[From Mike Acree (2003.04.02.1645 PST)]
The following article has interesting observations about modeling aggregates of control systems, and about forgetting that control systems push back.
Some of the remarks about central planners remind me of what economist Joe Fuhrig said about Keynes: that he was never so surprised as on the first Easter after his death.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
[Posted April 1, 2003]
Explaining why the opening blows in the War on Iraq did not go as planned,
General William Wallace offered this revealing, damning, and now-famous
comment: "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we had
The remark "ignited the ire of the White House," the Washington Post
reports. Why? Wallace broke the cardinal rule of all central planning: never
admit error. In the real world, the missteps of the war are not surprising.
It's not unusual that a government action did not go as planned, or as
"gamed," to use General Wallace's verb.
The game in question was called Millennium Challenge 2002, played over three
weeks during last July and August. At a cost of $250 million, the military
involved 13,500 personnel from all four services to wage a mock war (in nine
live settings and 17 simulations). In the game, everything was designed to
go right for the U.S.: weapons were accurate, soldiers were fast and agile,
and the command was all knowing. Enemies rolled over when faced with an
impressive military machine. The U.S. won the game.
But as General Paul Van Riper complained, the game was "almost entirely
scripted to ensure a U.S. win." In early runs of the game, Riper was asked
to play the enemy and attempt to elude the U.S. planners. When he succeeded
in doing so, the game was changed to diminish the role of human volition on
his side. Once the game became purely static, the planners won handily.
War gaming may be the newest term for the static trial runs that government
officials use as proxies for a real-world that always surprises them. If we
want to call war planning a "social science"-that's how the Pentagon thinks
of it-what we have here is a classic error: the belief that government
policy and its effects can be modeled in the same way as the physical
But as Ludwig von Mises says, "in the field of purposive human action and
social relations no experiments can be made and no experiments have ever
been made." To the extent that models deal with real conditions, all data
used in the model are derived from history. The future is something else
entirely. Conditions change. Variables and change cannot be isolated from
other variables and changes.
In the games planners play, the model builder wins by outsmarting an
opponent programmed to react in predictable ways. The conclusion is decided
by the assumptions built into the system. The more variables in the game,
the harder it becomes to win. As for truly unpredictable and unknown
variables, the kind we associate with acts of human will, they cannot be
modeled. If this is true in peace, it is all the more true in war.
Nonetheless, the planners never give up. Whether attempted to impose a
national "energy plan" or engaging in large-scale war planning, they
authorities never seem to give up their models.
Indeed, the attempt to model the unmodelable dates way back.
The socialists in the 1930s dismissed Mises's claim that central planning
could not work because it does not generate prices necessary for economic
calculation. The answer, they said, is to assign prices to goods based on
all available information. Get the inputs right, they said, and the outputs
would be right too.
Mises's response was that the games of central planners have nothing to do
with the demands placed on the market in the real world. Entrepreneurs must
discover the values and priorities of consumers through a real-world process
of trial and error. Divvying up capital between competing ends requires
property titles, the ability to exchange, and the freedom to choose. The
fact of exchange generates market prices that permit profits and losses to
be calculated, and hence guide production.
Central planners who attempt to replicate this process within the structure
of an equation or a static game simulation are fooling themselves. They are
merely playing a game called "market," and not truly engaging the real
Mises's critique of central planning applies in peacetime or wartime.
Central planners are apt to make calamitous mistakes whether the aim is to
produce wealth (in peacetime) or destroy it (in wartime). The game called
"war" is no better at preparing central planners for real life than the game
What's especially interesting is how attempts at central planning display a
series of highly typical features. Whether we are talking about a
Breshnev-style economic plan, a New-Deal-style antidepression program, or
the current war against Iraq, government planners are inclined toward the
Overutilization of resources. At the outset, the war planners anticipated
that a few strategically placed bombs, and a massive display of human will
combined with plenty of psychological operations, would be enough to achieve
victory. The same approach has been adopted by all central planners in all
times. Faced with the sudden reality that the first round of plans didn't
work, the response is wholly predictable: more of the same.
When one "stimulus plan" fails to revive an economy, the government's
approach is to spend ever more money or drive interest rates ever lower. In
war, the approach is to drop more bombs and send more troops. If something
goes wrong, it is because insufficient resources have been supplied. We are
familiar with this line of thinking from the proponents of the welfare
state. But the same is true for the warfare state. The rationale behind this
approach in war is to convey to the enemy-whether that enemy is a recession
or a foreign foe-that planners really mean business.
In a world of liberty and peace, the economy is always working to do more
with less. No entrepreneur has the luxury of just throwing more money and
labor at a problem. When the enterprise is not profitable, the capitalist
seeks to economize and reassess. The exact opposite impulse drives the
socialist planner or war planner. Instead of cutting, capital and labor are
overutilized, while the underlying plan remains unchanged, with the result
of increased squandering, destruction, and eventual collapse.
Not accounting for error. Central planners attempt to plan for contingencies
but rarely consider that they may have missed something fundamental. It is
well established that the war planners made two crucial assumptions in the
current war: that the Iraqi government would topple in days and that the
Americans would be welcomed by one and all.
Someone planning the war forgot to consider the reality that has dominated
the entire gulf region for ten years: the hatred engendered by deadly
sanctions. Hardly anyone in D.C. wants to consider these and their effects
on the political constellation in the Mid East. They have ruined the image
of America as a force for liberation. But the war planners turned a blind
eye to this, even after the September 11th terrorists specifically cited the
sanctions as an underlying source of their hate.
It is evidently the case that most Iraqis are more anxious to be liberated
from American sanctions followed by the American invasion than they are to
be liberated from Saddam, no matter how bad he is. In fact, the invasion has
made Saddam a folk hero throughout a region where has was previously
unpopular. This is the big picture that the war planners completely missed.
They failed to critically examine the possibility that the Iraqis will
resent the invaders even more than their own government.
Underestimating the will to resist. The great error of all central planners
is to assume that there will be no unanticipated consequences associated
with their policies. They believe that once people have the merits of the
plan explained to them, they will go along with it. The people are the clay
and the planners are the masters, so their hubristic minds believe.
But the truth is that people are not automatons and there are other forces
at work besides the will of the planning regime. People resist central
economic plans and they resist wartime plans too. The usual response of the
planner when faced with resistance is to liquidate those who dare not go
along. Once these meddlesome troublemakers are eliminated, they believe, the
results of the plan will begin to show. In the Ukraine in the 1930s, and
Cambodia in the 1970s, that was pretty much everyone.
The refusal to admit error. Wallace's open admission that something was
amiss was highly unusual. How many times in recent days have we received
assurance that military planners have "full confidence in the plan"? Why do
they persist in making such radically implausible claims? Do they really
expect us to accept the idea that they are infallible, to ignore all the
piles of evidence pouring in that events have belied every expectation? And
why do they believe that we are going to be comforted in the fact that they
are ignoring every bit of this evidence?
The public might actually be more supportive if the central planners were
willing to admit error. But that is not the way of the planners. They
believe that they must posture as gods on earth while insisting on total
deference. Even more frightening, they might actually believe they are gods
on earth and that anything that appears to contradict their plans is mere
illusion or must be, by definition, a small menace that is easily overcome.
The truth is that if Iraqis do not want the Americans there, we face a
choice: either make peace and get out, or administer the entire country as a
Assuming that the world is ours for the making. In the simple-minded view of
the central planners, society is infinitely malleable. It takes the form
imposed on it by bayonets and bombs. The planners are loath to admit that
there are forces beyond their control, forces like culture, economics, and
the inherent limits of power to accomplish its aims. The people who planned
the war on Iraq dismiss suggestions that perhaps not everyone in Iraq is
going to be overjoyed at the prospect of gaining freedom through bombing,
destruction, and martial law administered by a U.S. military dictatorship.
They dismiss the possibility that resources to impose the plan may
eventually run out.
Looking to the future, there are many people in Washington who have opinions
on how best to manage a post-war Iraq. They have probably "gamed" this
scenario too, and come up with the idea that Iraq needs a military
dictatorship for a time. But the advocates of dictatorship always assume
that they will be in a position to make all the decisions. They consider the
viability of their own plan and not the possibility that someone else's plan
Let's grant the unrealistic assumption that one plan will prevail in a
postwar Iraq. What is the big picture that the planners are overlooking in
this case? It is that every plan for dictatorship relies on a relentless
beating of the population into submission. Only those blinded by ideology
can dare call this liberation.
Persisting in ignorance. F.A. Hayek described the voluntary society as one
of continual learning. We might describe government planning as one in which
ignorance persists no matter what. The people who gave us Millennium
Challenge, in fact, have prepared another war game called Olympic Challenge
and Pinnacle Challenge-both are games that build "on what we learn from
MC02" particularly as it affects RDO.
And what is RDO? The very embodiment of the best-laid plan:
A rapid decisive operation (RDO) will integrate knowledge, C2, and
operations to achieve the desired political/military effect. In preparing
for and conducting a rapid decisive operation, the military acts in concert
with and leverages the other instruments of national power to understand and
reduce the regional adversary's critical capabilities and coherence. The
U.S. and its allies asymmetrically assault the adversary from directions and
in dimensions against which he has no counter, dictating the terms and tempo
of the operation. The adversary, suffering from the loss of coherence and
unable to achieve his objectives, chooses to cease actions that are against
U.S. interests or has his capabilities defeated.
The world would be a much safer place if the planners would stick to their
games and leave real life alone.
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