Monday, October 11, 2010

A political Rorschach test

I read an interesting article last week in the New York Times entitled Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery. The article detailed how some scientific researchers collaborated with Army researchers to solve the mystery of what was killing off honey bees. It turns out that the combination of a fungus and virus is proving fatal to the honey bee population.

Why is the government doing bee research?
While the article was interesting, it occurred to me that the story could be viewed through some very different political lenses, depending on where you sit in the increasingly polarized political spectrum. Deficit hawk could ask the question: "In an era of fiscal austerity, why is the government spending money on something as esoteric as bee research? If we wanted the government to stop wasting money, this is a perfect example of activity that government shouldn't be in."

Does the Pentagon get a free pass?
On the other hand, this isn't just the federal government doing esoteric research, it's a special branch of the government, i.e. the Pentagon. For some conservatives, the military gets a special pass for their activities. Is bee research one of them?

Or has the military gone too far?

Or has the military gone too far to intrude into ordinary life? Consider the development of the publication of a controversial article by Andrew Milburn (Lieutenant Colonel, USMC) in the Joint Forces Quarterly entitled Breaking Ranks: Dissent and the military professional. Key quote here [emphasis added]:
There are circumstances under which a military officer is not only justified but also obligated to disobey a legal order. In supporting this assertion, I discuss where the tipping point lies between the military officer’s customary obligation to obey and his moral obligation to dissent. This topic defies black-and-white specificity but is nevertheless fundamental to an understanding of the military professional’s role in the execution of policy. It involves complex issues—among them, the question of balance between strategy and policy, and between military leaders and their civilian masters.

One more step towards Argentina?
Lt. Col. Milburn's comments are reminiscent of comments from the colonels of the Latin American juntas of a bygone era. At what point does the military stop getting a free pass on policy?

Allowing the Army to reach into parts of civilian life where it doesn't have a traditional role, e.g. bee research, echoes the reach of the Army in other emerging market countries of today, e.g. Asia where the Army can be found in industries such as banking and real estate.

Is this another step in America going south towards Argentina?

This is a political Rorschach test: Your answer depends on where you are in the (increasingly polarized) political spectrum.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to raise questions so that you can examine your own biases. I actually don't have a strong opinion on this issue. Good investors are politically neutral and agnostic. They watch, react and capitalize on the political, economic and financial climate.

1 comment:

keithpiccirillo said...

I have been aware of this story for over a year and recently saw this story on television:

Just as China is seeking to obtain a way to continue to feed its populace by pursuing POT, America will continue its covert military industrial complex ways to ensure its food supply.
Think of it as a power law of "coherent noise" and a model of biological extinction, i.e., when species are subjected to stress of various sizes and each agent has a level of stress "above" which an applied stress would wipe that agent out, the species becomes extinct.
Extinct species are replaced with new ones and the net result is that the system self organizes to a state where most of the surviving species have high thresholds but the exact distribution depends on the distribution of stresses in a similar way.
Quite a parallel with our free market system and recent merger and acquisition phenomena.
Can you please give us an update of the $RLG:$RLV chart?