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12/02/2005 Archived Entry: "The "sunk cost" of human lives"

I salute Gary North for addressing the Iraq war in terms of the "doctrine of sunk costs." (In college I learned this as the "fallacy" of sunk costs.) This rule for investors and entrepreneurs says that one must always invest based on what is the best use of your money in the present circumstances, regardless of your past actions.

The war supporters want to have it both ways. One moment they're saying we must ignore the past, that the U.S. must stay in Iraq because of the consequences now if they leave. The next moment they're arguing that the U.S. must stay in Iraq to honor the sacrifice of those soldiers who have already died there -- the "sunk cost" in American lives.

Neither is true to the doctrine of sunk costs. That doctrine would say: given the circumstances now, would you invest? If, right now, the U.S. saw a Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war among three religious groups, would the U.S. send 160,000 troops over to keep order, at the cost of thousands of U.S. dead and tens of thousands wounded?

If the answer is "no, we wouldn't send our troops into that," then the doctrine of sunk costs says get out now.

In the business world, the doctrine of sunk costs is often phrased as the slogan "don't throw good money after bad." In the context of war, it should be "don't throw live soldiers after dead."  —brad

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