We’re Paying For Everyone Else’s Defense

Robert Wright: Sharing the Burden of Peace

In economics there is something called a ‘collective action problem.’€ Suppose there’s a row of merchants, and all are bedeviled by a troublemaker who roams their storefronts, scaring off customers. All merchants would benefit from getting rid of the troublemaker, but it doesn’€™t make sense for any one merchant to bear the entire cost of the necessary policing. Collaboration is in order.
The collaboration can take various forms. In a shopping mall, merchants may split the cost of a security guard. In a sidewalk setting, security comes from the town’€™s police, whose costs the merchants share by paying taxes. Either way, the point is that, in the absence of such collective arrangements, no single merchant is going to assume the burden of fixing the problem –€” unless that merchant is willing to let the other merchants be what economists call ‘free riders.’€ In other words: unless that merchant is a sucker.
… Correct me if I’€™m wrong, but aren’€™t China and Iran really far away? I realize that both pose a potential threat to American security. But don’€™t they also pose a threat to lots of other countries that are actually in their neighborhoods? So, if we appoint ourselves world police, and foot the bill for a correspondingly gargantuan arsenal, aren’€™t we suckers?

Yes, aren’t we just being suckers by paying for this huge military so the rest of the world gets to use its money investing in their people?

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