Steven E. Landsburg argues there’s really nothing wrong with the looting we’ve seen in Iraq. His argument is interesting, and even has merit, but ignores some important concerns. Sure, having the peasantry steal back riches that were in the possession of the former tyrants may be a crude form of justice. But, surely, the ransacking of hospitals and destruction of priceless Sumerian antiquities is both socially disadvantageous and morally unconscionable. Further, much of it isn’t simple theft but grand-scale vandalism and destruction of public property. Coalition planners went to extraordinary lengths to spare hospitals, cultural treasures, and administrative buildings from the carnage of war. Those efforts have been undermined by criminals. While those buildings once housed a despotic regime, they will soon house a more democratic government. Before that, though, they must now be rebuilt. Somebody has to pay for that and, to the extent resources are finite, that presents a substantial opportunity cost.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Malthusiast says:

    For a more upbeat “analysis” of the looting phenomenon, see this post:
    “LIKE, MAN, IT’S SO, LIKE … SURREAL!”(Monday, April 14, 2003).