

      Maybe a little off-topic, but seems to me that very major advances in the fight against disease occurred much earlier than 1980. For starters…

      Quite right. We had a lot of luck with cheap and effective measures early in the century, which led to a lingering affection for health care spending even when it wasn’t doing too much. By 1980s we started a second wave of progress, which is much more cost intensive.

    25. methinks Says:

      Bill Waddell,

      I don’t think we are in disagreement about how bad the plan is. We disagree on a couple of facts.

      …but when he or Pelosi actually give their vague descriptions of it, it is only about coverage.

      Oh, that’s absolutely untrue. From just one “town hall” propagandafest – Obama: “If we emphasize prevention and wellness programs … so that we’re reimbursing doctors, not just for treating people after they get sick but for helping people stay well, if we use medical technology to reduce error rates and ensure electronic medical billing …, these are simple things we can do that will save us money…”

      then, he claimed making your medical records available to government in electronic form will save all kinds of costs. In many speeches available on youtube he also talked about how his reform will cut costs.

      In your final comment,”That’s rather vague. The promise is that …” I think we are saying the same thing. It is going to end up being a middle and upper income tax, directly or indirectly, no matter how it evolves.

      We’re not saying quite the same thing. I’m saying that the cost will NOT be borne by the upper and middle income brackets. I’m saying that the cost will be borne mostly by the individual receiving treatment. the wealthy will end up paying the smallest cost as they usually have connections or enough wealth to jump the wait lists. Their cost will be monetary and calling in favours. The poor and middle class, who don’t have the funds to escape the wait lists and rely on the “rich” to create jobs for them will actually bear the heaviest burden. The tax disincentive to invest will reduce employment. That puts downward pressure on wages. Lower wages means that it’s unlikely that you will be able to pay to avoid rationed care. The poorest will be least able to and their cost of care will be pain and suffering, poor quality of care and worse health care outcomes for diseases like cancer. Pain and suffering is not a cost easily adaptable to an accountant’s ledger, but it is a cost nonetheless. Since the “wealthy” will be less wealthy and their tax rates will be higher, charitable giving will nose-dive as it has in Europe. That will also hurt the poor.

    26. Jonathan Says:

      Bill Waddell:
      The only reason for dumping Sarah Palin’s baby on the scrap heap is the libs need the money to help cover the trillion bucks – and that is only because they got caught trying to slide the trillion in as new spending and the public wouldn’t have it any more. If it were up to them, they would pay for the baby, and cover the 40 million uninsured, and pay for everything else you could imagine, and have us all paying better than 50% taxes

      They don’t necessarily need more money. The alternative to spending more for a given level of service is to cut service to keep the budget from growing too big. That’s why the current govt proposal would shift funds from Medicare to everyone else. It’s also why the proposal would raise insurance premiums on healthy young people who are probably already paying too much for insurance.

      I think it’s most likely that any govt health scheme along the lines of the Democratic proposal would reduce the level of service and increase systemic costs. It would also discourage innovation, which might decrease short-term costs but only at the expense of long-run improvements in both costs and outcomes.

    27. Lexington Green Says:

      “clauswitz, a johnny-come-lately, spoke of war only against thinking enemies who are capable of negotiating. But this is a European idea that is foreign to us.”

      This is wrong. It is a false caricature of Clausewitz. I agree that is a widely-held caricature of Clausewitz, and is even attributed to Clausewitz, but it is false nonetheless. I just read the whole book. He is a lot smarter than that. He focuses on the kind of wars he had fought in, and that were likely to impact his own army in his own era, but he was aware of and discussed a much wider range of conflict. It is amazing how much the straw-man “Clausewitz” has eclipsed the real Clausewitz, mostly because the book is long and difficult.

    28. Ginny Says:

      If just once Obama acknowledged how good the care is in America, I’d feel better – but his mantra is about the material weallth of this country and that it doesn’t do well by its poor. The uninsured and unprotected are not our poor – they are not often wealthy but they aren’t poor. But his argument is the kind of materialist & statist vision that produces societies neither healthy nor happy. Governments will not motivate research – on medicine, procedures, even diet – that an open market, individual choice, and the powerful incentives of seeing a grandparent or a younger sibling suffer will.

      As the founders noted, it is best to keep the axis of the general good as close to the axis of the personal good – the communal and the tribal, the national and the personal. Forgetting human nature – what makes us tick – is always the problem with statist solutions.

    29. sol vason Says:

      What every poster ignores is that it is impossible to remove money from the decisions concerning who gets health care and which care they get.

      When you have socialized medicine you also get bribery. Rampant bribery exists at every level of government in the US and even in every government in every country in the world. Bribery lets ordinary people get decisions in their favor.

      If we have socialized medicine grandma can still get the care she needs if she can raise the money she needs for the bribe. The big difference between socialized medicine and free market medicine is that under socialized medicine grandma risks going the jail for bribery.

    30. david foster Says:

      “If we have socialized medicine grandma can still get the care she needs if she can raise the money she needs for the bribe”…the coin of the realm under Obama/Pelosi/Reid is likely to take the form of influence and connections, rather than money. If grandma is a former Congresswoman, she will certainly be able to get the care she needs. If grandma’s grandson is a professor who consults for the Obama administration, the odds are very high that she will be able to get the care she needs. If grandma spent her life building a successful small business but has no connections to the political world, then her life will be found to be not of much value.

    31. tdaxp Says:

      Lexington,

      My point was that it is anachronistic to limit ones conception of the state’s war against nature to Clauswitz’s definition of war. I am unaware of saying anything factually incorrect about Clauswitz.

    32. methinks Says:

      David Foster,

      You describe the exact situation we were in when I was deathly in the Soviet Union. Lucky for me, my family had both connections and money for bribes. The same thing happens in Canada now.

      Ginny,

      Obama will never say anything good about American health care. He is as ignorant and under accomplished as they come and he has a deep underlying hatred for all that America is and all that it stands for. Upon returning from each of his apology tours and playing kissy-face, huggy-body with Chavez, he comes back with renewed determination to turn this country into Venuzuela.

    33. Lexington Green Says:

      Dan, You make a much more serious mistake than merely mischaracterizing Clausewitz, which I believe you did. You said Clausewitz “spoke of war only against thinking enemies who are capable of negotiating” — which I took to mean excluding human enemies who are motivated by seemingly irrational ends or engage in seemingly irrational means. But if you mean that Clausewitz somehow “failed” because he did not speak of “war” against non-human categories like “climate change” or “poverty” or some-such, that is no failure on the part of Clausewitz. He made clear what he meant by war, or the range of phenomena which compose war, and such metaphorical meanings of war fell outside what he was talking about, and properly so.

      To call all kinds of things that are not war (which is the use of force to obtain a political end) “war”, when we already have words to describe those other activities, is to add unnecessary confusion to the discussion of war, and to any underestanding of those other things which have been inaptly characterized as war. To dissolve useful and clear terms into vague metaphorical language is destructive of clarity in any discussion. Doctors memorize anatomy, so their is no ambiguity about what is being discussed. The fifth lumbar vertebra is what it is, unambiguously, and it is not something else, or a cloud of metaphorical meanings that take in adjacent body parts. Lawyers establish definitions so that rights and obligations can be clearly established, and it is bad drafting, and a source of later trouble, when the longstanding trade practices regarding drafting are ignored or forgotten or mistakenly applied. There is similar utility for people discussing war to establish fairly narrowly and specifically what is and is not war, and what is some other type of violence or threat or compulsion or subversion or persuasion or brainwashing or bribery or cooption or religious conversion or law enforcement or espionage or sabotage or political mobilization or any other means of establishing dominance or influence or control or modification of individual or collective behavior. Saying some of these phenomena are “really” war gets you nowhere. It is a regressive move.

      And to bring this back around to Clausewitz, the phenomenon of human-to-human violent conflict is a large enough phenomenon that he cannot be criticized for not talking about other ancillar or related things as well. A book on brain surgery may not talk about spinal surgery, though they are related fields with some overlap in both theory and practice.

      God willing, I will have the time and strength to discuss this essential point in a review of your forthcoming 5GW volume. I also hope that our discussion next year (again, God willing) of Kautilya, who discussed the full range of state activity including espionage, subversion and open warfare, with conceptual clarity, will be a good counterpoint to the troubling trend I see of mixing things up in a way which adds no value or utility to the discussion.

      That said, I will try to read the 5GW volume with an open mind. Some smart people including you contributed to it, so I am sure there will be much of value in it. But as I have said before, I see more smoke and heat than light emerging from that discussion.

    34. tdaxp Says:

      Lexington,

      You said Clausewitz “spoke of war only against thinking enemies who are capable of negotiating” — which I took to mean excluding human enemies who are motivated by seemingly irrational ends or engage in seemingly irrational means.

      Then this is the source of confusion.

      A fair argument that all ends are ultimately irrational, as otherwise they would means. Likewise, all means take place in a thick fog of uncertainy and confusion, so our means may look irrational to others.

      However, this does not mean our enemies are capable of negotiating — indeed, in Clauswitz’s system, war is a form of negotiation. Rather, we may find their terms unacceptable, as they may find ours.

      But if you mean that Clausewitz somehow “failed” because he did not speak of “war” against non-human categories

      No. Rather, Clauswitzs defined war in a way that was useful for him. He was not concerned about political philosophyk, life in a pre-agricultural society, or so on, and so criticizing him for this redefinition would be besides the point.

      To dissolve useful and clear terms into vague metaphorical language is destructive of clarity in any discussion.

      This is a fair point, and it is to this extant alone that Clauswitz (if he had been operating in an English-speaking context and had been discussing the same phenemonon as Hobbes and Locke) could be said to have failed. But he wasn’t, and this is besides the point.

      My point which you are criticising is this: Clauswitz came late to the topic war, focused on what had bene accepted as a subset of war for a subset of the original audience, and then proceeded to redefine war to suit the purpose of his audience and himself. That’s fine. That’s jargon. That shouldn’t confuse the broader discussion.

    35. Lexington Green Says:

      “Clauswitz came late to the topic war, focused on what had bene accepted as a subset of war for a subset of the original audience, and then proceeded to redefine war to suit the purpose of his audience and himself. That’s fine. That’s jargon.”

      No. I don’t think that accurately summarizes what Clausewitz did. He tried to “get to the bottom” of what war was in its essence, not “redefine war to suit the purpose of his audience and himself”. He was not trying to introduce jargon, but introduce terms that lent clarity to phenomena that existed but had not been teased out before: friction, the culminating point of the attack, the fog of war, war as a continuation of policy, etc. He added concepts and terminology which were clear enough and distinct enough that they made it possible to more clearly and accurately understand and discuss any kind of war, and more than that, many other kinds of conflict and competition as well.

      But, we had a massive discussion here about Clausewitz, as you know. i will let him, and those posts, speak to this question rather than rehash it further here.