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Of Broken Windows and Lost Limbs

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boohickey11 Posted: Wed, Mar 31 2010 11:19 PM

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE I don't have a blog on Mises to post the articles I write so I figured I'd post them here and get some feedback.


Of Broken Windows and Lost Limbs

As an electrical engineering student I have many fascinations with the physical properties of electricity and magnetism.  While watching episodes of Star Trek on television I got to thinking about the concept of androids and cyborgs.  I have always thought the concept of cyborgs was fascinating now that they are shifting from science fiction to real life.  The most current manifestation of cybernetics is through artificial limbs.

Currently most artificial limb development is being done due to the increase in war veterans who have lost limbs in combat, usually due to an IED attack.  Although the development of artificial limb technology has increased I think most would regret the reason why.  In thinking of how far much of our technology has grown we cannot forget that the reason often is as a result of war.

According to various sources the number of amputees since the Afghanistan war began has already exceeded 860 and will likely exceed 1000.  For the last ten years engineers have been developing new software, new materials, and new hardware into order to create artificial limbs that behave, feel, and function as well as the real limb.  In contemplating these things I decided to switch from an electrical engineers wonder of the new technology to a libertarian economists concern of the unseen effects of these tragedies.

What I had already considered was, of course, the seen consequences.  The new opportunities for the various engineers in designing and building these new artificial limbs.  I assume there have been newly created jobs to meet the demand for better prosthetic limbs.  All funded by the government no doubt.  There are many lectures given about the technology and many support groups for those adjusting to their new limbs.  I then wonder if, in light of all the good things that come from these tragedies, there is a single soldier or other person who does not regret the loss of their arm or leg.

This is why Austrian economists often try to draw attention to the unseen consequences of government action.  I am alluding to the broken window fallacy.  That, if broken windows bring prosperity to the window maker and thus the economy, we should encourage the breaking of windows. I won't argue the fallacy of this logic but instead use it to illustrate the point.  In the same way that economic pundits declare that natural disasters and war are good for the economy I shudder at the thought that they would say the same about veterans who have lost limbs.

Much like the broken window fallacy we can see that resources used to design and fabricate artificial limbs, if not used for this purpose, would have been used for some other purpose.  The resources used for these limbs was essentially being used to bring these casualties as close to their natural ability as possible.  These prosthetics do not increase the overall wealth of the economy. They serve only as a desperate attempt to rebuild on the ruin of war.

"In a modern democracy, no matter whom you vote for, the government always gets elected" -Christopher Westley

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MaikU replied on Sat, Apr 3 2010 9:57 AM

great post :) also QFT

"Dude... Roderick Long is the most anarchisty anarchist that has ever anarchisted!" - Evilsceptic

(english is not my native language, sorry for grammar.)

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socialdtk replied on Sat, Apr 3 2010 11:29 AM

Excellent post.  You should send it to both and

Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.
-Friedrich Nietzsche
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Wibee replied on Sat, Apr 3 2010 3:17 PM

It's sad being a recent engineering graduate and seeing the amount of jobs out there that are military related.  Either it being direct employment with the government or through thousands of contractors.  The military industrial complex is scary.

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