Non-Argument (Part II)

Today’s post is by Stephen Hall.  Of course, so was Monday’s post, Non-Argument (Part I), which can be found here.  I do apologize for the oversight.  Thank you Stephen!!!

The other day I caught a segment on Cavuto discussing Paul Ryan’s proposal that the United States discontinue foreign aid payments to the Palestinians due to their support of terrorist, which morphed into a more general discussion of such support for quasi-hostile states like Pakistan, and even friendly or allied states.

Charles Payne took the position that such foreign aid ought to be curtailed as it was not in the best interest of the United States and that such money could be better spend domestically on such things as infrastructure, or simply not spent at all as we are running a deficit and thus borrowing the money which we are subsequently giving away.

However, it is not about the merits of that position which I wish to write; rather what concerned me in watching the segment was two logical fallacies which were presented as counter-arguments to Mr. Payne’s, and concurrently Mr. Cavuto’s, position.

Second, I would address the specious reason presented to support the contrary position by Charlie Gasparino, that we should continue such foreign aid, because we do not know what good it may have managed to accomplish behind the scenes of which we know not.

The argument being essentially that such foreign aid might really be a bribe which purchases access to corrupt officials within such regimes which could then be used to influence their policies so covertly that no one would ever know it had even happened.

Which is really just an elaborate way of saying, “trust us, we are the government.”

The idea that you can justify an expense by mere speculation that because the money was spent, it must have been beneficial is not merely unverifiable, it is is not even substantive enough to be called ephemeral.  When your “evidence” is actually the complete lack of evidence, then you have evidence of nothing.

It is a type of magical thinking where having done something to prevent something from happening, and that thing does not happen, then the thing that you did must have successfully prevented that thing from happening.  Which, of course, assumes that it would have happened had you done nothing.

This was the same type of foolishness which has been presented by the government and by the media through the last two presidencies that our governmental departments must be doing a good job preventing terrorism because there have been no terrorist attacks domestically.

(Actually there were several, but they refused to label them as such, so even by their own criteria it has been a failure.  But remember, things would certainly have been much worse if they hadn’t done whatever it is that they did but they can’t tell you what that was.)

Like a charm to prevent illness, as long as you do not get sick, the charm must be working, and in the event that you did get sick, well, just imagine how much worse it would have been without that charm.  About the only way a person will give up their belief in the effectiveness of that charm is if they get so ill that they cannot imagine a worse outcome that the charm could have prevented.

Thus, anything short of open warfare against our nation or our allies proves that the foreign aid must be working its charms behind the scenes.

Several panelists put forth this argument that we do not know just how bad things would be with the Palestinians or Pakistanis in the absence of this foreign aid.  See, it could have been much worse, to that charm, that foreign aid, must have been influential.

However, because you cannot know the effect of such foreign aid, it is just as likely that the effect is negative as it is positive, from an objective rather than magical point of view.

Much of our foreign aid has subsidized and kept in power some pretty nasty and tyrannical despots and regimes.  Might those countries have fared better if they did not have our money subsidizing and supporting the bad policies of otherwise failed governments?  How do we know that the money we have spent has not made things much worse?

Decades ago there were some widespread famines in places around the world.  Benevolent westerners contributed billions of dollars in assistance for food, water, and materials to aid these suffering people.  Often, petty warlords would commandeer the relief supplies to feed and supply their own militant bands rather than let the food go to the starving people.  Our good intentions empowered some very bad people and funded the political violence and turmoil of these ravaged regions.

There are many who want to say that we are cold and heartless to not want to just keep dumping such supplies into third world countries, because they cannot see that such subsidies aggravate rather than relieve the suffering in those regions.

The panelists contrived several hypothetical rationales for the foreign aid, 1) that it bought access and channels of communication, 2) that is supported some bad people but surely prevented worse from coming to power, and 3) that is kept the bad guys modestly pacified.

So, 1) they advocate a foreign policy based upon bribery of foreign officials through foreign aid dollars, just for the privilege of having them talk to us, presumably just to ask for more money, like a rather hostile foreign lobbyist.  Supporting corruption abroad still justly supports a reputation of corrupt influence among the people of that nation.

And 2) the very notion that it is sound policy to support the lesser of two evils, is a policy of supporting evil thus unsound.  Once again, this magical speculation that the alternative must have been worse simply because we would not have as much influence is just baseless wishful thinking. It is like shooting a small infant and reasoning that the child would have grown up to be Lenin or Mao or Che, therefor shooting the infant was justified.

Finally, 3) was the notion that such foreign aid kept marginally hostile powers like the Palestinians or the Pakistani from becoming full blown enemies.  In other words, our foreign aid was not aid at all, but tribute to the barbarians, a monetary appeasement.

The problem with a policy of tribute was well demonstrated by the Roman interactions with the Huns.  Tribute gets paid to keep a potentially hostile military force at bay; that same tribute goes to fund that foreign military threat because without the military threat they would not keep getting the tribute; thus the nation paying tribute gets progressively weaker and the threatening nation grows stronger.

Tribute is a temporary stay of hostilities, like passing a war on to your children or grandchildren.  It is the Social Security of military conflicts.

I do not see how buying a temporary respite whether it is bribery, supporting corruption, or paying tribute, can ever be a sound foreign policy, yet that is the justification put forth by those supporters of foreign aid to nations which have often been vocal in their hostility towards us.

Add to that the pure speculative nature that the foreign aid actually manages to have a positive effect, and the odds become clear that this is a foolish gamble.

It is complete non-sense to speculate that an action or policy probably has a beneficial effect that one can never measure or demonstrate, but when the imagined benefits themselves are not in the clear light of day even themselves beneficial in the long run, just what are you even justifying with your magical thinking?

Oddly, I’m reminded of the South Seas Trading Company, which sold stock ostensibly to fund ships and trade but in reality used the money to pay dividends, and sold more stock because people could see that they were paying good dividends, so they must be trading successfully.


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