During my week away, a good deal happened in the world, needless to say. A godawful earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, triggering a nuclear disaster, and the United States launched yet a third war in a Muslim country. I feel a need to say something about these events, although I am no kind of expert on either of them. By the way, the cable television service in our room [at something called The Excellent Guest House -- no kidding] carried Al-Jazeera English, which turns out to be the best straight news channel I have ever watched. I read the print version on line here in the States, but the television show is not available -- a real shame.
All of you have watched the horrific pictures of walls of water rolling over Japanese villages, so I need not expatiate on them. But as the problems developed at the nuclear power plants, an old question posed itself in my mind: What is the right way to weigh the pros and cons of a controversial public policy? Nuclear power is clean energy. It does not spew hydrocarbons into the atmosphere day in and day out. Hence, it does not contribute to all manner of environmental and medical evils. But inevitably, predictably, unavoidably, every so often there is a nuclear accident, the consequences of which, as we see, can be horrendous. The rational course seems to be to make careful estimates of the long-term harm of oil and coal, and compare that with the episodic harm of nuclear energy, always of course pushing for maximum safety and minimum harm in both cases. Surely any satisfactory theory of rational choice leads to that conclusion. And yet, I am for some reason not entirely comfortable with that way of making social policy. I welcome your thoughts.
As for the Libyan adventure, it seems wrong to leave the Libyan rebels to be slaughtered by Ghadafi, and wrong to launch yet another war. My own belief, suggested several times on this blog, is that the United States should not have an enormous imperial military establishment in the first place. It ought to have a force only large enough to protect the United States from the -- at this point minuscule -- threat of invasion. Once we build a military establishment that dwarfs that of the entire rest of the world, it is inevitable that we will find all manner of excuses for using it. The Libyan case is actually one of the very rare instances in which the United States can be said to have entered a foreign conflict on the right side, but it would be far better if we had a military force quite incapable of playing that role on the world stage. Sixty-five years of experience since World War II demonstrates that this nation is quite incapable of using its enormous military force wisely or well.
Well, I must prepare to teach the REPUBLIC later this morning. If I manage to get some pictures of the events in South Africa, I will post one or two.