July 30, 2003

THE IDIOTS WIN A ROUND: Faced with know-nothing criticism from members of Congress, the Pentagon has abandoned its plans for a “futures market” to predict terror.

How dumb is this? Virginia Postrel points to this column on the use of “idea futures” markets to predict events, and to this collection of papers on the topic.

Did the Congressional critics know about any of this stuff? Fat chance. Do they care that they were responding lamely and out of ignorance? Nope. Does it matter that this sends exactly the wrong signal to the Pentagon about the consequences of efforts to find original ways to fight the terror war? Yes. Will the members of Congress take any responsibility for that? Nope.

UPDATE: The good news, reported by Tom Maguire, is that the private sector is already running with this ball.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ron Bailey has a long and thoughtful piece on why the futures idea was actually a good one. Bailey’s conclusion:

In the end, a promising research program that might have enhanced U.S. intelligence gathering was killed off by cheap moral posturing on the part of a couple of U.S. Senators. Who’s incredibly stupid now?

Who, indeed?

UPDATE: Hmm. All kinds of people think this was a good idea. Maybe the Pentagon folded too soon.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Colby Cosh sees an upside:

Speaking of poor decision-making, the outcry against DARPA’s geopolitical-event futures market will give Americans a useful chance to identify dangerously stupid politicians who believe emotional grandstanding is more important than the national security. (Surprise! It turns out to be pretty much all of them.) . . .

I suggest using the affair as a litmus test for newspaper columnists and editorial boards, too.

Pretty much all of them, too. . . .