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towr
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #50 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 12:44am »
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Even if we were only contributing 2% to the problem, consider that if you have a ball of plutonium 1% under critical mass then adding 2% to it poses a rather significant problem for people standing nearby. Tongue
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #51 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 5:52am »
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on Dec 17th, 2007, 5:05pm, ecoist wrote:
To your data, towr, add the fact that man's total contribution to the current climate change is around 2 percent.  Natural phenomena, uncontrolled by man, account for the rest.  So, even if we nuke ourselves, the billions of rotting bodies will not significantly increase green house gases.

 
And you call yourself Ecoist?
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #52 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 8:27am »
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Exactly, Ghost Sniper!  I respect natural law.  An integral part of that law is human ecology, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand, a much more positive, and accurate, view of human nature than some of you realize.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #53 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 8:42am »
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on Dec 18th, 2007, 8:27am, ecoist wrote:
I respect natural law.  An integral part of that law is human ecology, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand, a much more positive, and accurate, view of human nature than some of you realize.

Interesting... you seem to be under the impression that I feel most people are war-mongering type, etc and that I've got a negative view of human nature. But I feel that isn't true, most people are reasonable and can be detered from war-like actions if there is sufficient motivation not to. However there are people out there who would kill you and not think anything about it and to pretend otherwise is folly. If you have no problem with letting them kill you... well that is your own perogative... but personally I'm not just going to roll over and die because someone feels it is their god-given right to kill anyone who disagrees with them.
People are for the most part good, and will do the right thing unless they feel it is in their better interests not to. You can't avoid the fact though that people will act in their own best interest instinctively, so as long as you can keep your aims in-line with theirs, you'll have no problem, but human nature is something that cannot be discounted. This rather reminds me of the Bagel Man episode... (Freakonomics if you haven't read it... good read)
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #54 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 9:20am »
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Glad to hear that you recognize that man is not inherently evil, ima1trkphy!  However, it is Adam Smith's invisible hand that minimizes the harm caused by the evil ones among us, by reducing the incentive for violence and magnifying good people's ability to defend against such violence!  I also believe that, by studying the handiwork of this invisible hand, man can learn to solve problems without leaping all too quickly to the war solution.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #55 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 9:45am »
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I can't quite see what Adam Smith has to do with anything. His theories are as outdated and unfalsifiable as Freud's psychoanalysis or Marxist theories. You can get whatever you want out of it using smoke and mirrors. A bunch of invisible handwaving the lot of them.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #56 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 6:14pm »
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on Dec 18th, 2007, 9:45am, towr wrote:
I can't quite see what Adam Smith has to do with anything...

Amen. I'm sorry Ecoist... but I personally don't see Adam Smith as being God's little right hand man waving away evil in the world. Human nature was human nature long before Adam Smith was ever born and will continue to be until long after he is forgotten.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #57 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 9:00pm »
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towr and ima1trkpny, perhaps your comments more properly belong in "creationism vs evolution", what with you, towr, calling Adam Smith's theories "invisible hand waving" and you, ima1trkpny, suggesting that I regard Adam Smith as "God's little right hand waving away evil in the world"!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #58 on: Dec 18th, 2007, 9:54pm »
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Can't comment much about Adam Smith, since what little I know about him is what I've read from the net. If we're talking about Adam Sandler, however..  Tongue
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #59 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 7:20am »
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The problem I have with Smith's capitalism is the same one I have with Marx's socialism: they both require that the average person understand and consider the social ramifications of their decisions.  Capitalist economists call it "enlightened self-interest", socialist economists call it "the greater good", but it boils down to the same thing -- average people have to have the wellbeing of the society as one of their values.
 
In my experience, unfortunately, this simply doesn't happen on a scale larger than the "community", and even then only rarely.  The average Wal*Mart shopper has never even considered the retail giant's effect -- for good or ill -- on the supply chain, locally-owned business, or domestic manufacturing; they just know Wal*Mart has the lowest prices on the things they want to buy.  Real people simply don't practice the "enlightened" part of Simth's enlightened self interest to the degree necessary for laissez-faire capitalism to work on a national or global scale.
 
I don't think we should let the invisible hand of the free market exclusively dictate social good any more than we should let the leader of the Communist party -- or the will of the majority -- exclusively dictate social good.  All forms of power are open to abuse.
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #60 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 7:52am »
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on Dec 19th, 2007, 7:20am, SMQ wrote:
...they both require that the average person understand and consider the social ramifications of their decisions.... average people have to have the wellbeing of the society as one of their values.

Precisely Wink
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #61 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 9:53am »
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What I was afraid of seems to be true!  Some of you don't understand "the invisible hand" idea at all!  SMQ, and perhaps the rest of you, are well aware that the individual acts in his own self-interest, largely ignorant of the full consequences of his actions for good or ill, even for himself!  The beauty of Adam Smith's idea is that despite this fact, man's self-serving actions often result in overall good for society, "as if they were led by an invisible hand"!
 
SMQ's WalMart example is a good case on this point.  Depending on one's point of view, both good and bad things result from consumers choosing Walmart over locally-owned businesses.  Consumers get products more cheaply and some local businesses go belly up because they cannot compete with Walmart.  However, looking at the whole picture, consumer's standard of living rises, businesses that don't compete with Walmart gain customers who now have more money to purchase their wares, and, for the most part, those locally-owned businesses should go belly up if they cannot satisfy consumers as well as another business. Those locally-owned businesses that continue to thrive, do so by offering the personal attention and knowledge that Walmart cannot supply.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #62 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 10:26am »
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Thank you, but I think I understand reasonably well: see, for example, the section in Wikipedia's article on Adam Smith entitled The "Adam Smith-Problem".  While the collective effect of even uninformed consumerism may provide some societal benefit, that benefit may not reflect the values of the members of the society.  That, to me, is a problem.
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #63 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 10:47am »
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on Dec 19th, 2007, 9:53am, ecoist wrote:
SMQ, and perhaps the rest of you, are well aware that the individual acts in his own self-interest
I dispute this for any sensible interpretation of "self-interest".
 
It is not people's nature to be solely self-interested; we're social animals. People do not only frequently display bouts of altruism, they actually get themselves killed on other's behalf. And if you're not around to reap the benefits, you can't justify it as self-interest.
Now, of course, there are some "wonderful" theories to explain how altruism in fact follows from self-interest (and we can throw some overcommitting in the mix to explain "death by self-interest"), but that's as loony as supposing the opposite (after all, how can you serve other people's interest if you neglect your own; you need to make sure you'll be around, and in a good position, to help people later on. I could help a lot more people a lot better if I made a lot more money. [Well, except I would have much time, but then I could employ other people to actually help people, so it'll all work out; altruism for the win]).  
 
I'd also dispute that people in general even know what their best interest are (and for that matter that they know others' or vice versa; just to avoid accusations of paternalism). At best we might have an idea about the local optimum interest, but not the global optimum interest.  
Many people won't even consider the issue much. Or worse, they know what would be in their best interest, but go against it anyway; as is often the case with addicts. Every smoker knows it's in their best interest to stop smoking; yet they generally don't (And so tobacco companies make a killing; in more ways than one; yay capitalism; thank you mr. Smith).
 
People are an irrational bunch; whether we are worse or better of for it is a matter of debate.
 
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The beauty of Adam Smith's idea is that despite this fact, man's self-serving actions often result in overall good for society, "as if they were led by an invisible hand"!
If people were smart enough, and willing, to act in their self-interest, I very much doubt this would be the case.  
And note that most wars are based solely on someone's own best interest; while, mind you, the soldiers typically seem entirely clueless about their best interests (i.e. run away fast).
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #64 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 11:26am »
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You are my kind of debator, SMQ!  I wish I could back up my remarks as well as you do!
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While the collective effect of even uninformed consumerism may provide some societal benefit, that benefit may not reflect the values of the members of the society.  That, to me, is a problem.

Yes, indeed!  But the problem lies more with "the values of the members of the society" than with Adam Smith's economic theory.  The laws of nature, and its application to human ecology are without value (well, at least to secular humanists).  I find the values of genital mutilation, honor killings, and such abhorrent.  I also find restrictions on immigration morally despicable.  What pleases me about the forces of the free market is that the more extreme values tend to die out and the more universally accepted values tend to thrive (evolution)!  Even organized crime is learning that whacking the opposition is not as economically efficient as less bloody alternatives!  Thankfully, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre is history!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #65 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 12:12pm »
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on Dec 19th, 2007, 11:26am, ecoist wrote:
What pleases me about the forces of the free market is that the more extreme values tend to die out and the more universally accepted values tend to thrive (evolution)!

But it's not just the "more extreme" values that fail to thrive!  The only "value" (and I'm half switching meanings here, and half not) recognized by the free market is economic value; Smith equates "benefit to a society's economy" with "benefit to a society".  I disagree.
 
Two anecdotes to illustrate my position:
 
1) Since at least the early 70s it has been widely recognized -- not just by economists but by average citizens -- that one of the weaknesses of the United States is our dependence on foreign crude oil production.  Yet in the last 30+ years the situation has changed only a little.  Partly because the average consumer isn't willing to inconvenience themselves to cut back on their own gasoline/fuel oil usage, but primarily because the market provides no pressure to change.  Alternative energy sources are more costly, and those who can most easily afford to change are exactly those who can afford not to despite the rising cost of oil.  As a society there can be little doubt that we value energy independence, but that value is not supported by the market, and won't be until the situation is much more dire than it is now.
 
2) My great-great aunt purchased a small tract of land along a river bayou back when it was in the "middle of nowhere."  Other than a modest house she left it primarily undeveloped, preferring to preserve some measure of the natural tranquility of the setting.  As my mother grew up she spent quite a bit of time out there, just watching, thinking, being in that place.  Over time, half of the lot came to her parents -- my grandparents -- who promised it would in turn be left to her.  Over time the suburbs grew to encompass what was once the middle of nowhere, and circumstances became such that my grandparents wanted to build on the property.  My mother vehemently opposed the idea, writing them a long letter in which she tried to explain the sense of peace, of place she received from her visits there, and how that would be destroyed by developing the lot.  My grandparents wrote back that she should be grateful to them, since with a house on the lot it would be worth twice as much when she inherited it.  They were actually unable to grasp the concept that the land had value to my mother outside of its economic value.  It seems to me the invisible hand of Smith's economics is equally blind.
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #66 on: Dec 19th, 2007, 2:52pm »
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Sorry, don't know what you mean by "economic value", SMQ.  Seems meaningless to me - unless you mean prices of goods and services.  Also, since economic law is valueless, "benefit to a society's economy" is also meaningless.
 
As for 1), I don't know what economists you refer to, but I know of no economist who regards dependence on foreign oil as a weakness.  If this were so, the United States is weaker now than ever!  We depend on the labor of illegal immigrants!  We depend on outsourcing for much of our manufactured goods!  And Japan, a major economic power, has virtually no resources of its own!  You say "the market provides no pressure to change".  Of course not, because the price structure generated by market forces shows that there is no need to change!  It is man's variable notions of "value" that changes!  And you are right, the situation will not change until "the situation is much more dire than it is now".  In which case, the market will get us on track whether we worry about oil or not.
 
2) reinforces the fact that economic law is valueless.  Some of us rejoice in our fast cars and cell phones.  Others, like the Amish, decry the encroachment of modernity.  Like your mother, we must all recognize that nature is not our personal servant.  As Brutus said to Caesar, "the fault, dear Caesar, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings!"
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #67 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 7:27am »
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Alright, let me start with a definition of terms as I'm using them:
 
Economy: the exchange of goods and services.  Often, but not necessarily, mediated by a monetary transaction.
Economic Value: The value of something in an economy -- what someone else is willing to give for it.  Again often, but not necessarily, associated with monetary value.
Economic Benefit: Something which increases the net economic value of all goods and services being considered.
 
What you call meaningless, then, is exactly the point I'm trying to make: I do not think/feel/believe/accept that the greatness/success/benefit/health/measure of a society can be defined entirely in economic terms.  Adam Smith explicitly held exactly that: that the sole measure of a society was its economy -- that anything which benefited the economy benefited the society and anything which harmed the economy harmed the society.  I disagree.
 
With the first anecdote I was attempting to illustrate two facets of my viewpoint.  First, that it was not just the extreme/marginal values of a society which are "ignored" by market forces, but sometimes the core ones.  Far and away the vast majority of citizens of the United States hold self-determination/independence -- both personal and national -- as a virtue, but, as I attempted to illustrate, that societal value is not "supported" by the market, and, in fact, may be eroded.
 
Second, I hoped to show that the market is reactive rather than proactive.  You say the market shows there's no need to change now, but power plants have a long lead time -- on the order of a decade -- and power technologies even longer: 30 to 50 years by most estimates.  I hold that by the time the market reacts to rising oil prices it may well be too late to avoid a temporary but severe energy shortage.  The "valueless" law of supply and demand says that the rising prices will drive increased production -- and I don't doubt it -- but because of the technologies involved, that "correction" could well take anywhere from several years to several decades!
 
With the second anecdote I hoped to illustrate what I meant by non-economic value.  The value my mother found in that land added nothing to the economy.  It perhaps raised the price that she, personally, would be willing to pay for it, but since it was well beyond her means in any case there was no economic impact.  From an economic standpoint my grandparents were right -- they wanted to add clear and lasting economic value to the land, and what they wanted to take away was immeasurable, ephemeral, valueless.  And yet I think most everyone can understand that something would be lost in building that house.  Not all value is economic.
 
 
So, returning to the topic of the thread, when you argue that the measure of the "goodness" or "badness" of war is its impact on the economy, I argue that there are other factors in play as well.  Taking the measure of a war solely in economic terms, by the valueless laws of economics, seems to me to make just about as much sense as taking the measure of a person solely in physical terms, by the valueless laws of physics.  Just as your impact on society can't be described by your stature alone, I don't think a war's impact on society can be described by its cost alone.
 
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #68 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 9:25am »
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It strikes me that individual contentment, while good for the individual, is terrible for the economy - if someone is content with what they have, they reduce consumption (or, at least, cease increasing consumption).
 
Someone overworking in order to afford a playstation 3 (or whatever) is good for the economy (at least in the short term) - more money gets passed around - but bad for them.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #69 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 10:14am »
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I commend your clarity and thoroughness, SMQ!  Your comments deserve a careful response.  Allow me to post my response in parts.  Interjections between the parts welcome.
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Economy: the exchange of goods and services.  Often, but not necessarily, mediated by a monetary transaction.  
Economic Value: The value of something in an economy -- what someone else is willing to give for it.  Again often, but not necessarily, associated with monetary value.  
Economic Benefit: Something which increases the net economic value of all goods and services being considered.

I tentatively accept your definition of "economy".  I have a quibble with "Economic value".  The prices one pays, or that which he gives in barter, for things reflects the person's time-sensitive estimate of its value to him.  Other persons have different estimates at the same time.   Note that we willingly pay higher prices at local stores for the same item which is cheaper at a mall farther away.  All depends on whether it is worth it to spend more time (and gas) to obtain the cheaper price, a personal choice.  So, what does economic value mean when, according to you, it derives from the value of goods and services, which values are different in different places?
Your definition of "Economic Benefit" seems, at first blush, to be a definition of "inflation"!
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I do not think/feel/believe/accept that the greatness/success/benefit/health/measure of a society can be defined entirely in economic terms

I agree completely!  Sorry that my clumsy exposition may have led you to think I believe otherwise.  Let me briefly put it this way.  I believe that it is wrong for anyone to force his values on me.  That includes the wrongness of me forcing my values on anyone else.  Where valueless economic law comes in, in my view, is that this law makes it expensive for anyone, or group, to aggress against another person or group.  Hence, economic law tends to minimize aggression (an instance of the physicist's notion of entropy?).  Nature doesn't care about this, but I appreciate it!
 
Will continue after more thought.  Thanks again, SMQ.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #70 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 11:04am »
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The hermit can be good for the economy, rmsgrey!  If he has any money, his actions reduce the money supply, thus making everything ultimately slightly cheaper.  Also, his lack of consumption makes the goods and services he abandons slightly less scarce for others.  And recall that there are those who rail against over-population and global warming.  The hermit takes one small step to ease these problems.
 
Don't you think it is a bit arrogant on your part to regard one addicted to PlayStation 3 as hurting himself?  Why not be a little less judgemental and rejoice that his addiction contributes to other's standard of living?  If there were no Playstation 3's, there would be more discretionary income for other things, which things would, therefore, cost more!  Besides, I'd bet that there are some things you do that some others would regard as harmful to you!  He who is without vice, let him cast the first iphone!
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #71 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 12:52pm »
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on Dec 20th, 2007, 11:04am, ecoist wrote:
I'd bet that there are some things you do that some others would regard as harmful to you!  He who is without vice, let him cast the first iphone!

Ecoist, I think you misinterpretted his comment. I don't believe he was commenting on how good or bad playing video games is. He was merely commenting that in many ways a person who is completely content doesn't really serve to forward the economy. Because they aren't consuming, yes the money supply will go down, but at the same time because he isn't spending, the income for businesses go down. That is money with which they could employ more workers, so if they have to lay those workers off, you now have more people without any money to spend or ways in which to earn money.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #72 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 3:10pm »
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With the first anecdote I was attempting to illustrate two facets of my viewpoint.  First, that it was not just the extreme/marginal values of a society which are "ignored" by market forces, but sometimes the core ones.  Far and away the vast majority of citizens of the United States hold self-determination/independence -- both personal and national -- as a virtue, but, as I attempted to illustrate, that societal value is not "supported" by the market, and, in fact, may be eroded.

You are completely right here.  Since market forces support no particular value system, they often are hostile to any set of values.
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Second, I hoped to show that the market is reactive rather than proactive.  You say the market shows there's no need to change now, but power plants have a long lead time -- on the order of a decade -- and power technologies even longer: 30 to 50 years by most estimates.  I hold that by the time the market reacts to rising oil prices it may well be too late to avoid a temporary but severe energy shortage.  The "valueless" law of supply and demand says that the rising prices will drive increased production -- and I don't doubt it -- but because of the technologies involved, that "correction" could well take anywhere from several years to several decades!

What you say could indeed happen, but the solution lies with we humans, exploiting market forces as best we can.  The market, whether reactive or proactive, doesn't care one way or the other ("The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on").  There are, at this moment, many entrepreneurs, who see things as you do, who are actively positioning themselves with alternative sources of fuel, and products that use less energy, to capitalize on future events.  If your vision materializes, these enterprising individuals will minimize its impact (provided government doesn't intervene with stupid regulations that are sure to worsen the crisis, as it did with the Great Depression).
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Not all value is economic.
 
Right!  In fact, no value is economic!  We humans determine value, and the wiser among us use economics to maintain and enhance our values.  Getting back to this thread, that's why I claim war is bad.  War destroys people and treasure, thus inhibiting our ability to exploit nature for our quality of life!  Unless an aggressor threatens these three basic values, war should be avoided.
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I don't think a war's impact on society can be described by its cost alone.

Of course not!  Cost-benefit analysis is required!  War is justified only if its benefit outweighs its horrendous cost.  Historically, the benefits of war have rarely exceeded its cost!  Of course, there are those who will cherry-pick nice events following a war to claim that those nice events justified the war.  For example, some claim that the American Civil War was justified because it preserved the union and abolished slavery.  No mention of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died fighting that war.  No mention that slavery was dying before the war began.  No mention that one of the greatest ideas of our founding fathers was the right of states to secede from the union.  That great right has been lost forever.
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #73 on: Dec 20th, 2007, 11:41pm »
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on Dec 20th, 2007, 11:04am, ecoist wrote:
Don't you think it is a bit arrogant on your part to regard one addicted to PlayStation 3 as hurting himself?  

How about overworking (which is obviously what he meant)?   Roll Eyes
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Re: War - good or bad  
« Reply #74 on: Dec 21st, 2007, 1:09am »
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on Dec 20th, 2007, 3:10pm, ecoist wrote:
but the solution lies with we humans, exploiting market forces as best we can.
What, now we have to think? I thought an invisible hand was guiding us, and the market would force us to do what needed to be done regardless.
 
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No mention of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died fighting that war.  
Meh, their lack of being alive "makes the goods and services [..] less scarce for others. "; surely an economic boon.
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