Thursday, February 17, 2005

A blog about a fallacy 

Hey, econ fans, here's a great new blog: Bastiat's Window. Here's one example of how unions helped kill off a bunch of jobs at WalMart in Quebec. See Jason Kuznicki for why this is a great blog.

Sometimes you can see it exposed and then reappear in the same article. Take, for example, Christopher Westley's piece on the silliness of claiming that tsunamis are good for the Southeast Asian economies. After exploding the silliness, he then engages in one himself.

Natural disasters are a fact of life, but the evidence is clear that they cause much less destruction than wars (and other fruits of the nation-state). For instance, as horrific as the loss of human life resulting from last week's tsunamis is, it doesn't come close to the loss of innocent human life that has resulted from U.S. intervention in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

According to a study reported last fall in the British medical journal The Lancet, this number is already well over 100,000. Compared to the innocent civilian deaths resulting from the wars of the 20th century, it is clear that large, bureaucratic nation-states are a greater threat to human life than occasional and inevitable natural disasters.

The Lancet claim has been debunked already, but that's not the point. The point is that the cost of U.S. intervention isn't the total loss of life since March 2003 but the difference between what we know has been lost lives since then and what would have been lost had Saddam Hussein stayed in power. (Economists would call this, indelicately, the "marginal cost".) If that marginal cost is negative, then we would argue perhaps that the intervention was a net benefit. (One might wish, I suppose, to weight the values of U.S. versus Iraqi lives, but I'm not going there.)

Those wishing to cite the Broken Window Fallacy will do well to remember the title of the essay from which it derives: That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen. There are none so blind...