The war that never ends

It’s been more than 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. Since that horrific attack, the U.S. government has continued to wage a “war on terror” at home and abroad.

The war on terror has reshaped our lives. TSA’s offensive searches have become a prerequisite for air travel. Millions of Americans have had their phone records and other metadata intercepted by the National Security Agency. The U.S. government has spent $ 8 trillion on the war on terror, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. They find disturbing humanitarian costs, including more than 900,000 deaths in the war on terror.

The war on terror has been going on for most of my life. Many college students today are living for the war on terror Their whole life.

These students may wonder if there is anything economically relevant to say about the world they live in, especially if they are only taught a set of abstract models. But economics is not just a set of abstract models on a blackboard. Economics is a Thinking style. As Peter Boett puts it, economic thinking is a set of spectacles that help us see the world around us clearly. Inside Production militarismChristopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall use economics to explain the war on terror.

More specifically, Cohen and Hall use economics to explain the role of government propaganda in the war on terror. They quote philosopher Jason Stanley’s definition of propaganda that “has three main features:”

First, the propaganda is intentionally biased or false. Its purpose is to prevent people from accessing true information. Second, propaganda is used to propagate a political purpose. Third, propaganda is bad from the point of view of the people targeted by the preacher’s message because it limits their ability to make a known judgment.

While they acknowledge that propaganda may exist in many areas of life, they focus on government propaganda and the U.S. national security state. They illuminate this important event using a mixture of economic theory and illustrated history.

Economic theorists use models for social world analysis. Describe such a model Ideal Defensive state. This model gives citizens access to information about the performance of government officials. Based on this information they can hold officials accountable. This creates an incentive for officials to work in the interests of citizens. Under this model, publicity is not required. If the officials are already acting according to the wishes of the citizens, then there is no need for publicity of the officials to ensure the support of the citizens. There is no place for publicity in this model either. It is assumed that the citizens have sufficient information that they will not be deceived.

But as Hall and Cohen persuaded, real-world governments deviate sharply from this ideological model. Is identified by the actual state The main agent problem. A principal-agent problem occurs when a person (principal) owns an asset but the real control is in the hands of someone who is supposed to work for them, their “agent”. Corporations, for example, are “owned by shareholders who have to rely on employers to run the firm to meet their interests.” Agents will often know things that the principal does not know. This Asymmetric information This means that the agent has a place to work opportunistically, which harms the interests of the chief.

Principal-agent issues do not only apply to corporations. Democratic states are full of them! Citizens of a democratic state are understood as the head and government officials as the agents of the citizens. You would think that government officials have a strong incentive to act in the interests of citizens. After all, citizens have the power to vote outside the office of politicians.

But Cohen and Hall point to a number of factors that undermine the democratic response. One such factor is Logical ignorance. Since a single vote is unlikely to change the outcome of an election, voters have little incentive to obtain detailed information about the actions of government officials. Even if they do acquire such information, time delays in elections mean that they often cannot punish elected officials unless it is too late to reverse their actions. This relaxes the system which can be exploited by special interests, both private corporations and government employees. And of course, the privacy involved in national security policy makes these issues even more serious. This means that the ideal does not contain the model of the state, and there is ample room for powerful government officials to use propaganda to motivate the masses.

The economic analysis that Coin and Hall offer is the classic public choice theory. Public choice theorists use economics tools to offer a clear-eyed analysis of government. Instead of favoritism, they study the incentives faced by voters, vote-seeking politicians, bureaucrats, and contractors.

But Coin and Hall offer more than theory. They use real-world examples to show that the theory is empirically relevant.

At the beginning of the book, Quinn and Hall discuss the long history of the US government’s war propaganda. They seek war propaganda all the way to the American Revolution and offer particularly insightful analysis of propaganda during World War II and the Cold War. In the end, it’s just setting the stage for their main focus: the ongoing war on terror that is about to shape our lives.

The war on terror is multifaceted. One of the most fruitful aspects was the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Many Americans now know that the attack was sold on the basis of false claims, such as that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks and that he was developing weapons of mass destruction. But how did the Bush administration convey these lies to so many Americans?

Anyone who wants to understand the propaganda used to sell the Iraq invasion should read this book. Cohen and Hall carefully explained what officials knew and what they said, “disconnecting between what U.S. government officials knew and what was presented to the public.” They also show how administration officials have used the media to make false claims. Insider sources have leaked information to the media, including claims that the sealed aluminum tubes are strong evidence of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. Then when New York Times Reportedly, officials such as Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney described the story as “an indication of independent credibility outside the administration.”

Propaganda continued after the attack, with officials actively working to build public opinion about the war. They continue to use media laundering tactics. They embedded journalists with American troops, which changed the incentives and information available to those journalists. Defense contractors, lobbyists and people with direct ties to the Pentagon appeared on the television news but were presented as independent experts.

Media reporting on the war on terror has been significantly distorted by US government propaganda. Can Americans avoid such propaganda by tuning in to the news? Not sadly. As with the Coin and Hall shows, Americans are engrossed in publicity when they watch sporting events, go to the airport, and watch summer blockbusters.

The Department of Defense has spent millions of dollars sponsoring “patriotic performances” at sporting events, especially NFL football games. And “paid patriotism” is not the only form of post-9/11 sports promotion. When Pat Tillman left the NFL to join the Army, government officials began using his military service as a propaganda opportunity. After being killed in a friendly fire in Afghanistan, senior US government officials withheld information about his death. Coin and Hall carefully document the gap between what officials knew, what was known, and what was said publicly, and how this deception served as a pro-war narrative.

Whenever Americans fly commercially, they have to travel through a checkpoint maintained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Cohen and Hall compulsively argue that the TSA does not protect Americans. In addition, the TSA is involved in propaganda through a combination of “security theater” and “threat inflation”. Their activities promote the larger structure of the war on terror, even if they do not support a particular conflict. But this safety theater comes at a serious cost to civil liberties and can be particularly detrimental to some air travelers, including “artificial breasts, colostomy bags and other medical devices.” People are treated disrespectfully, and this is more to show than any measurable security benefit.

When we go to the movies, we are exposed to hype. Many films are made using resources provided by the Department of Defense, such as military hardware. But in order to access these resources, filmmakers veto power over their scripts. It changes the message and the ideas that are spread on movies and television shows. Government resources are used as carrots to encourage filmmakers to send a more positive message about US militarism.

Production militarism Offers a fascinating mix of theory and history. Cohen and Hall show us how effective economics can be in understanding the war on terror and the propaganda that sustains it. I hope their book will inspire future research on this topic. I think their framework can be effectively applied to understanding the role of propaganda and the threat of inflation in immigration policy for example. Or the role that propaganda plays in American drone warfare and air strikes abroad.

Reprinted from EconLib

Nathan P. Goodman

Nathan P. Goodman is a postdoctoral fellow in economics at New York University. His research interests include defense and peace economics, self-governance, public choice, institutional analysis, and the Austrian economy.

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