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The Broken Window Fallacy And Iraq

Inexcusably, I ran into a lady a while back. She was fine, I was fine, my car insurance and her rear bumper were not. The best thing to come of it was that neither of us were seriously injured; that was the best thing.

After the police took our vitals, he comes up to me and says, "Well, the worst thing is, I'm going to have to cite you for a moving violation." That was the worst thing. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, I didn't have time to explain to him the broken window fallacy, first voiced by Frédéric Bastiat. Mainly because I didn't want to get another ticket for boring an officer of the law with economic theory.

And because he might know it better. But that's a trifle, as I saw allusions to other "window" in the world. Right now, it would appear that the United States is hellbent on breaking as many windows as possible, only to fix them, for a fee. It would be easy to do this if a person's opinion is that, as in my real-life example, the United States was the guilty party, wrecking the innocent other country's metaphoric Altima.

In What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, Bastiat lays out the example of The Broken Window:

Have you ever been witness to the fury of that solid citizen, James Goodfellow, when his incorrigible son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: "It's an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?"

Now, this formula of condolence contains a whole theory that it is a good idea for us to expose, flagrante delicto, in this very simple case, since it is exactly the same as that which, unfortunately, underlies most of our economic institutions.

Suppose that it will cost six francs to repair the damage. If you mean that the accident gives six francs' worth of encouragement to the aforesaid industry, I agree. I do not contest it in any way; your reasoning is correct. The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

But if, by way of deduction, you conclude, as happens only too often, that it is good to break windows, that it helps to circulate money, that it results in encouraging industry in general, I am obliged to cry out: That will never do! Your theory stops at what is seen. It does not take account of what is not seen.

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

The point he was making was instead of buying shoes and bread and a Nintendo 64, he spent it on a new window. It was the breaking of something that was whole, and replacing what was there that kept the shopkeeper from moving on to other things. There is no benefit to the shopkeeper to fix his window. In the example the glass-maker is benefiting from the loss of the shoe-maker, the bread-maker, and the Electronics Boutique, circa 1998.

The detractors of the Global War on Terror have, unwittingly, been using this economic theory in their arguments that the US is completing unjust war after unjust war. Are you not surprised that the first thing that comes to mind for an invasion of Iraq was the oil we'd be able to acquire? An economic reason that should be a reason to encourage the US to invade. Yet, without really realizing they were using the broken window fallacy, they were equating the US forces with being that Pathfinder that smashed up that poor lady's car.

There, of course, is where the mess up the story. Let's forget a moment that I wasn't ramming into her because she was an infidel Christian for a moment, and stick with how there was a victim, a guilty party, and enforcement of the law. Once you identify those three elements, you'll see how you have to identify the three parties correctly, or there will be the same constantly misguided attempts to blame the wrong group for the crime.

In Iraq, you had a dictatorship that was unhealthy for it's countrymen, a regime that would, rightly, be removed if simple merits of tyranny and despotism cause a leader to be removed. Unfortunately, despotic leaders get where they are by being good despotic leaders, and it's rather difficult to get them all. There is no other way to look at Saddam Hussien as anything other than the one who broke the metaphorical window that is his people and his country.

(To address those of you who would put Saddam as the shopkeeper that's truly inconsequential, as he was the one who broke the 'window.' Whether he owned it or not doesn't matter, he was the one who violated the mores.)

What certain persons cannot bring themselves to believe is that the United States military, of course implying the Bush Administration, is the policeman of my broken window story. And that's the rub, you see, and it's the reason I brought this up in the first place. Remember what the cop said who was working with us after the accident? He said, "Well, the worst thing is, I'm going to have to cite you for a moving violation." The words rang hollow as I knew there were higher insurance rates, a damaged truck, the lady I ran into would have to have her car in for repair...there was a whole lot of "worse things" yet to come.

So, who to blame? I have at least three choices: I could blame the lady for being in front of me, I could blame myself for going too fast (like an idiot), or I could blame the policeman for enforcing the law. Guess which one of these is going on? Well, hold on, because in my scenario, there was no camera crew, there were no agenda-driven journalists. Mostly disinterested motorists who's interest peaked and faded the moment they finished their rubbernecking.

In all actuality, they should be concerned, because I'm taking a very small chunk of the economy that could've been used on other goods on fixing what I broke. Everybody's insurance will have to take the brunt of the damage I have to pay for. In my story, I am the bad guy, and it's obvious. President Bush doesn't have that advantage. The window's been broken, and somebody's got to pay for it. The very act of having to clean up the mess is unpopular, of course, but necessary.

This is politics in the 00s. The fact that there are people empathetic to tyrants should be the easiest indicator that these people don't have the right actors playing the correct roles. Yet, to some, the cops are the bad guys, the terrorists aren't that bad, and the only ones who should be punished are the one who did nothing more than took too long to move at a stop light. It's simple, the US military is punishing the terrorists who are the ones attacking the innocent citizens. To see it any other way proves that you are a person who refuses to see things logically.


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Comments (15)

"It's stimple. the U.S. Mil... (Below threshold)

"It's stimple. the U.S. Military is pumishing the terrorist who are the ones attacking the innocent citizens. To see it any other way proves that you are a person who refuses to see things logically"

Mr. Stansbury, your argument as well as your logic is flawed. First, your analogy is a false one. What, for instance, if I made the argument that the policeman that gave you the ticket was from Mexico, and your accident occured in somewhere USA? Obviously, he would not have the right nor the authority to give you a ticket. Of course you were speeding and by definition you were breaking the law. But you were breaking the law in your own country, not in Mexico.

Your broken window theory is fine, if you believe that it's our business to care if the people of Iraq want to live in a bad neigborhood. Given their animosity towards us, and the intensity of their insurgency, they obviously liked their neigborhood just fine the way it is. Personally, I don't care, and neither should you if it does not affect our national security.

This war was a bad idea, conceived by a bunch of neo-cons who thought they were smarter than every one else when it comes to world affairs, and how to achieve peace in the middle east. All the false reasons; WMD's. removing a tyrant, etc. are smoke screans for their arrogance and brute determination.

The real tragedy is that almost 3,000 of our young men have died for their arrogance, and who knows how many people of Iraq and other countries. Yes, Sadaam was a bad man. But so is Fidel Castro, so was Chares Taylor, and so were the savages who slaughtered thousands of their countrymen in Rawanda.

You see sir, there are broken windows all over the world, but it is not our job to fix all of them. It is our job to make sure that those people breaking those windows, stay the hell out of our neigborhood.

FN, don't you see. We are k... (Below threshold)

FN, don't you see. We are keeping them out of our neighbor hood, by taking the fight to them. We could go back to sitting behind our borders and ignoring the attacks on our oversees interests i.e. Bill Clinton, but they ( the terrorist and their enablers) came here on 9-11. I believe that to win a war against terrorism like the war against mesquitoes, it is better in the long run to drain the swamp than swat each one.

"You see sir, there are ... (Below threshold)

"You see sir, there are broken windows all over the world, but it is not our job to fix all of them. It is our job to make sure that those people breaking those windows, stay the hell out of our neigborhood."

No truer words could you speak...but who's "breaking windows" in the middle east?

Last count, the same folks broke over 43,600 windows in NYC....

I know the comeback....Saddam wasn't linked to the Islamofascists....and you know that claim has been debunked, just as much as you know the "no WMD's" meme has been blown apart. You also likely know what "neo-con" really means, but you're choosing to use it as a buzzword for anyone who's not an anti-Semite, so not a lot you offer is surprising (or original).

The summation Mac gave was particularly accurate, and a fairly original take on the situation in Iraq. Our problem is that the lunatic fringe of the Left has successfully redefined who the "bad guy" is in the scenario. When one really looks the entire situation over, it's a lot simpler than most folks are being led to believe.

We're the "big kid" on the global block. We do have a moral obligation to make sure the bully down the street isn't beating up on the neighborhood kids, chiefly because we're the only kid on the block big enough to do so. If we shirk that duty, the bully will eventually grow up. One bully got a pretty good lick in on 9/11/2001. Are you really content to let other bullies have their way until they're able to deliver a similar punch?

Not a bad arguement Thomas,... (Below threshold)

Not a bad arguement Thomas, and it is one that I hear often from the proponents of the war. "Take the fight to them rather than have it on out shores" This argument would work if you really believed that Iraq was a threat to us in the first place.It doesn't work if you subscribe to the fact that we creating more terrorist by being there, and if we weren't there, some of these people would not have become terrorist in the first place. I subscribe to the latter view.

I guess history will be the judge of that, and hopefully we will both be around to see its verdict.

Jamie, I am not sure what y... (Below threshold)

Jamie, I am not sure what you were trying to say with the buzz word for antisemite bit. But anyway, to answer your question about the bully. It would seem that we are a bully of convenience. In other words, why bully this guy, and not, say, some of the other tyrants I mentioned? What is it exactly that guides our principles when it comes to these bulles?

As for your statement that the WMD argument has been debunked, and that it has been proven that Sadaam had links to 911. Unless you live in some type of matrix reality that I, nor the rest of the word are a part of, I am afraid these statements on your part are not true. I am not calling you a lier, becasue you might believe in your heart that it is true - Kool-Aide anyone?- but believe me, it's not. And for every news story that you have heard on FAUX news to confirm your side of the argument, there are many more credible stories and factual accounts on the other side to refute it.

My god do you war critics c... (Below threshold)

My god do you war critics completely lack the ability to think long-term? Whether you thought Hussein had WMD's or not is irrelevant, any reasonable person would agree that his intention was to have them, and if he couldn't have them now he would seek them when he could. With sanctions on Iraq crumbling before the war, al queda dispersed from their former stronghold of afghanistan, our intelligence community inneffective, what do you think was going to happen? Inevitably, the world would no longer put in the effort and money to keep any kind of superficial watch on Hussein's regime and he would go back to his old ways. Now after 9/11 you have a desperate AQ shopping around. Lovely.

How about next time instead of planes into buildings its chemical/biological/radiological weapons detonating in the US or within the borders of our allies? People like you, field-negro, would ignore this realistic possibility and wait until there is a problem that can't be avoided and then react to it. It's that kind of crap that led to 9/11 in the first place. Instead, wouldn't it be the rational thing to do to raise our standards after 9/11? It's not like Iraq was a peaceful nation that we picked out of the blue. This was a country that was essentially already on parole for a laundry list of activities. They violated their parole numerous times that the former administration and the world community let slide. After 9/11 Bush ("that cabal of neocons") said enough is enough, and I'm having a hard time not agreeing with that sentiment.

Also what exactly do you offer in support of your assertion that we're creating more terrorists by being there? It seems to me that there are a lot of foreign fighters (Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan) and former Baathists that would love to take shots at US or western forces, so why do we all of a sudden need a boogey man to explain the insurgency? We didn't make these people radicals by being in Iraq, we've just given them a local target. And if I'm wrong and a large number of formerly moderate Iraq's have been tipped to the side of Jihad, then a future democratic Iraq will probably be a lot better off without these types anyway. I mean this is a nation that hasn't known true freedom for quite some time, and in a way the collective populace is childlike in that respect. Just because a child throws a tantrum when you do something it doesn't like doesn't mean your actions weren't in their best interest. As Iraq is stabilized over time, there would be less justification for terrorism and our sacrifice will become more clear to them.

In the end, if you ever want something good to happen in the middle east you have to do something about it. I'm sick and tired of that part of the world casting a shadow over the rest of civilization. In the age WMD's it's in everyones best interest to do whatever possible to stabilize that part of the world, so I'm glad someone had the balls to step up and do what was right. That doesn't mean taking out regimes when we feel like it, but forcefully approaching problems when they arise, and Iraq was one for decades. Sorry for the rant.

Field-negro, I agree that c... (Below threshold)

Field-negro, I agree that conventional wisdom on Iraq was correct in that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, nor did it pose an *imminent* WMD threat because they probably didn't have any at the time of our invasion. The problem is that the worlds intelligence community believed he DID have them at the time and Hussein was acting like he did. He played chicken and lost. Blame the punk who pulls a toy gun, not the police officer who reacts. We essentially told him that the burden to prove that he did not have WMD's and was not seeking them was his, and in his moment of truth he went right back to playing his old game of inspector-shuffle.

More importantly, that bastard had every intention of regaining his stockpile of WMD's when circumstances allowed, and given the campaigns to remove sanctions springing up around the world, he wouldn't have had to wait very long.

Also, as these documents are coming out of Iraq and being translated, they are showing that the relationship between Al Queda and Iraq was fairly active and certainly stronger than previously believed. This is not FAUX news, but real news whether you choose to ignore it or not. One of the 9/11 Commission members has even said publicly that this new information shows that they got it wrong and the two entities were much closer than they believed. Does that information mean anything to you? Or are you just going to discount it as neocon spin? You can read some of these translated documents yourself and make up your own mind.

srl I have seen some of the... (Below threshold)

srl I have seen some of the documents of which you speak, and I am still not convinced Sadaam had WMD's, nor did he plan to use such weapons on anyone but his own people. You made my point for me, the world was watching Sadaam, and unlike Korea and Iran -far more dangerous countries I might add- we had inspectors in there. Yes he was a bad boy, but was he worth going to war with.
Had we been hailed as liberators by the people of Iraq, I would have conceded some of my arguments to you. But we were not, and we are now viewed as occupiers bogged down in a nation building fiasco.

Excuse me if I seem a little selfish, and I have no more pity for the people of Iraq, than say, the people of Sudan,Cuba, or North Korea for that matter.

Pol. science 101 tells you that you don't over- throw a tyrant like Sadaam, who kept all the various ethnic groups together with bully
tactics, without having a viable plan to replace him. We did not, and we are paying for it with dollars and lives.

I know it's hard for the supporters of the President to look at the both sides of the coin, but srl you seem like a smart person, so I am going to ask you to look again at the FACTS, not just spin from the republican talking points and the commentators at FAUX news.

Does anyone really believe ... (Below threshold)
Robert Filomena:

Does anyone really believe that Iraq is some sort of Thunderdome that draws from all corners of the globe terrorists who would otherwise be attacking us over here? If anyone truly believes that the mantra "fight them over there so we don;t have to over here" has anything to do with why we invaded Iraq, then the ability to think critically has truly been hijacked by the pro-war propoganda and right-wing talking points.

The war on terror is very real and should be fought vigorously every moment. But the war in Iraq has done nothing to make Americans safer in the world from this very real threat.

Feingold-Fieldnegro'08!... (Below threshold)


Field-negro, I only made yo... (Below threshold)

Field-negro, I only made your point because you completely ignored mine. The world was watching, but for how long and with how discerning of an eye? The sanctions were not going to last much longer considering their inneffectiveness and widespread abuse. What do you think would happen then? Somehow I don't think Hussein would have learned some kind of moral lesson from the mess he created and change his WMD-hoarding ways. No way would Hussein have ever directly attacked us with a WMD, but why would he? He could do it through a proxy, say...ummmm, Al Queda just for an example. Perhaps they would be interested in a chemical or biological weapon. It would be a dumb move on Hussein's part, but you'd have to assume that Hussein was smart and perfectly sane, something he hasn't really demonstrated in the past. He doesn't have a good track record when it comes to political calculation, usually to the detriment of everyone.

You say we had inspectors in there, but why was Hussein so obstructive if he had nothing to hide? What was the world community supposed to conclude from such actions? And again, the whole point was what about AFTER the sanctions and inspections? Should we let him build up his WMD infrastructure AGAIN before we inevitably have to confront him with military force AGAIN, this time with definite stockpiles of WMD's thrown into the equation? Some intelligent people concluded that taking action before that happened would be a good idea, and before politics came into play a good percentage of our government from both wings agreed.

As for North Korea, Iran, etc. we obviously can't tackle every regime in the world, wouldn't it make sense to take care of the one that made the most strategic sense as a first step? Or to satisfy some matter of principle should we be at war with North Korea, Iran, etc. simultaneously just so we can justify it to ourselves?

Iraq was weakened, had violated (over a dozen times) the terms it signed as the condition of its surrender from the first gulf war, seemed to be working with al queda in superficial ways with the obvious potential for further future relations, acted in a way that reinforced the intelligence communities belief that they had WMD's still, and was in a very strategically fortuitous location that gave it great strategic advantages for stabilizing the middle east. Just look at the map, if everything goes as planned, Iran should be crapping a brick. Their heighted sabre rattling in the past several months seems to support that.

As for not having a plan, are we not instituting that plan as we speak? Have there not been elections? Or is it the fact that American lives have been lost in a war that makes you feel as though we had no plan? The plan is working and the insurgents don't like it and they're blowing people up over it. Having a good plan doesn't insulate you from IED's. Having a good plan doesn't shut off thousands of miles of border from enemy incursion. Having a good plan doesn't win you unconditional support.

I've looked at both sides of the coin and I've rejected the other side because it seems to operate under a different set of assumptions and supposed facts. This should be irrelevant, but since you brought it up, I'm not a republican, I did not vote for Bush, I am an agnostic, and I can count the number of times I've watched Fox News on one hand. Shocking, isn't it?

I read blogs and news site from a number of different perspectives and one thing that is very evident to me is that left-wing media and even the mainstream media completely ignore any news that contradicts the common assertion that Iraq is a quagmire, in a civil war, and that we are failing. If all you listened to or read was this kind of media coverage, I would agree that things seem to be a mess, but then I read about things or examine polls that show quite a different picture. War critics seem to completely ignore these things because it challenges their assumptions, which are daily reinforced by the medias narrative. It's like they WANT to believe that we're failing. There are the white house, republican party, alternative media, the military, and soldiers on the ground who have one set of facts and then there are pacifists, left wing radicals, islamists, the democratic party, and the mainstream media who have another set of facts. Who's "facts" are we to use? It's obvious which set I'm using and the set that you are using. I find mine to be more credible and you find yours to be more credible. It's a sad state of affairs that we can't just have one set of objective facts, but sophists, politicians, interest groups, and opportunists have muddied the waters here.

FN wrote:Given th... (Below threshold)

FN wrote:
Given their animosity towards us, and the intensity of their insurgency, they obviously liked their neigborhood just fine the way it is.

Your argument is flawed in many ways... not the least of which is treating 'they' as a monolythic entity. Should I say the same thing about the low income housing projects here in the US ? "Sure, there's a lot of violence in the projects, but the people live there so obviously they're fine with random shootings, etc and the police shouldn't interfere".

IMO, a more fitting analogy is that of a swamp. A swamp is fine... until it's existence begins to present a danger to you on your property. I'd present it here, but original version can be found here ( http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=11555 ). It's an excellent, educational piece by an author who is well versed on the subject on which he writes. I highly suggest reading it.

- MikeB

Well put srl. I think fiel... (Below threshold)

Well put srl. I think field-negro may have a picture of Matt Lauer on his wall. ;)

Sorry I am just getting bac... (Below threshold)

Sorry I am just getting back to this, but I can't let that last ignorant post go unchallenged.

Now bnorm, we were having an intelligent debate until you had to troll with your Matt Lauer comment. So now let's make a deal; I won't say anything about your sister's picture on your wall if you don't tell anyone else about Matt on mine.

Fair enough?

It's cool. :)... (Below threshold)

It's cool. :)






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