Thursday 28 April 2011


Bryan Caplan advocates pacifism.

He lives in Fairfax County, which has one of the more militarized and non-pacifistic police forces in the United States. Fairfax SWAT teams murder dentists who wager on sports; best I'm aware, Sal Culosi's murderer is still on the police force. Here is the list of people officially killed under authority of the State of Virginia since 1982. I'm not going to make a guess as to the Caplan household tax burden, but about a fifth of his federal taxes go to the military.

How much weight does pacifism have in Bryan's overall utility function? He almost certainly rightly concludes that the total amount of pacifism in the world is unaffected by his marginal tax contribution to Virginian and American anti-pacifism, and that he probably does more to further pacifism where he is now as compared to moving to a place like New Zealand where less than a twentieth of his taxes would go to pay for a military whose main function is assisting in civil defence, emergencies, and enforcing property rights in fishing quotas in New Zealand's territorial waters.* But if Bryan's pacifism includes an unwillingness to pay for a war machine as well as a refusal to serve in one, I'd be very happy to have Bryan as a neighbour some day.

* Here's the appropriation summary for Vote.Defence 2010. Total NZ military spending of some $2.85 billion includes only some $79 million on "operational deployments"; I'd have to guess most of that is the Afghanistan deployment. If I'm one of two million or so taxpayers, my share is about $40. I doubt that the overall Afghanistan mission passes cost benefit, but at least the NZ involvement is relatively minor. New Zealand has no air combat wing (Kiwis are flightless). This has far less to do with New Zealanders being inherently pacifistic than with that we face such tiny external threat, and such low odds of repelling any country with sufficient blue water forces to actually get out here, that the optimal level of national defence is near zero.


  1. "...that the optimal level of national defence is near zero."

    But big, fast jets are coooool! Every morning I wake up and think about how much better life in NZ would be with that squadron of F-16's buzzing the skies - I don't care if they do nothing but give me jollies. Far better use of my taxes than those BMW's for our politicians.

  2. You may find that F-16s are both out of date and vastly more expensive than BMWs.

    I got tons of jollies when the Wanaka Warbirds folks were practising formation flying over the beach at Brighton a few years back. I'm pretty sure I got more jollies from that than I would have from F-16s that would have passed over rather too quickly to enjoy.

  3. I too lament the demise of our air combat wing. Not from a defense standpoint, but like hefevice simply because fast jets are cool. I grew up in Blenheim, and it was common to see Skyhawks, Strikemasters and, later, Aermacchis in our skies. The reality is though that a handful of slow outdated ground attack jets posed little if any deterrent to aggressors. Our geographic isolation is our best defense. I would like to think that in the unlikely event that somebody decides to flex their military muscle in our direction our close relationship with Australia and the US would result in strong political, economic and, if necessary, military pressure towards the aggressor.

    As Eric so correctly pointed out a modern air combat wing would be pretty expensive, not only to purchase but also to maintain. A better use for our dollar would be to upgrade our ground troop support aircraft. Replace our aging C130s and Iroquois, and if there is cash left over perhaps look at the Orion maritime patrol craft as well. Our existing planes have served us well, but their airframes are getting pretty old. The Iroquois must be getting on for 60 years old now. I'd feel a tad nervous jumping into a 60 year old airliner, and even the best maintenance programme in the world must only be able to delay the inevitable for so long.

  4. @ Eric: Joint Stike Fighter anyone? Though I imagine we could probably only afford one which wouldn't be much of a strike wing. It's probably an optimum solution that we mooch of the Aussies for our defence requirements, as well as our entertainment ones - they usually send over something for Warbirds over Wanaka. Although, I think it's only fair that if we're giving them two retired Skyhawks, we get an F-111 in retun.

    @Lats: We're due to get NH-90's to replace the Iroquois soon which is well overdue. I'd love to replace the C-130's with a mixture of C-27J's and C-17's and the Orion's with the new P-8 Poseidon. In the real World, the C-130's and Orion's are great aircraft, still well within airframe hours and will continue to serve us well with appropriate upgrades.