03 Sep 2012

Condi Rice a Stranger to Cost/Benefit Analysis

Foreign Policy 61 Comments

It’s funny, Steve Landsburg is gushing over Condoleeza Rice’s speech at the RNC (though he is careful to say he doesn’t endorse everything she said), whereas I had to turn it off when I caught it in the car. Why did I flip it off? Because I caught it on this part, which a lot of the Fox News analysts etc. tell me was a great line:

We can only know that there is no choice, because one of two things will happen if we don’t lead. Either no one will lead, and there will be chaos. Or, someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values. My fellow Americans we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind!

On the video below, this excerpt starts around 1:44:

I can blow up her analysis pretty quickly: Just change the country name, and have every world leader say the exact same thing as above. Did I just “prove” that every single nation-state has no choice but to lead the rest of the world in foreign affairs?

Of course not, and it’s not even an issue of, “Some countries are run by bad guys, not like the noble United States!” Presumably if Rice herself were advising, say, the government of Belgium, she would recommend that they not try to lead from the front when it comes to geopolitics. She might not couch it in these terms, but her analysis would presumably come down to telling them: The impact you can have on world events is too small to justify devoting that much of your scarce resources to try such an arrogant project.

OK, so a lot of people would argue the same applies to the US. Yet the former Secretary of State hasn’t even hinted that she’s aware of the problem, let alone convinced me that she’s come up with the right answer.

61 Responses to “Condi Rice a Stranger to Cost/Benefit Analysis”

  1. Robert Fellner says:

    I’m a pretty big fan of George W. Bush’s take on this issue while he was successfully campaigning for the Presidency in 2000:


    • Bob Murphy says:


    • Ken B says:

      I remember discussing with a friend in 2000. He lamented Bush was not a big ideas guy. I said I kinda liked that, that it was the big-idea guys who cause problems. One of Bush’s assets I said was that he didn’t have big ambitions. Give me the small ideas guy, like Bush.

      Live and learn!

  2. David K. says:

    Now the neocons openly admit that they want to be dictators of the entire world. These guys are insane.

  3. Dan says:

    I had to delete a few Facebook friends over that speech. I couldn’t stand listening to them talk about how amazing she was.

  4. Gene Callahan says:

    Rice may be ignorant as you say, but it’s not hard to make her position immune to the criticism “What if every nation did this?”

    Put it as “The most powerful nation in the world has a responsibility to lead.” Belgium then is not really in the running.

    (I am not defending this idea here, just saying that may be what she was thinking.)

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Right Gene, but that’s not at all what she said (at least not here). She was trying to do deductive logic on us. She was saying the three choices are: (a) US leads, (b) no one leads and hence chaos, or (c) someone else leads. She took it as self-evident that once we established these were the three choices, that the correct choice was (a). And I’m pointing out that that doesn’t follow at all.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        “Right Gene, but that’s not at all what she said (at least not here). ”

        Yes, you are right about what she said. I am guessing my interpretation might have been what she was *thinking*.

        • Ken B says:

          Gene wins again. This is getting both monotonous and disturbing Gene!

          Another example. I recall Christians saying things like ‘Christians have a duty …” Pick your duty: fighting slavery in the past, leading on some issue, whatever. Would Bob “blow that up” by saying ‘Satanists have a duty …’ or ‘Nazis have a duty …’. No. Christians are not asserting they have a duty because they are a group but because they are a *special* group with special responsibilities and gifts. You can disagree but you should at least give them credit for saying something coherent here. Rice thinks America is *special*.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            OK Ken B. I’m not yet boycotting you on this thread. Do you like this argument?

            My fellow Free Advice readers, Americans have no choice. They can either lead when it comes to spreading the ideas of anarcho-capitalism, no one will take such leadership (meaning anarcho-capitalism might not spread very quickly), or some other country will spread anarcho-capitalism in a way with which we Americans will disagree. Clearly, we Americans have to take the lead, spending hundreds of billions per year distributing Murphy’s pamphlet. You can’t do that from behind.

            Now, when you object, I am going to say, “Ah, but my unspoken premise was that America is special.”

            I am sure you will now congratulate the tightness of my argument, Ken B.

            • Ken B says:

              OK Bob, I could have been clearer. My putative christian is addressing a like minded audience. Rice is also addressing an audience who think America is special.
              If your speech had been about FA readers or Libertarians not Americans broadly I’d say you have a good analogy. “My fellow FAers, Libertarians have no choice …” Because of the (arguable!) shared presumption.

              (And I said something NICE about christians too! I was contrasting christians with nazis, not likening them.
              “Gene I don’t know why you are getting defensive with me…Try to be more generous next time when you interpret my remarks”)

              • Ken B says:

                Lemme expand even more. One of the aspects of that specialness IS leadership. America really actually has played a leadership role in much of recent history (to Bob’s dismay often enough) and has been *looked to* for leadership quite a lot too.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Gene I don’t know why you are getting defensive with me. I may have written words that looked like I disagreed with you, but actually I was thinking, “Gene just hit that out of the park.” Try to be more generous next time when you interpret my remarks.

    • Egoist says:

      Put it as “The most powerful nation in the world has a responsibility to lead.” Belgium then is not really in the running.

      So basically you’re saying a possible interpretation is this: the leader country of the world has the responsibility to be the leader country of the world. Belgium is not the leader country of the world, so they do not have the responsibility of being the leader country of the world.

      Brilliant insight.

      • Ken B says:

        Oyveh. Gene said ‘most powerful’. That is not the same as ‘leader’.

        • Egoist says:

          They’re two identical twin ducks.

          Being the most powerful is synonymous with being the leader.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          But maybe Gene was thinking “leader.” Or maybe Egoist was thinking “most powerful” but he typed “leader.” (OK I’ll stop now.)

          • Egoist says:

            Gene and Ken B will only be charitable and argue for multiple interpretions of what I said, if they agree with an aspect of my ideology and feel it under threat.

            I mean, that’s why Gene is doing that for Rice, and why Ken B is doing that for Gene.

            • Ken B says:

              Time to ‘fess up. Gene is my long lost twin.

              He’s the evil one.

          • Ken B says:

            It’s spelt “Luxury Yacht” but it’s pronounced Throatwarbler-Mangrove.

  5. Joseph Fetz says:

    To be honest, it really depends upon what she means by “lead”. From her past work, I think that it is safe to assume that by “lead” she means militarism, interventionism, and imperialism; all things that I abhor. If she means trade, peace, and cooperation, then I am all for it.

  6. Matt Miller says:

    “Someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values.”

    Well, with the choice between Obama and Romney, that’s already guaranteed to happen for me. Remind me what I’m supposed to be afraid of again? The current US government as a whole does not share my values, so this threat is not especially convincing to me…

  7. Dyspeptic says:

    If the edited news clip above is indicative of the speech as a whole then it seems like very typical neoconservative boilerplate. Rice is of course just another big government militarist. A welfare/warfare state defender. Her speech at the convention reminds me of the claptrap peddled by the nattering neoconservative nabobs who blanket the radio airwaves.

    For me the whole thing boils down to a simple question that cuts through all the political bullshit – Who do I fear most? I have to honestly answer MY GOVERNMENT! Federal, state and local! They scare the hell out of me all the time. Al Qaida and Co. are a very distant threat to me or anyone I know. Same goes for Iran, North Korea etc. The most dangerous state is always the one in who’s jurisdiction you reside. The rest is largely bogeyman stuff for children.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “The most dangerous state is always the one in who’s jurisdiction you reside. The rest is largely bogeyman stuff for children.”

      Dyspeptic, here’s an idea: go find some relatives of people from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Denmark, Czech Rep, Slovakia, etc. who lost relatives in the Holocaust. Let them know the idea they had anything to fear from Germany in 1939 was “bogeyman stuff for children,” and that it was really their own government they should have feared.

      Let me know how those talks go, ok?

      • Ken B says:


        You’re killing me Gene.

      • Egoist says:

        There is an ignored argument here that once made explicit can serve to undercut your response to Dyspeptic, and show his is the right track:

        The Nazis were actually fighting against the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Denmark, Czech Rep, Slovakia, etc. When there is an existing state structure in a territory, then invaders can control the entire territory’s inhabitants by taking over the existing state structure and assuming itself as the new controllers.

        As an example, consider Hong Kong and mainland China. Recently the communists in China have been attempting to change the educational system in Hong Kong, to make it more “social”, more conducive to “the party”. Hundreds of thousands of students and teachers are protesting this because they view it as having to teach political propaganda, not new knowledge. Rightly so. But the Chinese regime is finding it almost impossible to introduce their propaganda into private schools that operate outside the existing Hong Kong public school system. China has also successfully planted pro-mainland unelected “governors”, and it is they and their authority that served as the waypoint between China implementing the propaganda into the school system. China just had to take over the public education authority in Hong Kong, and from there, their propaganda is almost instantly spread to all the public schools throughout Hong Kong.

        The lesson here is that it is much easier, if not making it possible in the first place, for an invading state to take over an entire territory if there is already an existing state power structure in place within the territory.

        The Nazis just had to take over the legal and political institutions of Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Denmark, Czech Rep, Slovakia, etc, and that made it much easier for them to then control the respective populations, which is the atrocities you are referring to.

        So in this sense, contrary to your claim that Dyspeptic was off base for saying existing states should be feared, he was actually on the right track. It is justified to fear one’s own state, for making it easier for an invading state to take control of the population already controlled by the local state.

        It is like you being forced to have one and only one bodyguard for hire, who is then shot or killed, thus leaving you at the mercy of the killer. If instead you did not live in a territory with one monopoly power structure, but a decentralized structure, then for a killer to get to you, they’d have to go through many resisting forces, which requires more scarce resources.

        So in your misguided faith that monopoly states should be revered or worshiped or sought after, you are in fact making it easier for invading armies to take over and do what the Nazis did. This may go against your warped statist mind, but the best way to defend a territory, is to have as decentralized a protection as possible. A monopoly state WEAKENS a territory’s population from defending itself, precisely because monopoly states use force to prevent competition in the area of FINAL jurisdiction, security and defense.

        As an analogy, just consider how hard it would be for any single person or group of people to take over the global internet. The internet is a highly decentralized system, which makes it almost impossible for an individual evil Iranian or Afghani bogeymen to prevent you from visiting Lowered Expectations dot com. Then consider China, where the government already controls the access of the Chinese, and how it would be easier for an invading force to control the internet access of the Chinese. The invaders just have to take control of a single hub.

        So in your faith based quest of worshiping and praising the state, you are in fact making it EASIER for armies like the Nazi regime to commit their atrocities. Rather than responding to invaders, who are themselves part of a monopoly of another territory, with “this is why we need a strong local state, like the US state!”, you should instead consider Dyspeptic’s call for fearing and wanting to limit local states, as on the right track.

        From the individual’s perspective, the most dangerous person to them is the person who successfully disarms them, thus turning them into fodder for an invader who would not have had the resources to do so, if they had to take over multiple power centers one by one. The Nazis couldn’t take over the world because they had to fight so many states. They eventually lost to the USSR. They ran out of resources. Hitler’s arrogance proved fatal.

        Now imagine Hitler having to fight not 10 or 20 power centers, but thousands, or tens of thousands, and you can even consider whether Hitler could have come into power in Germany if there wasn’t already an existing state structure for him to take control over in the first place. If Hitler were living in a decentralized world, then he would have remained a struggling artist with a bad haircut, rather than one of the world’s most ruthless madmen.

        From a Belgian’s perspective, the greatest danger to them is their own state, which has disarmed them (for productivity and taxation, i.e. parasitical, purposes). Their greatest danger is NOT an invading army that would get creamed if they had to expend scarce resources taking over thousands or tens of thousands of separate power centers.

        • Ken B says:

          “The Nazis were actually fighting against the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Denmark, Czech Rep, Slovakia, etc. ”


          • Egoist says:

            Not solely of course. Nazism is universal conflict against all those not of the Aryan ethnicity.

            The imperialist Nazi Germany was anti-non-German state.

          • Egoist says:

            My point is that while the Nazis could say they want to kill all Jews, and while the Nazis did kill Jews, they could not have killed nearly as many if there weren’t already existing power structures in the various countries surrounding Germany.

            Imagine the Nazis having to fight 50 or 100 separate countries, rather than a dozen or so. Imagine Germany itself being a decentralized territory, and how much power the Nazi Party could have ASSUMED otherwise. The Nazi Party could not have taken over Germany, and thus German resources, without there being an existing German state prior.

            The Nazi Party fought and took over the German state structure, THEN they went abroad and started to take over other state structures.

            • Ken B says:

              ” while the Nazis did kill Jews, they could not have killed nearly as many if there weren’t already existing power structures in the various countries surrounding Germany”

              Or railroad tracks.

              • Egoist says:

                I see you’d prefer not to address the main point.

                Imagine the railroads being decentralized in terms of final jurisdiction in security and protection.

                The Nazis just had to take over one railroad authority per country. Much easier.

              • Ken B says:

                My main point is that the Nazis warred on the populace, and *quite explicitly*. The 5 year plan for Russia involved killing millions to make Lebensraum. The plan was NOT to take over the machinery of the existing ste. That did happen in places — France is a good example. In places where it was not done — parts of Poland, or broke down, Holland, the destruction of the Jews was MORE extensive and complete. The existence of the Belgian civil service was neither necessary nor sufficient for the Nazi’s purpose.

              • Egoist says:

                You’re still not getting my point.

                The Nazis warred on the populaces THROUGH, or rather AFTER, the wars against the states.

                The Nazis first took over the Polish state structure, a battle that took only two weeks, and THEN the Nazis went door to door and rounded up the Jewish Poles. They couldn’t kidnap the Poles if the Polish army was still intact.

              • Egoist says:

                Or more accurately,

                The Nazis couldn’t as easily kidnap the Poles if the Polish security and defense structure was still intact.

            • Egoist says:

              Statism breeds further statism, because statism is itself a weakening of private security and defense, thus making the growth of states more likely.

              Imagine tomorrow the world was anarcho-capitalist through and through. Then imagine Condoleeza Rice pontificating on world leadership and whatnot, and how impossible it would be for those in the US, or anywhere else, to “lead the world”.

              The only reason why she is even in a position of saying “If the US doesn’t lead the world, some other group will”, is the fact that states exist in the first place, and a group taking control of the world is easier when you have to take over only 200 countries as compared to tens of thousands of independent city state like regions as would exist in anarcho-capitalism.

              An anarcho-capitalist world has nothing to fear from a Hitler. His blathering on about anti-semitism and Aryan supremacy and “the German people”, would have been like listening to a Rush Limbaugh. Annoying at most.

      • Joseph Fetz says:

        Murderous states bent on conquest obviously don’t limit their murder to merely their own people, that just goes without saying.

        • Joseph Fetz says:

          The deeper question from this could such an atrocity have even happened without nation states? Could it have been done at such a large scale?

  8. RPLong says:

    Did I just “prove” that every single nation-state has no choice but to lead the rest of the world in foreign affairs?

    Actually, Bob, yes you kind of did. Rice’s whole point was that if the US government doesn’t lead, “someone else” (meaning anyone other than the US) who “doesn’t share our values,” (meaning anyone who is not a US Republican) will lead.

    To all polylogists, it’s “them or us,” and endless struggle to be The Guy, because if you’re not The Guy then someone else will be The Guy, and we can’t have that.

    Your philosophy (and mine) is too “live and let live” for the likes of Rice. Statements like this prove that even the allegedly free-market American conservatives are hostile to free markets. They don’t want market freedom, they want the US corporations on top of the heap, looking down at everyone.

    • Egoist says:

      Actually, Bob, yes you kind of did.

      Bob could not have proven something that is inherently impossible. It is impossible for every country to be leader of the world. That is why he put quotes around “prove.” It was to show that he didn’t actually prove it.

      • RPLong says:

        Sorry, Egoist. Sometimes I say wrong things as a form of rhetorical flair. I don’t believe in polylogism, my point was only to show that those who accept it are bound to accept similar wrong conclusions.

  9. Blackadder says:

    Rice’s point struck me as being the best case for an expansive American foreign policy there is. If America adopted Ron Paul’s foreign policy, that wouldn’t end imperial domination. It would just mean that China or whoever would be doing the dominating.

    • Ken B says:

      Yes. And as Joseph Fetz noted, ‘leadership’ does not have to mean playing Rambo.

      A good example of the abdicatioon of leadership was the rejection of the League of Nations many moons ago.

    • Egoist says:

      You don’t have to fret, because if you worry about China becoming imperially dominant, then your response that sees the US use up resources trying to be the imperially dominant country, which will invariably result in the US losing dominance once the resources run out (which is what happens with all imperialist dynasties), then your chosen course of action is the most efficient and surefire way to make your worries a reality.

  10. Bob Murphy says:

    My gosh. You guys are simply astounding here. I’m going to go dig up Obama or Secretary Chu saying something like, “If we don’t lead the way on renewable energy, China will fill the void. They are already the world’s leading producer of solar cells.” I’m not making this up, Obama and Chu have literally said things along these lines; I’ve criticized them before.

    So Blackadder, do you think they just made the best case for subsidizing renewable energy? Or rather, was it an incredibly weak case, since they are assuming their conclusion and don’t apparently realize that that is the entire issue at stake here?

    I am not claiming in this post, that I have demonstrated the U.S. should cut its military budget. Rather, I am claiming that Rice gave a complete non sequitur in her attempt to justify U.S. imperial ambitions. The fact that some of you guys are saying, “But maybe if we change her words, then her words make sense,” proves my point.

    • Blackadder says:


      If China pours subsidies into renewable energy and we don’t, that’s bad for Chinese citizens, but it doesn’t harm anyone else. By contrast, the world really would be worse off if China played the role that the U.S. plays today.

      • Egoist says:

        That’s false. The Chinese state pouring scarce resources into renewable energy in China HURTS EVERYONE, to the extent that their lower productivity reduces world productivity.

        You seem not to appreciate the fact that mutual gains can be made by all in the division of labor and economic freedom, and thus losses will be incurred by moving away from it, for example when coercion is used to divert resources form more valued ends to less valued ends.

        I mean if we take your logic to the extreme, then your position says I will not be negatively affected if the Chinese population suddenly disappears tomorrow. I would be negatively affected to the extent that I could have otherwise gained by the existence of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs. Same thing with coercive based wasting of scarce resources in renewable energy. That hurts others other than the Chinese because it hurts the same people who otherwise benefit us in the division of labor.

        • Ken B says:

          That doesn’t follow. Chinese misallocation lowers overall productivity, but the Chinese can arrange to that in a way that benefits everyone else on net, and harms only the Chinesse on net.

          • Egoist says:


            It would require the hand of Zeus to generate the outcome where lower Chinese productivity is manifested in a lower Chinese standard of living only, and higher standard of living for everyone else.

            When productivity falls, the reduction in consumption is not only experienced by the people whose productivity is reduced. This is because savings increase when consumption increases. If consumption falls, so will savings, and that will reduce “surplus” output that people are willing to sell.

    • Ken B says:

      Well if they said that about solar cells you’d be right about that. But my example was the League of Nations. That seems to fit.

      I think most of us took Rice to mean largely areas of defence and alliances, international organizations, trade organizations, etc. She was just talking about Arab Spring turning to chaos, and sentences later she talked about what our allies and foes need to know.

      • Egoist says:

        So the economic logic for goods and services like energy, does not apply to the service of security and protection as well?

        I notice virtually everyone in this post are treating security and protection the way Monetarists/Keynesians treat money: Deny the efficacy of human reason to discern economic principles and laws and thus fail to understand its optimality in economic competition rather than monopoly.

        • Ken B says:

          Some matters, like collective security, require commitment and leadership. Some do not.

          • Egoist says:

            There is no such thing as “collective security”, and more than there is such a thing as “collective money”.

            You are fulfilling your own prophecy by DEFINING security and protection as “collective”, i.e. a “public” good.

            Your protection has nothing to do with my protection. Not all protection is the same, and certainly not valued the same. One person who owns one set of heterogeneous property would almost certainly desire a protection that differs from one who owns another set of property. If I own a car say, I’ll require different protection than someone who doesn’t.

            There is no such thing as a single “healthcare” that is valued by everyone, that justifies it being monopolized into a cookie cutter system for all. My health needs differ from yours, and so I would want different kind of healthcare from you. My healthcare provision would have to be independent from your healthcare provision, because we’re not the same person with the same needs.

            Same thing with security and protection. It is not a “public good” that justifies monopoly and cookie cutter outcomes for all. It is a complex, diverse, heterogeneous service that should be tailored to individuals to suit their individual needs.

            Economic analysis is not blind to security and protection. You are denying reason in the area of security and protection, and thus you are lead to denying that security and protection should be absorbed into the division of labor and economic freedom according to a private property ethic.

            Hobbes was wrong.

    • Egoist says:

      I think people here are having the same sort of trouble Monetarists and Keynesians have with money. Just like they view money as a “public good”, and thus external to economic analysis, so too do the people here view security and protection a “public good”, and hence external to economic analysis.

      They will use one form of logic for things like energy, and say sure, the US and China using subsidies to gain an advantage are a bad idea, but when it comes to security and protection, they do a 180 and contradict their previous logic, and instead say “Yay US imperalism!”

      The reason why you are astounded is because you, unlike them, “get” private production of security and defense. The people here know OF it, but they don’t GET it enough to understand that rationalism can ALSO be used in the area of security and protection, and thus reveal the cognitive errors of imperialist “logic.”

      For what it’s worth, while you and I may not agree on some stuff, I “get” your argument.

      • Tel says:

        If my nation is invaded, it is very unlikely that the invaders will carefully draw a neat circle around my house and pillage everything around me.

        For that reason, my neighbours and myself are in the same boat with regards to invasion.

        However, economics is mostly defined in terms of what happens at the margin. A nation is either invaded or it isn’t, there is no marginal case. There is only a personal perception of risk.

        Here in Australia we often discuss exactly how far we should bend over for the USA in return for defence support. Personally I believe we don’t have to bend far at all… my argument is that the USA has fewer and fewer allies in this day and age, they will be happy with even moderate support from Australia. Other Australians believe we should just touch our toes and stay down there because we absolutely need every bit of help we can get. The argument is over what is a tolerable level of risk, and by what method we should determine this risk — after all the Americans don’t necessarily need to help us even after we have done everything they asked.

        Eventually the entire nation makes a decision, it’s not as if each individual citizen can make a treaty. Individual perceptions do stack up against each other in order to come to a decision, but once that decision is made we are still all in the same boat.

  11. joshua says:

    I caught a similar clip and had a similar reaction. I just disagree that it’s self-evident that chaos would result if we didn’t “lead” (which I interpret as “continue to subsidize the defense budget of the rest of the world”). Democracy and trade have flourished around the world in the last century or so; why assume that there has been 1) no decrease in the number of people/nations who want to fight other people/nations, and 2) no increase in the number of other people/nations who want to stop other people/nations from fighting them?

    • Ken B says:

      ” Democracy and trade have flourished around the world in the last century or so”

      Yes, and without any military intervention or promises to protect and foster its growth.

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