I recently appeared on a few different podcasts to discuss US border militarization and foreign policy: a symbiotic relationship, a research paper that Chris Coin and I recently published Journal of Economics of Peace and Security. Caleb Brown interviewed me about the Cato Daily Podcast paper. It was a brief nine minute discussion in which I outlined some of our key arguments about the process of border militarization and its dangers to civil liberties. Aaron Ross Powell also interviewed me on his new podcast, (again) Imagining Liberty. This episode is about an hour long, so we spend a lot of time unpacking how border militarization works and what we can learn from that process.
In both podcast discussions, I discuss the role of physical capital and human capital in border militarization. These are crucial to the argument that Chris and I make in our research paper, and we think of them in a distinctly Austrian way. That is, we emphasize that capital goods Heterogeneous And Plural Uses. As we explain in our paper:
“The basis for any foreign intervention is the willingness of the intervenors to change the actions of the intervenors. If the action abroad already matches the wishes of the intervenors, then the intervention will be unnecessary. To alter the actions and assurances of foreigners, intervenors may use a variety of social controls, including surveillance, intimidation, imprisonment, occupation, policing, and physical violence. In order to be effectively involved in this type of social control, intervenors must first invest capital that is specifically suited to the job. This includes physical capital, such as surveillance equipment, aircraft, armored vehicles and weapons. It also contains human capital, skills and knowledge that make soldiers, intelligence officers and other interlocutors more effective in creating social control. Capital is different and multi-specific. Capital diversification means that once capital is created, it can only be used for certain types of projects, but not for others. For example, a Blackhawk helicopter cannot be used to bake bread. However, capital is also multifaceted, which means it can be used for multiple types of projects. A Blackhawk helicopter is useful for foreign warfare And For patrolling the US-Mexico border. “
Because the capital is different, it is more suitable for some projects than others. In fact, there are some projects for which it cannot be used.
As Peter Boett explains:
“If capital goods are homogeneous, they can be used to produce all the final products desired by the customers. If mistakes are made, resources will be quickly redesigned, and at minimal cost, toward creating a more desirable final product. But capital products are different and multifaceted; An auto plant can make cars, but not computer chips. The complex alignment of capital for the production of various consumer goods is controlled by price signals and careful economic calculations by investors. If the price system is distorted, investors will make the mistake of aligning their capital products. Once the flaw is exposed, the economic actors will reverse their investment, but in the meanwhile the assets will be lost. “
When government officials engage in foreign intervention, they invest in a set of capital goods, but their decision to do so is not guided by price signals, profit-loss feedback, or economic calculations. If the capital were homogeneous, there might not be so many problems. We have good reason to be concerned about capital lost during war, but war-ready capital products can easily be redirected to productive use in peacetime. But in our world, capital is different and multifaceted. Coercive capital created during wartime can be used for new projects, but they are also violent, coercive projects such as police militarization and border militarization that directly meet the needs of the customer.