For me, like Chris, [going to war] is an accounting issue.
Thus sprach Paul. But I think that’s an ugly, confusing way of phrasing it. In retrospect perhaps you can decide whether a war was a good idea with a quick tally ex-ante and ex-post death tolls with some role for economic performance, but a forward looking evaluation is very different.
My priors suggest strongly that killing people is very wrong. My priors are very strongly biased in that direction. Call it a personality flaw! I think you’d have a tough job convincing me that killing one person was worth probably saving a hundred.
Thinking about war as something likely to be fucking terrible and which definitely has incredibly high costs and definitely has incredibly uncertain benefits is useful. It sets the bar for war incredibly high. No particular policy position needs be behind the war or your opposition, I am just talking about stacking the deck.
Stacking the deck gets a bad name, but stacking the deck against killing people is a self-evidently pretty good idea. War is one subject where I think the principle “first, do no harm” is a good one.
Why? Because history. The historical record says that some truly awful actions can lead to prosperity but that truly awful wars normally just lead to death and suffering. So, for example, my priors tell me to somewhat support what’s happening in coastal China, but not what happened in Iraq. I’ll do the same in the future too.