Monday, August 01, 2005

Dad's Ivory Tower myopia

Interesting piece in the Washington Post today from Princeton professor of Economics and Public affairs, Uwe Reinhardt.

First thing that came to mind after reading it was, "Dad, why is your isolated, insulated, Ivory Tower ideology more important than understanding and supporting your son's desire to preserve the freedom you enjoy?"

Perhaps he is bitter that he does not see more of his
peer's children or his students taking up the call to serve. Perhaps he is bothered that in his peer group no one seems to see the personal side of war as he does. Perhaps he is bothered that so few of those in the university show any real support for the families that have people serving. I know I am....but I am getting ahead of myself.

His piece is titled
Who's Paying for Our Patriotism?. Let's Fisk, nicely, but let's Fisk nonetheless.

At most, 500,000 American troops are at risk of being deployed to these war theaters at some time. Assume that for each of them some 20 members of the wider family sweat with fear when they hear that a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan or that X number of soldiers or Marines were killed or seriously wounded in Iraq. It implies that no more than 10 million Americans have any real emotional connection to these wars.
I don't buy the math. I think he is making the logic error of applying the specific to the general; though to be fair in Princeton his data point is well beyond two standard deviations from the mean. Of my neighbors in my cul-de-sac, only 1 of 5 have any connection to the military. All of them, however, worry more about my well being and than my family does while I am deployed. Sure, my family has more to lose, but no more than the family of a policeman, or a commercial fisherman. They know that. We accept it. Only immediate family with "real emotional connection?" Not in this town. Not with these people. My college friends who are all civilian and my parents in another state all have about the same experience. Between active duty, reserves and National Guard, about one in every 6 families in our circle has someone serving. We don't come from a military background either, and most are not, well, ahem, working class either. Just a Red State. Southern Red State. If you assume that friends care about each other's families, then I think the war touches about everyone we know.

Again, his comments perhaps relate more to his community in NJ I would assume. He needs to look inward and challenge his peer group, because his numbers do not match with the "Red America" I have lived in most of my life. Even in very blue Hawaii and New England there was a solid community connection.

The administration and Congress have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate voters from the money cost of the wars -- to the point even of excluding outlays for them from the regular budget process. Furthermore, they have financed the wars not with taxes but by borrowing abroad.
Fair point, but hasn't this been true for all our wars? Isn't there the need to keep a strong economy at the same time? He should talk to his non-Keynesian buds in the Econ Deptartment (one hopes there are a few); what would have happened to the economy in early 2002 if it had been saddled with huge tax increases. Major points will be deducted if Herr Professor uses static analysis.

The strategic shielding of most voters from any emotional or financial sacrifice for these wars cannot but trigger the analogue of what is called "moral hazard" in the context of health insurance, a field in which I've done a lot of scholarly work. There, moral hazard refers to the tendency of well-insured patients to use health care with complete indifference to the cost they visit on others. It has prompted President Bush to advocate health insurance with very high deductibles. But if all but a handful of Americans are completely insulated against the emotional -- and financial -- cost of war, is it not natural to suspect moral hazard will be at work in that context as well?

A policymaking elite whose families and purses are shielded from the sacrifices war entails may rush into it hastily and ill prepared, as surely was the case of the Iraq war
Yes, you are a health care expert. Polite golf claps all around. This is an interesting concept, but for this case you are really looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Though they may not agree with their politics and/or all their policies, every one of MY PEERS that work with the civilian leadership in the DoD and the White House to a man (and woman) have nothing but the highest opinion for the MUTUAL respect shown toward those in uniform. Many members of the Cabinet and appointed Administration officials (former Attny General Ashcroft for one) have family members on Active Duty.

The last time we felt like we were looked down on and used like cattle was during the previous Administration where we were made to serve food like servants, dismissed as primitives, and seen as a necessary evil. Not this bunch though. We may not agree with all their policies and programs, but no one feels that they are indifferent to the sacrifices being made. Again, Professor Reinhardt needs to look at his peer group, because his comments are out of phase with the majority of the rest of the country I live in.

No, the insulated elite are the Leftist in our universities who refuse ROTC and military recruiters from even coming to campus and dishonor those who do decide to serve from their students and family members.

Moral hazard can explain why, in wartime, the TV anchors on the morning and evening shows barely make time to report on the wars, lest the reports displace the silly banter with which they seek to humor their viewers. Do they ever wonder how military families with loved ones in the fray might feel after hearing ever so briefly of mayhem in Iraq or Afghanistan?
He is seeing it from the wrong end again. What we want to see is some more of what is going right in Iraq and Afghanistan in the news. Not the negative spin and focus on the "mayhem" that is so totally out of phase with what we see with our own eyes.

Moral hazard also can explain why the general public is so noticeably indifferent to the plight of our troops and their families.
Again, maybe with his peer group in Princeton. Not in SE Virginia. Not in NE Florida. Not in SW California, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.

We offer a pittance in disability pay to seriously wounded soldiers who have not served the full 20 years that entitles them to a regular pension. And our legislative representatives make a disgraceful spectacle of themselves bickering over a mere $1 billion or so in added health care spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- in a nation with a $13 trillion economy!
If he thinks support is all about $$$$ then he is truly lost. Focus on $$$$ and gov'munt largess is missing the point. The support of the people and the nation's institutions are much more important and is what we are talking about. Look at the services we have now and look at what was waiting for the WWII or Civil War veteran. Compare our "pittance" to theirs. Did their country not value their service? Did they have more or less real support? Were they concerned about the $$$ they would receive, or the way neighbors, friends, and children's school mates treated their kids while they were gone?

Last year kind-hearted folks in New Jersey collected $12,000 at a pancake feed to help stock pantries for financially hard-pressed families of the National Guard. Food pantries for American military families? The state of Illinois now allows taxpayers to donate their tax refunds to such families. For the entire year 2004, slightly more than $400,000 was collected in this way, or 3 cents per capita. It is the equivalent of about 100,000 cups of Starbucks coffee. With a similar program Rhode Island collected about 1 cent per capita. Is this what we mean by "supporting our troops"?
YES!!! that is exactly what we are talking about. During Desert Storm the picture my then-fiancé sent me of her and some fellow law students at a "Support the Troops" rally to counter the anti-war types meant more to me than anything else. The "Any Soldier" packages were some of the best morale boosters we ever received. That IS support. We are not focused on how much milk we can suck out of the gov'munt teat. The implication otherwise is a slap in the face.

Here is what I hinted at earlier that really hit me in the chest. It is bad enough when the usual subjects in sheltered academia spit on you in their arrogant cluelessness, but it is mitigated by the fact that they are strangers that don't know you from Adam's off ox. We are a free country. Let them rant. But what do you do when it is someone you love?

When our son, then a recent Princeton graduate, decided to join the Marine Corps in 2001, I advised him thus: "Do what you must, but be advised that, flourishing rhetoric notwithstanding, this nation will never truly honor your service, and it will condemn you to the bottom of the economic scrap heap should you ever get seriously wounded." The intervening years have not changed my views; they have reaffirmed them.
Wow. I almost didn't Fisk this out of respect for that Marine (your son Professor R.), but if you do a quick Google search Professor Reinhardt has for some time been using his son's service as a shield to attack everyone in the Administration and/or pro war. In the MilBlog world, IMAO, this makes you fair game and the Marine's Dad needs to be taken to task. He may be able to get away with that in Princeton and on the letters to the editor section of the NYT, but around the MilBlog world it's, "That is great about your son's service. He's in good company, take a number. But let's talk about you."

It sounds that like most professors, he is used to speaking in a echo chamber. I will apologize ahead of time for speaking up in class, but he is the one that put this in a national paper.

Great job Dad, way to support your son. You owe it to him to strip away your ossified politics and meet the family and friends of his fellow Marines. Get out of Princeton. Spend some time in
Coastal Carolina. Go to SW California around 29 Palms. Go to Yuma, AZ. Have dinner with some of these families. Let go of your pride and self-righteousness. Your words just scream that you have spent too much time in the rarified air of academia. Understand that, as all mortals do, that you may not have 100% of the picture or the truth. Heck, I don't.

Take a couple of weeks off. Take the axe off the grindstone. Stop being a Professor and just be a Dad. If he is not deployed, go see your son. Give him a hug and manly handshake. Meet his friends and listen. Open your mind. It is a great, complicated world when you have a family member who serves. Go explore.

If he is deployed, ask him if there is anything you can do to help out the families of his enlisted Marines who have young kids. What has he heard? Is the family of one of his men having trouble with their
air conditioning? Find out who they are, give them a call, and buy them a new unit. You could even stay anon. You've got the spare cash. Use some of the tax cut I am sure you feel guilty about receiving.

Call your local
Navy and Marine Corps Relief society and ask how you can help. That is how you support the troops. Writing something for the WaPo asking for more taxes is macro politics. Use that for something else. The best thing you could do for your son is to let one of his Marines tell him, "Sir, I just found out that someone dropped off a new window unit to replace the the bad window unit in the kid's room I was telling you about. That was totally unexpected. The person that bought it wanted to stay anon, but I would love to tell them how much this means to us. The wife is so relieved, maybe she will get off my back for a week or so." Or...."Lieutenant (though Capt. by now I assume) Reinhardt, look what your Dad sent us....."

It's that easy, and doesn't cost the taxpayers a red cent.

Errata: In the first post I identified Professor Reinhardt as female. My bust, I have made the changes ro reflect the father vs mother in the above text. I need to review my German names better. No insult or hidden slight intended. My appologies for the mistake. Though I play hardball some, I have no doubt that Professor Reinhardt is a good and honorable man in his own right. I just happen to disagree with his ideas and perspecitve; and if one of my parents took his position, it would eat away at my heart.
UPDATE: I had a pleasant exchange of emails with Professor Reinhardt. You can say what you want about his ideas, but he is a honest fan of the 1st Amendnent. Good people can disagree.

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