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Afghanistan war costs exceed $1 trillion

...15-year spending matches 30 years of GDP...

After 9/11, the U.S. had a self-evident moral capital to organize a revenge. The terrorist attacks that took place half an hour before my PhD defense were brutal, shocking, saddening, and spectacular.

This picture of Kabul makes the place look richer than it is.

The immediate damages to the infrastructure exceeded $10 billion but just by a little. On the other hand, the war in Afghanistan that was justified by the attacks has already surpassed $1 trillion (ten to the twelfth power), see CNBC, which beats the immediate damages caused by 9/11 by two orders of magnitude.

(The Soviet Union has spent lots of money for a futile conflict in Afghanistan as well – but it was surely less than a trillion dollars.)

Despite this asymmetry, the operations in Afghanistan seem far less spectacular – that's why I have included the provoking adjective above. One could argue that the money has been almost completely wasted.

The problem emerges when you realize how these costs compare to the economy of Afghanistan. The comparison looks stunning to me especially because I tend to think that $1 trillion is the approximate market value of the whole country of Afghanistan (although the country claims to have – unproven – reserves worth $3 trillion).

Why is it so?

The country's population is 32 million people and the GDP per capita exceeds $1,000 but just a little bit. It is just three dollars per day – and GDP actually overstates the income that the people receive. Multiply that and you will get the GDP of about $32 billion per year.

Clearly, in a similar (less than) 15-year period, the country is expected to produce just half a trillion dollars in products and services. The U.S. war costs have been twice as big as the overall production of the whole Asian country!

GDP is one thing. What is the price of Afghanistan? You may estimate the price by taking some P/E ratio. For the stock market, it is typically a number between 5 and 30 or so. It means that the value of a company is approximately equal to 5-30 years of profits that it generates.

You can easily see that even with the P/E=30, the realistic recent upper bound, the Asian country is cheaper than the U.S. war spending since 2001. In other words, the U.S. government could have bought the whole country for the same money. Wouldn't it have solved all the problems in a way that is much better for the U.S. as well as the natives of Afghanistan?

To buy Afghanistan may sound as a joke, an unrealistic idea, or an inhuman proposal resembling the era of feudalism if not slavery. But let me tell you something. The constant devastation and chaos in the country is probably worse than most of the things people would experience in the feudal or slavery's peaceful times. And when we talk about the feudal purchase of countries, it doesn't mean that everything bad would have to be repeated.

Could have the money been spent in a better way? I surely think so.

Just try to think about the "purchase of Afghanistan" seriously. What does it mean? How can you get close to it? The country is "owned" by various Afghani people. An average person earns something of order $1,000 a year. If the U.S. has paid them $30,000 per capita, almost all the Afghani folks would agree to surrender some direct political rights, the land, and to be hired as U.S. government employees – so that I can avoid the word "slave". I hope that the IRS would give them a break.

That doesn't mean that their status would be worse than it is now. If the U.S. likes to social-engineer random countries in Asia or Africa, it could do it in a far more efficient way. These new 30 million (including seniors and children) U.S. government employees could be expected to work for 6 hours a day, or something like that, according to some plans of American managers – so that I avoid the terms "slaveowners" as well as "protectors". Such a setup could lead to dramatic improvements in the country. Some of them would be farmers, others would be cops.

I guess that many of you will say Why not? But everyone realizes that any similar "bold" considerations contradict all the fashionable ideas. The goal was to "export democracy" into Afghanistan and some people still believe in this goal – in the case of Afghanistan and in many others, too. This idea combines the imperial mode of thinking with some idealist utopias and with the political correctness demanding that "everyone is equal".

You know, they are not equal in the sense that they will have the U.S. early 21st-century-style democracy. Whether the differences are biological or "just" cultural doesn't really affect the realistic planning. What is important is that if dramatic changes in their way of thinking and living materialize at all, the typical timescale of such a change is comparable to many centuries or longer.

While many of us – but far from all of us or even most of us! – in the Western countries highly value freedom and perhaps even democracy, this is simply not necessarily the case of all human beings in the world. One only starts to say that freedom is priceless if the things that are needed for decent enough survival have prices that the speaker may already afford. Freedom is needed – but the freedom to live is primary and more vital than more luxurious forms of freedom (such as the freedom of press) that we usually discuss in the West.

My point is that the purchase of Afghanistan that I proposed above would look "unacceptable" to many people in the West – or at least, many people would claim that it is unacceptable – but it could be pretty acceptable in Afghanistan. The money could be spent much more effectively and peacefully than it was spent between 2001 and 2014 in the war games that pretended that Afghanistan was both an enemy and an ally, in the intellectual atmosphere claiming that Afghanistan should be fully sovereign and decide about its own fate while all the money is basically spent for the influence over what is happening in the country.

A more transparent, pragmatic setup would simply be more effective. If the U.S. wants to change certain things in Afghanistan – to turn it into a safer (and perhaps more prosperous) country for their own citizens as well as for the U.S. and others – why doesn't the most important economy in the world exploit its economic advantages and why doesn't it exert the influence in a much more direct and readable way?

The policies since 2001 were based on the silly assumption that if Afghanistan is allowed to vote democratically, the outcomes of this process have to be similar to the outcomes in the U.S. Many people at the top of the U.S. politics probably believe this assumption. But only complete imbeciles may believe such a thing. (The previous two sentences do not contradict one another at all, unfortunately.)

I have picked Afghanistan as an example. Of course that I would find transparency in similar pressures over other countries refreshing in many other cases, too. The world could be a much better place if people weren't afraid of voluntarily entering various asymmetric relationships of this form.

What do you think?

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reader ohwilleke said...

Per capita GDP understates economic capacity in undeveloped countries in absolute (but not relative) terms, because it excludes subsistence herding and farming and domestic industry (e.g. making your own clothes and providing your own childcare to family members) that would be included in the market economic activity of more advanced economies where a larger share of production takes place outside the household. It also excludes the poppy-heroin trade, which is Afghanistan's primary industry.

Afghanistan is still home to the poorest, most squalid white people in the world, mostly due to 35 years or more or less continuous civil war. But, the econometric measurements used in Third World economies lack the sound definitions and accuracy of measurements in the hard sciences.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, Andrew, the fact that these entries are not included in the GDP is just a flip side of the fact that it's hard to turn them into an ethically defensible profit, isn't it?

The very word "subsistence" in "subsistence herding" means that you really can't take away any money out of it, without killing the herders.

I think it's right that GDP sort of measures the product above the "truly bare" subsistence level which is why I think that what these statistics produce is a very reasonable figure to be called the GDP.

reader anna v said...

What percentage of that trillion went to pay salaries of US citizens, from soldiers to bureaucrats? What percentage was burnt in arms etc? supplying work to a lot of US industry?

Kept the western market economy if not booming, prosperous?

reader ohwilleke said...

GDP works very well in its domain of applicability which is modern developing and developed economies (where it also includes lots of funds spent for subsistence in the marketplace) with detailed and comprehensive bookkeeping for tax purposes and financial accounting purposes, much as the perturbative QCD works very well at the energy scales where it is designed to work, while failing in the infrared which is outside its domain of applicability.

GDP is outside its domain of applicability in economies where a large share of economic activity takes place outside the marketplace, and in economies where the black market makes up a large share of total economic activity, both of which are true in Afghanistan. A more generalized measurement than GDP would produce a value two to three times as large, which still doesn't take away from the basis point.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Andrew, QCD is a theory - something making lots of predictions i.e. propositions and claims.

On the other hand, GDP is a quantity - something given by a definition. So your wheels in the brain are not in a good shape if you think that these two acronyms are analogous and that GDP may "fail". GDP is whatever it is.

I have used it to make claims - an estimate of the value of Afghanistan - and then one can ask whether the method to estimate was right. And I claim it was because subsistence herders etc. are simply left to exist on the territory, decoupled from the profits and expenses, so they contribute zero to the price of the country just like the P/E times the GDP suggests.

reader cynholt said...

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought on borrowed money, unlike any war in American history save for the Revolutionary War, in which money was borrowed from France. We have already paid $260 billion in interest costs on borrowing to fight the wars.

Shockingly these costs are seldom, indeed seldom mentioned by budget scolds and these costs are effectively multiplied by just how little domestic growth these costs have generated since 2001. These were not costs related to domestic investment in soft and hard infrastructure, but costs related to stark enterprises abroad.

reader Shannon said...

It is funny to imagine the Afghani people turned into fat US civil servants :-). Would they have to learn the US anthem too? This would be grotesque. Do you think Afghani people would accept the money to let the US install their democracy? Buying another country looks like a hostile takeover bid to me with huge fraud in the backstage. In any case I imagine that the contract between the two countries would include a time limit with an obligation of result and a referendum (in both countries) to make sure the majority agrees. If well presented I am sure the Unitedstatians will be happy to pay for this. Any shit well presented will do for them.

reader strictly speaking... said...

When talking about things like employment due to a country engaging in war, you have to consider alternative cost. What other programs could have produced far more growth with the resources spent? This is also known as the broken window fallacy.

For example, if this budget had been spent on NASA, It would have been more than enough to set up permanent colonies on the Moon and regular flights to Mars. With quite a lot of spare change for other programs like superconducting supercolliders and whatnot.

That would actually have created significant domestic employment and would have produced numerous spin-off technologies. Instead, we got a conflict that antagonized the entire middle east.

reader Mikael said...

Well, Osama bin Laden was rich and still radical. So not all people can be bought in this way. Also in order to fight direct physical violence you need soldiers and not just money. Also how could the US ever stop such an engagement without leaving an even bigger chaos than before. I agree though that the money could have been spent smarter to do more good in this world.

reader cynholt said...

What if bankrupting the US were the goal all along? Even the dumbest neocon zombie can see that wars cost/waste a lot of money and they should know that the US economy has been in shambles for a while now, after all their cousins run the US economy. They can't possibly claim there there is some financial gain in going to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran.

Bin Laden said the he would bring financial ruin to the US. The neocons and their useful idiots at the Pentagram and elsewhere are abhorred at the mere suggestion of reducing war budgets by a penny. The neocon scoundrels are responsible for the financial ruin that Bin Laden announced. They are hence material supporters of Al Qaida and should be detained indefinitely as terrorists.

reader QsaTheory said...

I am from Kuwait, and this bizarre notion of buying the country is no joke. But in my country the story is the opposite. The people of Kuwait want to sell their country.

During the past 60 years and despite the astronomical amount of money that the country has made, yet we have turned the country into a shithole. If you calculate how much money each family should have, it will be in the tens of millions of dollars. More and more people have been saying it aloud, sell the country.

reader Swine flu said...

The interesting thing is that the US does still seem to produce quite a few good engineers, and scientists too, for that matter. It must be a combination of factors. The first is that the educational system, while not great at imparting knowledge, does not stifle creativity too much. The second is meritocracy in the workplace. Finally, a few top educational institutions do get good students and have rigorious programs, so some number of graduates with adequate knowledge base for the more complex jobs are available.

reader Pavel Bažant said...

Just a couple of observations. Having some teaching experience at Czech technical university, I tend to divide the students into three zones -- the upper, middle and lower zone.

Students in the upper zone are the (mathematically) creative ones. You can be a bit sloppy when teaching them as they are "confusion resistant". They intuitively understand why abstractions are useful, which things are fundamental and which are conventions. They are able to identify what is really important and what isn't. They understand the difference between the expression itself and the mathematical object it defines. They know that a lot of thing in math are understood in context and they are aware of the relevant context. They can tell syntactic sugar from real new insights. They use heuristics. They know all these meta trivialities (without necessarily having names for them).

Students in the middle zone are the most numerous ones. They have the capacity to understand the stuff taught in principle, but they often fail to do so, as they have almost none of those meta insights. They fail miserably at simple but tricky questions. They tend to confuse "undefined" and zero. Fortunately, the students in the middle zone can be taught the "meta" trivialities explicitly and are able to use some of them.

The lower zone is formed by the students who are unable to understand things even when explicitly told. I am not sure one can "do much" for this zone.

The point is that the majority of people don't use "powerful modes of thinking" naturally, but they can be taught this "externally", at least to some extent. There are individual and age-given limits to this but some of this may apply to 6th graders and up, or so.

reader QsaTheory said...

Yes, I agree with you, that is the other side of the coin.But my feeling (with some experience) is that innovation is coming from the shear number of companies AND the infrastructure(of these companies) setup which was built up overtime. Of course, the US does produce highly qualified people from its own population, but it has the big advantage of sucking the brain drain of other countries into its system. Lubos is an example, also my home town friend( he even got awards from CIA!)

reader Gary Mount said...

Buying Afghanistan would not be unprecedented as the United Stated bought Alaska for $7.2 million in 1867.

An inflation calculator, that only starts in 1913 puts that amount to at least $172,678,545.45 (excuse the precision, I'm just cutting and pasting) in todays dollars.

reader Gary Mount said...

I grew up as a kid with daily broadcasts on the news about the Vietnam war. Just researching now I see the cost for that war in todays dollars at about $200 Billion, and 58,000 lives, during a time when the US was a much smaller country economically and by population.

reader tomandersen said...

There is no need for the people who receive the money to work. Indeed victory for the US would be swift and sure with the money as a gift. But to get the money to the actual people is very hard. The best way is over flights with $1s, $10s and $20 raining down, along with satellite dishes, phones, etc.

The goal is not another US protectorate, but rather an ally in the region, which gifts like money would help achieve.

The same plan would work wonders on North Korea. Just rain the money down in the north, and the entire army will be up there picking it up, while you cross the border with free cars and supermarket food for everyone. When for instance East Germany was rejoined with the west, that money was spent anyway, so its not like it would cost any net money for the south to liberate the north.

reader Swine flu said...

Immigrants have certainly always played a major role here, but not an exclusive one. To use physics as an example, the US imported Wigner, Bethe, and Fermi, but also produced Weinberg, Schwinger, Feynman, Gell-Mann, Bardeen, and Anderson.

Perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit that is still somewhat alive in US is another factor to add to my list in the earlier post.

reader Russell Byrd said...

Wow, what an idiotic rant! Hey folks, this Vangel troll, will literally shove thousands of posts into your blog, just to force you to agree, or quit posting altogether. He is desperate for the "last word."

I do not understand the point, but this guy is fixated. Want to call me the troll? Fine, but you better look out. This jerk claims to be unobtrusive and believes everyone has "natural rights." Just as long as you agree with every lie he tells.

reader anna v said...

All I am asking really is "how much of that trillion " cycled through the US. After all bombs etc are still made in the US, not outsourced. Plus the army costs because the salaries go back home and are spent there. A percentage whether borrowed or not. I

You might view it as digging ditches and filling them up again in order to provide employment. The economy is a complex thing.

reader anna v said...

I do not disagree that there would be much smarter ways to spend the money domestically. My question is on whether when saying "it cost one trillion" one is being fair. IMO the return money spent in the US should be subtracted.

reader mesocyclone said...

History has shown that giving very poor people a lot of money results in very poor people who had money for a very short period of time. I find it a creative approach, but extremely unlikely to work in this case.

My view is that the US did the right thing by going into Afghanistan, but that we should have left once we had thrown out Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We went in to avenge an unprovoked attack on us, and to reduce the threat for another. That was appropriate.

Even if we had to repeat it a couple of times in the ensuing nearly 15 year period, we would still have come out way ahead.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Luke, the accelerating magnets have been capable of 14 TeV, the high energy, from the beginning.

But when the LHC was planned, the plans actually did make a bet that the best magnets would be better than at the moment of the design.

After the 2008 breakdown etc., they preferred to be careful which is why the energy 7 and then 8 TeV energy was chosen instead of 14 TeV. But I find it "very likely" that they could have made the 14 TeV collisions from the beginning.

While the acceleration technology hasn't been seriously upgraded, there were some other parts of the device that were upgraded during the 2-year break.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Shannon, the purchase would be meant to be partly hostile - as was the war, of course. But it would be possible.

I don't think that there is a real precedent for such things in the past. Takeovers of other countries in the past (e.g. by the imperial powers) were not real purchases, were they?

If there are some precedents in feudalism, they seem pretty romantic to me.

It would depend on the U.S. bosses whether the servants would be learning an anthem, or English, for that matter. I don't think it is really necessary for anything. But they could be ordered to do so, like anything else that paid employees are expected to do.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Fair enough. You need soldiers, too. But you will be able to buy lots of them - regular and irregular soldiers - to safely dictate the rules. In the reality of 2001-2014, the expectation was that the people would be imposing U.S. rules even though they were *not* paid, and that's silly.

reader Luboš Motl said...

With the oil price collapse, the price of Kuwait dropped some 50% as well, didn't it?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Still extremely, insanely cheap - even though $200 million still can't be called "symbolic".

That purchase was a success story, wasn't it? Russia was a peaceful partner - but to some extent, it was true in Afghanistan, too - the bad guys were supposed to be exceptions.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Mesocyclone, my goal wasn't to make Afghani folks wealthy for a long time. My time was to make them compatible with the U.S. interest through the end of their lives. As the U.S. employees I suggested, they would de facto have very little money left.

Do you understand the justification why the U.S. didn't leave Afghanistan afterwards? That's where the truly unjustified logic probably started.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry, Anna, I find your logic sick.

The trillion was *spent* for arms, soldiers' salaries, bureaucrats's salaries, and so on - what's the difference?

I can compare the costs and benefits. The costs are clearly $1 trillion when you add all this spending, and I claim that the benefits are close to zero. So $1 trillion was wasted, wasn't it?

It doesn't matter at all whether it was spent on arms or bureaucrats or Kalashnikovs. It was money that was taken from the taxpayer who could have bought things that *would* bring them more prosperity and happiness than the zero they got from the spending in Afghanistan, and that's the problem.

I can't get rid of the feeling that your being trained to be a professional citizen or public employee in a parasitic country that just consumes other people's money, and you think that this is just good for everyone, is being projected to almost every single comment about politics that you ever write.

There is nothing good about "supporting economy" paid from other people's money, economy that produces nothing useful. This is how I define *wasted money*. You may call it the wasted money a good thing and say that it's unfair to call wasted money wasted money, but you are only showing your parasitic nature.

reader RAF III said...

reader RAF III said...

Lubos - You're joking, right?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks for your view.

I am pretty sure that your explanation doesn't apply to Czechia. The employers - often but far from always companies with headquarters - are already complaining about the shortage of technically educated folks (of course, many of them are already employed, but it's not enough). And even without such complaints, I do tend to think that this is a major contributing factor to Germany's GDP per capita still being so much higher than the Czech one.

reader Luboš Motl said...

The "narrow claim", that fractions and long division skills are a good predictor, is self-evident.

The in-between-lines stronger claim that these two things are better predictors than others is highly controversial and I will probably keep on doubting that these people have actually accumulated evidence that fractions, long division are better predictors than sets of linear equations or equations of conics of combinatorics or anything else.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Exactly, Pavel. This matches my teaching, tutoring, and other personal experience and logic, too.

The point I would pick is that the mathematics teaching of the "middle zone" bulk of the students resembles and has to resemble careful formulations and memorization because otherwise they get lost, while the vagueness and room for their own adjustments is only OK for talented enough kids in the "upper zone".

reader Dimitris Poulos said...

one of the main problems of those wars is the stress on logic, afganistan as well as iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, in fact their regimes where ex us friends.
these wars where made for the following reason, the us chose to explode some of the energy it needed to, but they didn't go against their enemies but against their least usefull friends!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear RAF, do you mean about the competition of trolls? Of course that I didn't mean the long-time TRF community.

I meant people like the last banned one an hour ago ago. Under the "Germans are mostly Celts" blog post which just reported some Swiss DNA research companies' statistical analysis of markers and their distribution in Germany and Europe, I was told that I had to be Adolf Hitler's student and I should close my mouth because if Hitler had won the war, I would be employed as a doormat, or something like that.

Of course, this guy was less funny. But what can I do with such a guy? A completely neutral, matter-of-fact topic in genetics is being hysterically converted to similar political ad hominem attacks that have absolutely nothing to do with it. Of course that the commenter was banned immediately. I don't know how else similar stuff could be used. Every new comment is bound to be equally vacuous intimidation with ad hominem attacks. It's a useless person that can only spread trash over the Internet.

And similar things do occur several times a week. I can often reconstruct that it's a sockpuppet of a user that was banned a day earlier, and so on. So the number of independent people who are banned is probably much smaller than the number of ban entries. But there are still many entries like that.

reader RAF III said...

Lubos - No. I meant only Russell Byrd. Russell Byrd has been stalking Vangel throughout the comments on TRF. I would bet good money that he has done the same elsewhere. He has offered nothing but insults and vitriol. He is the quintessential troll and should be one of the first up against the wall when the banning begins.
I thought you might have meant your reply to be ironic when you thanked him for the warning and explained your views on trolls.

reader Marcel van Velzen said...

Dear Vangel, a very impressive write-up, You always explain and/or clarify your arguments. Much respect!

reader cynholt said...

What if they gave a war and nobody came? That's the way most people I know feel--both from the left and the right. Don't know anybody who approves of wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, North Korea, Syria, or whatever new enemy Washington can come up with. My impression is--ordinary people are done with war. The only dissenters are those that profit from it directly, the military contractors and politicians that support them, Department of Homeland Security personnel, and evangelical Christians who want to confront Islam.

reader TomVonk said...

The biggest problem I see is that this hallucinating amount of money has not been rationnaly spent to achieve well defined miltary targets.
Yet the invasion of Afganistan that started in october 2011 has been a walk in the park.
Mazar i Sharif a Taliban stronghold for 3 years fell in 60 minutes.
The Talibans holding Kabul cowardly fled and Kabul was taken in 15 minutes.
All of this without casualties because the first US died ... in a prison revolt 2 months after invasion started.
Afghanistan was invaded, Talibans exterminated or fleeing , whole country under control in Alliance with the Tadjiks in only 2 months .
Forces used : a few thousands, casualties near 0, costs negligible.
So the real problems and the useless spending started only after the war has been won
The hardcore talibans are about 3 000 and the occasional helpers and accomplices are about 7 000.
So finally the US spent (if the estimation is right) 100 millions per ennemy Taliban without even having them all eliminated !
And this is crazy - how hard can it be to eliminate 10 000 bare footed fanatics ( 0.03 % of Afghan population) ?
In my opinion the US simply had no clue what to do and what strategy to follow after the war was won.
No need to buy the country - just offer to any Afghan 100 k$ (a century of revenue) for every Taliban chief dead, 10 k for ordinary soldier dead and let them do the last necesary bit of work.
Democracy is an illusion in an underdevelopped country that has so many different ethnies that hate each other and were doing so for centuries.
And spending 1 trillion for this illusion, is just silly beyond belief.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I see, RAF. I agree that Russell Byrd seems more troll-like here.

I still think that most Vangel's writings about economics are just deeply flawed.

reader RAF III said...

Lubos - Of course you and Vangel have serious disagreements, but what matters is that you both are civil, reasonable, and patient when discussing your differing opinions.
Unlike Russell Byrd! His every comment detracts from the quality of the discussion.
I'm sorry if I have been presumptuous here, but the guy just pisses me off no end.

reader TomVonk said...

This is interesting.
This kind of problems doesn't really exist in France and Napoleon is to be thanked for it :)
Napoleon was very good in maths himself and as a general of artillery he very well knew that you can't govern countries and win wars without being more scientifically advanced than the ennemy.
For instance he was reading Laplace's "Celestial Mechanics" and would immediately write to congratulate Laplace for the "clarity and power of his mathematical reasonings". He participated on meetings of the Institute of Science etc.
Because of all that he realised that France needed an education system where the most gifted scientific students had to be early detected and taught by the best brains France had.
So he created a double education system : the university and the new Grandes Ecoles.
The former was classical like in all countries and nothing changed.
The latter was new and based on severe selection : the best mathematics and physics students at the end of high school (let's say the top 3 students in every school) are allowed to enter a 2 (or 3) years special preparation cycle.
During this cycle they are taught something like 20 hours mathematics/week and 15 hours physics/week every week.
The rytm is approximately 2-3 times faster compared to university and many students abandon during the first few weeks.
To that add also other matters like litterature, languages etc.
At the end of the cycle they pass 1 shot very long examens for different Grandes Ecoles and according to their rank obtained in the examen they enter or fail.
If they fail, they have only 1 second chance and if failing again, they must return to the unversity.
Once entering a Grande Ecole they are taught during 3 years to be engineers or scientists.
Most of great French mathematicians, pysicists, Nobel prizes etc have gone through the Grande Ecole system.
This is also why there was and still is a quite high level mathematic culture in France even if what happens in high schools is not different from what's happening in US, Czech or other high schools.
Today, 2 centuries after Napoleon this system still exists and has for consequence that every time there is an attempt (and there are always some) to dumb down the pedagogy because everybody has to be "equal", it doesn't work universally.
It doesn't work for the simple reason that the best students always go to the preparation cycle for Grandes Ecoles anyway so that they are immune to whatever ideology and pedagogy reigns in the public High Schools and universities.
Of course the ultimate radical "equalisator" would be to kill the Grandes Ecoles but everybody realizes that this would destroy the selection of the best scientific/engineering brains in France so that even the far left doesn't propose it too loudly.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Good for Napoleon. It's interesting to see how our otherwise similar nations may be far.

Your satisfaction with these attitudes towards mathematics in France is doubly surprising given France's leading role in the postmodern bullshit.

When Alan Sokal wrote his hoax article which said that the value of pi is now varying with political oppression etc., he was mostly attacking some French philosophers who founded this stuff? What was the name of that insane guy?

reader cynholt said...

Empires bring no good to anyone, including themselves. Soviet Empire did a world of good to many. In Kabul, women went to school and worked. Many young men and women went abroad to study. One woman became a general, and she is actually still a general today (see link below). But the Soviet Empire did not understand that one cannot barge into a society, change them overnight in your own image, and call it a day. The revolt by the countryside was then exploited by American empire. Now, American empire sits on the same Afghan perch, teaching them how to be what they are not. We can put drones in the sky to kill women gathering wood at dawn, villagers at wedding parties and funerals, kids at slumber parties, or destroy vehicles that happen to travel in close proximity. That makes us the more efficient empire? I think not.

reader cynholt said...

There is an another reason why the US is there. Afghanistan lies smack dab between China, India and all that sweet oil in Iran/Iraq. Remember the silk road, only now it is made of nylon. The US already controls shipping lanes. Land routes are more difficult.

reader Vangel said...

The older I get the more I am inclined to accept the pessimistic outlook of Ludwig von Mises and Albert Jay Nock. Mises pointed out that in order to pursue socialism the moral philosophers and economists had to abandon reason. While that made little headway early in the game as societies became wealthier and the State intruded in the fields of education we saw the panderers to power use brilliant strategies to justify more and more intervention in the lives of citizens by the predatory class that depended on state handouts for their living. It is no surprise that most academics are on the left of that the Fed rewards economists that justify its monopoly on the creation of money and credit.

What bothers me is that brilliant people like Luboš have chosen to buy into a narrative that has no support historically or even theoretically. It is a shame that even though he professes to be an admirer of Klaus, Luboš does not see to be all that familiar with the arguments that he made or the scholarship which he cites in his analysis and commentaries.

Note that while I like Klaus, I consider him much like Friedman; many of the words sound good and the logic and intelligence are clearly there but what is not discussed is even more telling than what is said. I would love to be able to pin down Klaus' position on the viability of fiat money and central banking, particularly when we have his comments that clearly blame an undisciplined US government and the Fed for the most recent crisis. I think that Klaus suffers from the same problem as Friedman. He knows that when you give a small group of men a monopoly on the creation of purchasing power they will abuse it but deep down thinks if he or men like him were able to get the ring of power they would not be corrupted by it. Both think that there is nothing wrong with Sauron that character could not fix. I guess that they should have read their Acton or Tolkien a bit more carefully.

reader TomVonk said...

There tons of bad things in France - Front National, Marxist philosophers, politically correct media but Mathematics is not part of them;
Actually since Napoleon these things simply didn t interact;
So because of this apartheid, France could keep both shitty intellectuals and plenty of Marxists AND a very high level of selectivity and teaching in mathematics;

reader Snedly Arkus said...

For the vast majority of the worlds population basic grade school math is all they will ever need. Science too. The impression I get from this piece and comments are, besides the teaching methods, is that every kid needs more than just the basics. Why? It's just a waste of time and resources. What we should be doing is identifying those with the potential and inclination to study advanced math, science, or whatever and supply them with the best teachers and for the rest basic instruction. The problem with so many education systems is the curriculum is laid out as if every kid is going to college. High school dropouts are looked upon with disdain as they realized the system had nothing more to offer them and they left. Instead we expend these incredible sums to keep them where they don't want to be instead of realizing the system has failed them. Long before it got this far they should have been channeled into vocational training, and less years in school, and away from academics. Plumbing instead of Plato, machining instead of Mozart. The current system only benefits those going on to college and those that don't have little or no skills when that diploma is handed to them. Only about 30% of the population needs an advanced degree but we are constantly bombarded with "go to college or be a loser" propaganda as colleges look to expand their empires and coffers, with the resulting higher pay and perks, building programs, and political clout, by filling seats. It is looked upon as a failure of high schools as to why kids need remedial classes after entering college instead of asking why are these kids here as they are not qualified, except to fill seats and empower administrators to build empires. Yet the schools are being structured to start kids as young as 3 with longer school days and years, as if quantity equals quality.
If I didn't see them get off the bus I would never know there are a large amount of kids in my neighborhood. All of them with backpacks full of books and homework, even those as young as six. Instead of giving them the free time to play, develop relationships with other kids, learn how to handle boredom and inaction, and learn first hand of the world around them we put their noses in books 10 hours a day. They work longer hours than their parents so is it any wonder they are rebelling by eventually not trying? How much of the child obesity and the drugging to keep kids calm and focused is a direct result of being too mentally worn out to play, and burn off the pounds and extra energy that their bodies produce as they grow, after spending most of their day sitting with their noses in books. Studies are now starting to show that too much close up work in the growth years inhibits the eyes from developing fully and almost guarantees the kid will need glasses eventually. Kids and their health are being sacrificed at the altar of test scores and graduation rates, which get worse and worse as they education industry pursues quantity over quality education. The problem will never be solved as society bows to those who are the problem, the education industry, and even when citizens get involved it is mainly educated people with their biases and their disdain for the working people, who they consider stupid and ignorant and drive them out of the decision making process, who make the recommendations even though the vast majority of students will not need college bound educations.

reader mesocyclone said...

I think there were a couple of reasons, neither sufficient. One was that they feared Al Qaeda would recover quickly, posing a threat again. The other was probably a misguided idea that democracy and western style society could be created there.


reader Shannon said...

In the past they would marry queen B to a king A and the kingdom would extend. Obama would have to convince one of his daughter to marry the Afghan chief or one of his sons ;-).

reader Mikael said...

Sorry, Lubos, this is not what I meant. Please go not so fast. I fully understand what complementarity means. You can only perform measurement in one of the backgrounds. But there is no rule saying that there could not be a mathematical object which contains information about measurements in both backgrounds. Just in the measurement process the information about the other background is destroyed. Just like a wavefunction can be represented both in momentum space and position space but I have to make a choice which one I measure. Again what I find interesting about this thought is that the wave function psi(t) cannot be such an object because t has no background independent meaning.

reader cynholt said...

Perhaps true, Anna, but at least something good comes from digging ditches. It aerates the soil, making it more productive. Unquestionably, the costs of the Afghan war have been far more destructive than they've been productive. So breaking windows would be a better analogy to describe this good-for-nothing war.

reader Luboš Motl said...

The wavefunction is a function of "x" only or "p" only but not both, OK?

Wigner's distribution generalizes the density matrix and is a function of both "x" and "p", but it may go negative.

In the same way, one may replace "x" and "p" by "operators inside" and "field operators outside" a black hole. Everything is analogous if black hole complementarity holds.

So I don't know what you mean by a mathematical object that contains information about both... backgrounds? Sorry, I just don't understand what you are saying.

reader Mikael said...

Dear Lubos,
yes, the wave function is either a function of x or of p. But the wave vector as an abstract vector in Hilbert space is neither. It contains information for both position measurements and momentum measurments and dependent on which measurement I do I need to develop it in the right basis. My point is that t (time) is different. There is a different Hilbert space vector for each t. Since I cannot map between the black hole time and the outside time even in principle, by writing down an object psi(t) I am guarenteed to get something background dependent. So I think this is just making a major point of your article in my own words. I was then wildly speculating that there might be mathematical object which contains predictions for both the astronaut that falls into the black hole as well as the one that barely escapes. Since quantum mechanics is about the individual experience of a single observer this would not be quantum mechanics, but it would go beyond it. That is probably nonsense and you were rightly confused. I would rather say that if I know the state vector from the point of view of the astronaut well enough a full theory of quantum gravity should pick the right background for me automatically by normal time evolution depending on what his fate is (falling into the black hole or barely escape). Does it make sense know or did I confuse you even more?

reader Mikael said...

Hi Lubos,
incidently isn't this a conclusive argument against the firewall paradox? The firewall proponents say that the hawking quanta inside and outside of the black hole can be either entangled with each other or the Hawking quanta inside the black hole can be entagled with each other. This twofold entaglement can't exist so there must be a contradiction. So they must have a certain state psi(t) in mind, whose construction leads to this contradiction. But which t do they even talk about?

reader dandondelyus said...

Dear Lubos, Interesting point about entropy & temperature. Do you know if there has been any attempt in the literature to redefine these as linear operators? If so could you point to a few?