Foreign Policy, Ep.4: The Boomerang Effect
When soldiers return to serve as police officers, they bring a strong set of skills with them, but can also bring home a battlefield.
Government policies and actions which are initially focused outside the US, have a tendency to come back around and significantly impact domestic governments back home. One major example of this effect is how foreign interventions allow for the centralization of government decision making and power. Prof Abby Hall Blanco from the University of Tampa explains
Foreign Policy (playlist): Check out our full playlist of videos with professors Chris Coyne and Abby Hall Blanco at hayekandchill.com.
Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control (Journal article): Chris Coyne and Abby Hall Blanco explain the boomerang effect.
Coercive Foreign Policies and The Boomerang Effect (article): Review of Chris and Abby’s article.
Rothbard on War (interview): Interview with Murray Rothbard on war, explaining how the state thrives and expands on war.
>> Government policies and actions which are initially focused outside the US, have a tendency to come back around and significantly impact domestic governments back home. This is because of something called the boomerang effect. One major example of this effect is how foreign interventions allow for the centralization of government decision making and power.
Interventions require lots of people and resources. So many smaller, peripheral political agencies are drawn toward the political center. The centralization of power happens in two major ways. The first is the process of bureaucratization, existing Federal Government agencies expand and gain more resources in order to achieve the foreign policy objective.
New agencies are also created. This means more decisions are being made by unelected bureaucrats and military officials without much oversight by the general public. Second, foreign interventions provide a rallying cry for citizens around a common external cause. Citizens shift their attention away from government actions that directly affect them, and instead, focus externally.
This means that citizens are much more likely to miss troubling changes at home or even encourage expansion of government power domestically. While ideology of citizens can constrain government abuses and expansions of power fear and phone intervention can stifle this important check on government. Beyond the general centralization of power there are other way tools of phone intervention Dumer-ring back and come to be used domestically.
One way that this happened is through people, what we call the human capital channel of the boomerang effect. In order to be successful at a foreign intervention, the people involve must either possess or acquire certain skills. Soldiers, bureaucrats, contractors, spies and other US personnel involve in foreign interventions abroad, develop skills and attitudes related to their work.
These skills don’t leave or disappear when they return home. They bring these tools of intervention with them. Since many people involved in foreign interventions go on to seek work in government agencies, law enforcement, other public sector and private sector jobs. This has real effects of a variety of institutions.
We can see this effect in action in many ways. Take for example a soldier, in order to be good at his job a soldier must think quickly on his feet, react quickly in uncertain situations, and be prepared to use lethal force if necessary. Suppose that after his term in the military, the soldier returns to civilian life as a police officer.
He brings his military experience with him. While this can mean good things, like strong communication and organization skills, it could also mean bringing a battlefield, or an us versus them mentality into their interactions with civilians. Another way foreign interventions can boomerang back is through technology and equipment, or physical capital.
For example, the government develops technologies that help them to control or gather intelligence on foreign populations. It also gives them the capability to use those same assets on people back home. Those people who use the technology during the intervention, many now working domestically feel comfortable using that equipment as well.
We can see this happen with NSA surveillance. While many NSA technologies were developed to spy on foreign targets it’s well documented that the same technologies have also been used to spy on US citizens. A third way these interventions have a boomerang effect back at home is by changing what’s called the administrative dynamics of many organizations.
Administrative dynamics is like a firm’s culture. What people think and feel and what’s considered normal, abnormal, acceptable, or unacceptable. Like with changes in human capital, once individuals involved in interventions, return home, they work in other agencies taking their skills with them. As these agents work their way into management and other positions of authority, they share the mentalities and skills they’ve gathered with others.
This means that tactics, methods, or equipment which may have been considered unacceptable previously become standard operating procedure. Thus, the tools of foreign intervention are integrated into the daily operations of a variety of private and public sectors. When discussing foreign intervention, it’s common for people to treat it as if it’s divorced from domestic issues.
Foreign issues are over there. While domestic issues are wholly separate. What the boomerang effect tells us, however, is that we can’t draw such a clear distinction. Activities abroad can and do have very real consequences at home. As we’ll see, many tools of foreign intervention have been positively disastrous for US citizens.