Sunday, February 17, 2002
“Rain Man” Raymond: can identify numbers in apparently random patterns and events
“Rain Man” Raimondo: can identify Israeli treachery in apparently random patterns and events
“Rain Man” Raymond: becomes agitated when routine is disrupted
“Rain Man” Raimondo: becomes agitated when awake
“Rain Man” Raymond: “Tapioca pudding is definitely on the menu.”
“Rain Man” Raimondo: “Israel is definitely responsible.”
“Rain Man” Raymond: Has memorized many dates of airline disasters
“Rain Man” Raimondo: Has memorized many slogans from science fiction novels
“Rain Man” Raymond: other name is Dustin
“Rain Man” Raimondo: other name is Justin
“Rain Man” Raymond: “A man who cannot change” (evidence: he behaves exactly the same in every scene from beginning to end)
“Rain Man” Raimondo: “A man who cannot change” (evidence: skim his columns)
“Rain Man” Raymond: idiot-savant
“Rain Man” Raimondo: idiot (or idiotarian)
And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.
"Back then [in 1984], it was a choice between the Americans and the Soviets. Now there's a choice between the Americans - and everyone else. In 2002, there isn't even a faint rival to the United States in global domination…."
"So the resentment of American power - even among close allies like Britain - is not only likely. It's inevitable. And because there isn't even a close rival emerging to challenge this hegemon, the resentment will only increase."
I think that Mr. Sullivan’s article would be even more accurately titled, “Whining About America: How Easy. How Dumb. How Wrong.” It is going to take me a few days to put my thoughts together properly, but here’s my first crack at it. And it involves a bit of extremely casual game theory.
Of course, game theory has been invoked recently by a number of very articulate columnists and bloggers (Robert Wright, William Saletan, MoreThanZeroSum), as well as by Justin "Rain Man" Raimondo. The basic point is that, by viewing the current interplay among economic or political actors through the lens of game theory, we can gain insight into which actions one side can use to influence the behavior of the other side. It is intriguing that these authors often use broadly similar logic to support conflicting points of view, but this is consistent with economists’ use of the theory, since small changes in assumptions can yield different results. What is clear is that people of good will, and also Justin "Rain Man" Raimondo, can disagree on how to interpret game theoretic results.
Game theory is not only useful for identifying ways to influence others’ behavior, but also for identifying institutions or “rules of the game” that are likely to generate a lot of good things (aka high “social welfare”) for people or nations. I think that some basic game-theoretic ideas indicate that, rather than carping about the U.S. capriciously using its power, the rest of the world should be pretty amazed that the U.S. doesn’t do so far more often.
Living in Canada, I was struck by some Canadians’ arguments post-9/11 that the U.S. had brought the World Trade Center attack upon itself. The argument almost always went like this: The U.S. has bullied a lot of countries. What about Vietnam? What about Chile? What about Nicaragua and El Salvador?
All incidents about which the U.S. should feel remorse. And all incidents that occurred between 15 and 30 years ago. Those who spouted this line of argument rarely mentioned anything after 1990, except occasionally the sanctions on Iraq or the ever-present Israel-Palestinian issue.
Why so many events during the 1970s and 1980s, and so few events after 1990? Because in 1990 the Soviet Union ceased to be a significant threat to the West.
Which raises two points. First, a lot of the carping about U.S. belligerence is due to the very success of the U.S. in the Cold War – ten years later, people cannot even remember how serious the Soviet threat appeared back then. Without this context, U.S. actions look all the more like bullying. [More on this point some other day.] Second, we tend to have fewer wars when there is a stark difference in the power of nations than when there exist several evenly-matched nations.
Compare Europe from the mid-1700s through the mid-1900s, experiencing war every generation, to Europe during the Pax Romana, with an imposed peace but a less-than-equitable relationship with Rome. Compare the Cold War world to the world since 1990.
The one problem is that the most powerful nation, which plays a key role in reducing overall warfare, also has an incentive to use its position to exploit the rest of the world for its own benefit. Rome levied high taxes on its conquered peoples; other hegemons have demanded similar tributes.
So we face a conundrum: the very arrangement of power that supports a safer world will also result in the most powerful country throwing its weight around to extract some additional benefits, at least on the margins.
Given this situation, it is difficult to imagine a more benign superpower than the U.S. Other countries often compare the U.S. unfavorably to some sort of mythical ideal superpower, always ready to defend where they think it should, but never using its strength for anything other than the betterment of the globe. (“I shall use my x-ray powers only for good.”) But comparisons to mythical ideals are unhelpful; we should compare institutions to other feasible institutions. Based on the results of game theory, and historical experience with prior hegemonic powers, the world could do a lot worse than have as its primary power a democracy with a relatively weak executive, a well-defined division of powers, and a perhaps naïve belief that it can influence the rest of the world primarily by diffusing its ideas and values.
So whining about America isn't just easy and dumb. It's just plain wrong.