Often when a public official starts proposing something new, the discourse immediately rearranges itself to accomodate the framework established by the person who thought it up. Not always, but often, especially certain types of ideas.
What I mean by this is that if I suggest that, say a National ID card is necessary to prevent terrorism, some people will agree, and other people will say no, it's too much encroachment on civil liberties or whatever philosophical objection they might have.
Which is all well and good, but when there is a new idea, more attention sometimes should be paid to a more fundamental question. Namely, "Hey! Maybe this idea is stupid."
I'm not sure if I agree with all of this or not, but I applaud this blogger and the essayists linked for going outside the "National ID Card Will Protect Us" vs. "It's Not Worth It" paradigm and examining the question of whether the whole idea might just be really stupid.
This ties into what I was hoping to make the subject of an article, but which didn't quite pan out. It's an idea from microeconomics that is so obvious that we often forget it, leading to absurd false dilemma fallacies and other fits of illogic.
The name of this principle is the Null Bundle. Most of the time in microeconomics, when a potential actor is faced with a set of choices, we assume that one of this actor's choices is the Null Bundle - he can do nothing.
Yet often, particularly in emotionally charged arenas like fighting terrorism, we explicitly take that option away from the public discourse. We say rhetorically, without analysis, that "we can't just do nothing."
But many years of economics experience teaches us that in fact, the Null Bundle must always be considered. Indeed, often in situations where it seems very unlikely that the Null Bundle would be desirable we find in the final analysis that it is the actor's most rational option.
Iraq is the most obvious example that springs to mind, but Afghanistan is just as good a fit. Almost everyone agreed after September 11th that "we can't just do nothing." However, it's not clear on its face what the consequences of doing nothing would have been. Presumably the results would have been different that the results of two failed wars, which have decimated our uniformed military and turned world public opinion against the United States to a degree that is unprecedented, literally, in all of history.
What would have been the result of "doing nothing?" The reactionary elements in our society (including, it should be noted, many powerful Democratic leaders) did an excellent job convincing us that the very question was irrational. Students of microeconomics know, however, that irrational decisions usually arise from a failure to consider all the available options.
Worth thinking about.