Friday, April 27, 2007

Public vs Private - MILITARY

It is surprising that in all my years, I haven't seen an Economist article debating whether defence forces should be privatised and to what extent. Klaus Rohde touches an aspect in Private wars. In my own experience the first time I really thought about was after reading "Green Mars" (Kim Stanley Robertson) a future history novel in which the security arms of multinational companies became huge private armies. Two questions I ask myself are
- What examples of private armies in the world have been shown to be more effective than the standard sort? and
- Should we presume that privatised armies will allocate resources more efficiently, and therefore be more cost effective, or even decisive in situations where resources are subject to extensive competition?

The standard analogical analysis by the Economist leads one to believe that it is more efficient to list those things which shouldn't be privatised because it is a very short list.

As an answer to my first question, a small army of terrorists (these are almost exclusively privately run but funded by sponsoring Governments) can often "defeat" (ie. send packing to go home) a much larger, modern conventional army. I would expect that private "security" companies may have greater success at sticking out a long protracted conflict, and at a much smaller cost in say Iraq.

As an answer to my second question, there is extensive competition for human resources in a conflict situation. These are allocated much more efficiently in a terrorist organisation than in conventional armies. Western world organisations don't seem to be in the market for humans who will readily give up their life to kill for political reasons, but perhaps private security organisations from those countries are recruiting from the same pool of "brave fanatics".

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Vote Labor???

We need a higher unemployment rate. It's not just that I like Kevin Rudd somewhat, and that the economic action is concentrated in water trading (and carbon trading). I am being selfish in this instance because a higher unemployment rate is good for small business owners. Ok, so it's not so good for the country as a whole, nor for the newly unemployed, but quite frankly, that's their problem. Kevin Rudd's IR policies are not laid down in stone, but the noises are in the direction of winding back selected workchoice legislation. What would be typical in Australian election campaigns is that the wind back is "minimalised" by the policy wonks. This is a strategy to maximise votes. Why advertise a complete windback when any windback more than the Liberals are promising will achieve the vote of the interested individual.
The "Labour supply shortfall" is an illusion based on the "lump of labour" fallacy. Low unemployment rates have the tendency to give that illusion. The difficulty in finding employees is real, and scaring (all the other) employers away from hiring is the only realistic avenue to making it easier. The unfair dismissal legislation is the obvious choice for a minimalist windback. This will scare the bejeepers out of most small businesses from employing (or even to dismissing while it is still legal) while my own analysis shows these fears to be somewhat overplayed or irrational. This is why on balance it would play in my individual favour.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blah Blah Game Theory Blah Blah

I am probably not saying anything original by feeling that "Stable democracies" are an artifact of the "political game" establishing a "Nash equilibrium", ie. one where the "players" are each following optimal strategies. (I am asserting that) The resulting policies, economic growth, employment etc. that arise are a result of where that equilibrium is for that particular country. (I am asserting that) The "rules of the game" that determines where the country reaches equilibrium are the governing constitutions of the countries. Therefore, things like voting rules (first past the post, electoral college etc.), enshrined laws (right to bear arms, religious freedom), legal structure (relationship between law making, law enforcement and judgements) all affect where the equilibrium ends up. This is in contrast to the laws that are actually changed under that legal structure. Stuff like taxation law, immigration law etc. will tend not to be able to affect the equilibrium. War and constitutional challenges will potentially affect the equilibrium.
This is the reason voters become increasingly cynical in stable democracies. Voting seems increasingly to be an empty affair, devoid of real options.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Basic assumptions, Geopolitics

How do we sensibly (or even semi-scientifically) discuss the geopolitical issues amongst varying opinions? In Klaus Rhode's entry:Iraq war casualties and Iran, he takes a court-case type of paradigm for analysis. There is an apportionment of blame for, say deaths in Iraq since the war, proven crimes formerly by Iraq, current suspected and proven crimes by Iran and Iranians. This is then taken as a basis for what actions various countries should take, including the US, and whether these actions would be legal, and the likely consequences of taking action or not. My greatest objection to this paradigm is that it doesn't come close to reflecting reality. There is no world court to speak of, laws of nations are still competing with the law of the gun, misdeeds related to war-like actions cannot be brought to justice 999 times out of 1000. Apportionment of blame is realistic in situations (within borders of countries) that have good separation of powers, lots of resources for justice compared to the number of crimes, and little motivation for state-sponsored crime. These three things are not anywhere near happening in the middle east or geopolitically in general, making the paradigm nearly useless as a tool for discussion and analysis.
An example in point I can make for clarity is the use of human shields in Serbia during the war in Kosovo. If civilians are placed in strategic locations that are known to be bomb targets; is the country that dropped the bombs or the country that put them in harms way to blame if they die? Discussions quickly turn from who is to blame to how successful the strategy is. I am the kind of person that can think at the same time that an action is wrong and immoral, and also that if I was placed in that position, that it would be the best move to make. When leaders make decisions based solely on strategy rather than because international laws tell them to, a court case analogy loses all its predictive power and therefore its relevance. When strategy is the main motivating factor for discretionary decisions, game theory gives the best predictive qualities. This is why I can seem to be a game theory ideologue. To take the Iran (potential for the US to make bomb strikes on them) issue: To say that it would cause mass deaths, and would be illegal under international law misses the point entirely. Whether the powers that be decide to go down that path also depends on what Iran does (or "their move"). That Iran would continue toward a nuclear threshold even though they realise that there is an invisible line over which if they cross, the risk of war continues to rise, even if they don't quite know where that line lies, means that they are not afraid of war. The future of their citizens (and in the long term themselves), is also partly in their hands and the provocations they make. The Iraq example should demonstrate that the US is not that afraid of casualties, nor of a protracted conflict. Even if it doesn't deter Iran, it would probably deter others.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Queensland Brass Band Championships 2007

Townsville Brass made pretty much a clean sweep of the B grade events winning the Hymn, Test Piece, Stage March and light music concert divisions as well as the aggregate trophy. We came a close second in the own choice and in the middle of the pack in the street march.

Some reflections: The Townsville bands broke new ground a few years ago by wearing polo shirt uniforms for some events, rather than full suits with jackets. This year for instance we wore them for the street march and the concert. Our D grade band, called Brolga Brass wore them for all their events. I just believe that the suits that just about all other bands were wearing made them look stuffy and overly formal, as well as being completely inappropriate for warm weather.

Playing good music is incredibly therapeutic. Winning competitons even more so.