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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The Incentives of War

Olson offers powerful insights on why it is sometimes necessary to go to war in order to exhibit our military might – for that exhibition of strength and military dominance may help to keep others in line. We must occasionally prove that we can “organize the greatest capacity for violence” in order to maintain our status as a world superpower (11). I can appreciate the fact that we must carry a “big stick” so that others will not pick on us, but I question whether or not it is truly necessary for us to spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined to protect our nation. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2005 “the USA was responsible for 48 percent of the world total” military expenditures, and was “distantly followed by the UK, France, Japan and China with 4–5 percent each”. This leads me to believe that there may be something wrong with the financial incentives that are built into the system. http://yearbook2006.sipri.org/chap8/chap8

After reading Olson I have a greater understanding as to why we go to war even when it seems that there is more opposition to war than support. His Logic of Collective Action provides powerful insights into this issue. The forces that advocate going to war are much stronger and well organized than those who oppose the war, and they certainly have a lot to gain individually since the multi-billion dollar defense contracts are spread over such a small number of corporations. Professor Eubanks is always pointing out that it all boils down to incentives, and the incentives for these multi-billion corporations are certainly stacked in favor of war. In the 2005 documentary “Why We Fight,” Chalmers Johnson points out “the defense budget is ¾ of a trillion dollars. When war becomes that profitable you are going to see more of it.” War certainly has been extremely profitable for a few, and those few sure seem to carry a lot of weight in Washington. http://www.sonyclassics.com/whywefight/

I believe the excessive expenditure of our taxpayer dollars is due to major flaws with the incentive system. These corporations have little to gain in times of peace, especially if there is no perceived threat to our national security. The vast majority of us find peace to be more profitable than war (in the form of lower taxes), but unfortunately this is not the case for the defense contractors who have greater profits to gain in times of war and therefore, more incentives to promote war. Until we solve the incentive issue it seems likely that a small segment of the population will advocate war even if is it not in the best interest of our country…and you and I will end up paying for it.

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