Author: Elliot

Welcome to Law School

Law School!

You may (or may not) have noticed that I have been fairly absent from Learning From Dogs for the past few months.  While numerous factors play into this, the primary reason is that in August I began my classes at the University of Georgia School of Law, and have since ceased to exist outside of Athens, GA.

Okay, so that is an exaggeration.   The only unfortunate part of law school, though, is that it has hindered my ability to keep up with currents events, and thus has made it difficult for me comment on such.

In trying to think of something I could write about, I realized — why not just write about law school?  I have been surprised (usually pleasantly) by my experiences here, and think that many readers would be equally surprised about many facets of legal education in the USA.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing blog posts now and again about my experiences, how they do or do not conform to stereotypes about law school and lawyers, and what direction I think the American legal education system is heading in.

That being said, it’s time for the Legal Research and Writing class, so farewell for now!

By Elliot Engstrom

Are today’s friends tomorrow’s enemies?

Sometimes looking down the other end of the telescope reveals more, much more!

Afghanistan - where is it leading?

Now that coalition forces have just recently suffered their deadliest month yet in the conflict in Afghanistan, it now has become more crucial than ever to rethink the strategy of the United States and its allies in the region.  Currently, the cornerstone of this strategy rests upon two key factors – winning over the local peoples of the region, and training local forces to carry the burden when, and if, coalition forces leave the region.

At least on the exterior, these goals in Afghanistan do make some sense.  The only possible way to succeed via a continued military occupation of Afghanistan is to attain and bank on the support of the local peoples.  Also, if western powers are ever to withdraw from the region, local forces will have to be able to maintain whatever structure these forces leave in their wake.

However, while this strategy is not completely outlandish and does show some merit on the part of military strategists in that they are leaning more towards localized models that entail comprehension of diverse local factors, the question still must be asked – is this strategy actually possible to carry out and have the sought-after effects in the region?  Can the United States and its allies actually win over the peoples of Afghanistan and western Pakistan, and can these same powers possibly train forces that will remain peacekeepers in the years to come?

Despite the fact that I admire the intentions of the military’s current strategy in this region, I do not think that their plan is in fact possible.  It seems to me that rather we are fighting an unwinnable war to win over a people that we do not and cannot understand, and that by funding the Afghani security forces of today, we are inevitably funding our enemy of tomorrow, just as our nation has mistakenly done so many times in the past in this very region.

I cannot foretell the future.  Nor can anyone else.  However, I can comment on what is likely to occur.  And, in constructing such a model, two of the most important subjects to understand are history and praxeology, or human behavior.

An attempt by the United States to make Afghanistan a stable, western-friendly state is by no means a new happening.  The date of the beginnings of our intervention in the region could be debated, but a decent starting point is the late 1970’s when President Carter put forth the Carter Doctrine, which stated that the United States would defend its interests in the Middle East.

This doctrine just barely preceded the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it was this invasion that saw the beginnings of American forces, at this point being mostly CIA and other such agencies, which were attempting to hamper the Soviet forces by funding the Afghani resistance.

Now, there is no room here for a history of American involvement in Afghanistan.  However, what must be noted is that during the 1980’s and 1990’s, a pattern developed in the Middle East – the United States would fund a group in the hope of combating some common enemy, and then in later years the group funded with American taxpayer money would inevitably end up turning against the United States.

A few prominent examples of this are Al Qaeda, who received $6 billion from the United States from 1989 to 1992, the Afghani Taliban, who was receiving US foreign aid up to the very minute American forces entered their country (and continues to receive US foreign aid through Pakistani backchannels) and Saddam Hussein, who received chemical weapons from the US during the Iraq-Iran War of the 1980’s, weapons he later used to kill American soldiers.

This, though briefly put, is the history, or the “what.”  So now must come an examination of the “why,” or the element of praxeology.  For obviously, our attempts to forge friendships in the region in the past have failed.  Our friends have become our enemies, in fact our worst enemies.

There are several possible explanations for why this occurs.  However, mine is quite simple – we do not understand these people, we do not understand this region, we do not understand Islamic culture, and, to be quite blunt, we never will.  It is not a wrongdoing by the West to look at the Middle East through Western eyes.  Rather, it is the only way that a westerner possibly can look at the Middle East.

On top of this extremely problematic misunderstanding of the Middle East by Western peoples then comes another layer of problems, these being the base problems of intervention in any context, amplified by the extreme foreignness and instability of the Middle East as a whole.  The consequences of intervention in any scenario are so unpredictable, so many, and so far-reaching that no one can possibly intervene and successfully fulfil their objectives without in the process creating a dozen new problems.  This is seen with the federal government intervening in states in their own country – how much greater then are the problems when intervening in a region like the Middle East?

All this now brings us back to the point on considering the future.  As I mentioned previously, I cannot say what the future holds.  However, I can make an educated guess.  And, based on analyses of both history and human behavior, it is safe to say that by both indirectly and directly funding the training of a new military force in Afghanistan, we very likely are creating our enemy of tomorrow.  For when these people that we are now training realize that the United States is not leaving, that they are not in fact a free state, that they have become a part of the American empire, and that if they want to live culturally independent of western influence they will have to forcibly remove Western elements within their borders, it seems extremely probable that they will do exactly that.

To say that we are creating a force that will do what we expect it to do in the future is a wish at best.  The reality is that we do not and cannot understand what is truly a foreign mindset, and our best course of action would be to distance ourselves from what is and will be for many years of region of perpetual conflict.

By Elliot Engstrom

Unintended Consequences

A modern Greek tragedy – that could have been foreseen.

As I tried to point out in a recent Learning From Dogs post, foreign policy is an extremely complicated thing.  This sounds self-evident, but it’s amazing the extent to which certain officials think they can control events occurring around the world.

I like to characterize US foreign policy in the Middle East as throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest, and then expecting to be

Unintended consequences

able to control the hornets when they emerge.  The consequences of intervention are so many, so widespread, so complicated, and so unforeseen that no one can hope to be able to manage them, without inevitably intervening even more and thus fueling even more unintended consequences.  (You can see a strong parallel between the overconfidence of government officials in the area of foreign policy and their attitude in areas of attempted economic control.  But, that’s a separate discussion.)

Thanks to the wonderful (in my opinion) people at WikiLeaks, we have been able to see a much more realistic picture of the war in Afghanistan than has so far been available.  CNN reports on one element of these reports that is none other than one of these most unintended of consequences — some of the most advanced military technology in our country’s arsenal falling into the hands of…well we’re not really sure who.  CNN reports:

When unmanned aircraft crash in Afghanistan, scavenger hunters frequently aren’t far behind, U.S. military incident reports published by WikiLeaks suggest.

On several occasions, military units sent to recover the aircraft — known as tactical unmanned aerial vehicles — have arrived to find the aircraft stripped of valuable parts.

In April 2007, a parachute deployed on one that had maintenance issues, one report says. Troops sent to recover the aircraft couldn’t reach it until the next day, when they discovered it was missing some of its electronic components and its payload.

Is this a surprise?  For me, no!

For those who oversimplify foreign policy to international powers moving on a chess board, yes.  Government officials often forget that at the end of the day we are not dealing simply with “the Taliban” or “Al Qaeda” — we are dealing with individual human beings.

And while the Taliban and Al Qaeda as groups may seem predictable, individual human beings are essentially the most advanced supercomputers ever to exist on this planet.  To think that one can predict the actions of human beings on the other side of the world, especially human beings whose culture and background one hardly understandings, is nothing but the highest form of hubris.

And, just like in Greek tragedy, the hubris comes just before the fall, when it turns out that the prideful character did not have everything under control, and in fact is the victim of consequences that he was too prideful to foresee or even consider as a possibility.

By Elliot Engstrom

Realism as an argument against war

Let’s be real about Realism.

Usually when I talk with supporters of America’s current wars in the Middle East, those who discover that I am vehemently opposed to an American presence in the region find me to be naïve.  In their minds, I just do not understand realism or how power politics actually functions.  My anti-war sentiments are the idealistic notions of an inexperienced youth who thinks that everyone should just get along.

The great irony here is that when followed to its logical end, the realist school of internationalist relations which so

The 'fog' of war.

many use to justify the American presence all over the world is in fact one of the greatest arguments against our current foreign policy.  I do not argue against America’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan because I think that we would all just get along if these wars ceased to happen.  I argue against these wars because I come from a perspective that sees the people we are fighting as human beings with the same base motivations as myself, and when these people see their livelihood threatened, they take the best course of action that they can find, which unfortunately often involves siding with whatever group holds the most regional power.

The great mistake in logic made by many advocates of an interventionist foreign policy is to merely think of the world in terms of the international stage.  Such people look at the world in terms of what Iran, Al Qaeda, Russia, China, OPEC, or other entities have done or might do, rather than considering actions based on their effects on individuals, and what these individuals are likely to do in response.

Read more of this post

Thoughts on Humanitarianism

“An ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings.” WikiPedia


Friedrich Nietzsche

I do not in any of this mean to say that humanitarianism is a negative thing, I am merely attempting to describe why humanitarianism exists in the world today in much larger proportion than it has in the past.

I hope also in some of this to disagree, hopefully intelligently, with Nietzsche’s claim that humanitarianism decreases the overall strength of the human race, or at least its higher echelons.


Human beings are either entirely or nearly entirely driven by self-interest, this much has been made clear by both ancient and modern philosophy.

Different philosophers have realized this point in different ways.

  • Mises said that all people are rational maximizers.
  • Nietzsche said that the natural human being attempts to exert his force upon the world surrounding him.
  • Plato said that all men desire good things, but each man has his own subjective opinion of the “good” which he came to via his own experiences (both during and before “life”.)

I highly doubt that human nature has changed a great deal in 100 years.

However, 100 years ago it was very common for European nations to do just about whatever they wanted to the rest of the world.  In fact, human nature is in all likelihood not very different now than it was in the days of the early church, when Christians were wrapped in lambskin, covered in oil, and burned alive in order to serve as torches.

Humanitarianism goes mainstream

Read more of Elliot’s essay

Greece and America — Similar crises?

Fiddling with gravity!

Financial crises can be very difficult events to understand.  Even for those who have spent a great deal of time studying such areas as finance and economics, comprehension of these disasters can be elusive.  However, analyzing shared elements in the recent American and Greek financial crises can help give even the economic layman insight into their common causes.

One word can be used to sum up the basic concept behind both of these crises – overextension.  Both the American and Greek governments attempted to take on a much heavier economic load than either could handle.  While, in both cases, this has been painted by some as a noble, humanitarian effort to help those in need, methods such as inflationary monetary policy tantamount to theft and the disguising of massive budgetary deficits (in both cases with the help of Goldman Sachs) would not justify the means employed even had these efforts been successful, and certainly should be taken to task considering the disastrous ramifications of these actions.

In both cases, many are citing unrestrained spending as the source of the problem.  For example, CNN wrote of the Greek crisis that “years of unrestrained spending, cheap lending and failure to implement financial reforms…whisked away a curtain of partly fiddled statistics to reveal debt levels and deficits that exceeded limits set by the Eurozone.”

Without suggesting that CNN was attempting to be deceptive in this explanation, as the points made certainly are important, it must be noted that things like unrestrained spending, cheap lending, and fiddled statistics are merely symptoms of the deeper disease.  Instead of asking the government to spend less, tighten lending laws, and implement financial reform, one should instead ask the deeper question – how does the government even have the power to cause such problems in the first place, and why are the results of such government power so often much more hurtful than helpful?

This deeper problem, whose symptoms we are now dealing with, is central banking.  The Federal Reserve System and its Greek counterpart, the Bank of Greece, each had a heavy hand in their respective nations’ financial collapses.  This is due to these banks’ attempts at economic manipulation – the Federal Reserve directly sets interest rates, while the Greek system uses more indirect methods to do nearly the same thing.   Note that it is due to their attempts at economic manipulation, as attempting to set economic law is about as useful as attempting to set gravity.

Consider this metaphor of setting gravity.  A man claims to be able to set the force of gravity on the earth.  He tells a stunt biker that he can set gravity to be half as much as normal.  So, the biker attempts to jump a distance that is much longer than he normally would attempt.  Upon jumping, the biker finds that, obviously, the first man never was able to set the nature of gravity at all, and he falls to the ground long before reaching his destination.

This is exactly what happened due to the actions of central banks in the cases of both the United States and Greece.  Interest rates and other natural economic restrictions were said to be more flexible than they truly were. Thus, individuals who based their actions on this information ended up engaging in activities that were far more risky than usual.  However, once they had “jumped,” so to speak, they found that, in fact, economic law was as strict as ever, and they “fell.”

However, if the answer is so obvious, why are we not hearing more about it?  Each of these financial crises is extremely complicated, and the above described scene is, it must be admitted, an oversimplification.  This is not to say that it is not accurate, but rather that this nature of the crises’ root cause is not immediately apparent to all upon examining the situation.

For example, a person who has been educated their entire life in an economic school that praises central banking, deficit spending, and government action in general would certainly seek to find another cause for the crisis, perhaps by blaming business owners for making risky investments or stating that government controls were not strict enough.  However, a person who has studied and understands the damage done by central banking and government economic controls will be quick to realize what has occurred.

People with such knowledge are becoming more and more common in both the United States and around the world.  “Even today, with an economic crisis raging, the response by our government and the Federal Reserve has been characteristic,” Ron Paul writes in his recent book, End the Fed.  “Interest rates are driven to zero and trillions of dollars are pushed into the economy with no evidence that any problems will be solved.  The authorities remain oblivious to the fact that they are only making our problems worse in the long run.”

While he may be one of the most popular adversaries of central banking, it is not just Ron Paul, or even Austrian economists, who are calling out government for its role in these financial crises.  In an e-mail to supporters, Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich cited “the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, the banks’ fractional reserve system and our debt-based economic system” as major factors in the American crisis.

Such complex and important issues as economic crises need all the attention we can give them, and it is impossible here to provide the in-depth analysis that these situations merit.  It also must be noted that while both the United States and Greece have to an extent both engaged in central banking to their detriments, each country does have a different system.  Still, the general principles hold, always returning us to that first word – overextension.  As long as nations attempt to manipulate the laws of economics to engage in far grander pursuits than they can sustain, we can expect to see such economic crises as have been seen in the United States and Greece in the future.

By Elliot Engstrom

Elliot’s Schooling: The Role of Government

This continues the series of posts on education.

Abraham Lincoln

What is the role of government in education?  The problem of central government power and corruption in relation to education is a cause of great concern for me.  I still remember learning that Abraham Lincoln was a champion of civil rights who wanted to end slavery, and that American exceptionalism defeated the aggressive Soviet Union.  I also now realize that there were gaping absences from my education, like the complete absence of any classes concerning philosophy, even as an introduction that scratched the surface, or any study of the decline of empires such as Rome whose glories I studied so intensely.

Ancient Rome

If there is any quick fix for the problems I am noting, it would be decentralization of power in respect to our education system.  This becomes more problematic on a daily basis, as more and more federal stimulus funds are poured into local education systems.  While the beltway political community often paints this as government helping small communities, I see the benefit of a temporary boost in funding being far outweighed by the cost of our central government grabbing more and more local power.  Education systems will, in the long run, be forced to either permanently entrust more of their budgetary matters to federal power, or suffer the pain of doing away with an infrastructure that big government created and, consequently, only big government can support.  Decentralization would help the education system of the United States to be more diverse as well, as different regions would certainly have different educational programs, and these programs could compete in the form of their graduates to show which programs had the best results.

However, no discussion of education in the United States would be complete without taking a look at the intent of our country’s founders.  Here I must thank Professor Jarrell for injecting this concept into the current discussion.  In a recent LFD post addressed to me and interested others, she wrote:

The Federalist Papers made it clear, to me at least, that our founding fathers believed that the government, our federal government in particular, should have nothing to do with educating the populace.

I realize it sounds a bit radical now, but I believe that any discussion of what is right and wrong about public education today must begin with a healthy debate about whether the federal government should be involved in public education at all.

Your thoughts?  Thanks!

In a very soon-to-come post, I will begin yet another discussion,  one that I hope will heavily involve Professor Jarrell and many others, about the original intent of our founders in relation to public education, and whether or not there is any hope of returning to their proposed system at any point in the near future.

by Elliot Engstrom

Elliot’s Schooling

So where does this all end up?

Well, I am finally back from an eventful break from writing at Learning From Dogs that has entailed my graduation from Wake Forest University, some final preparations for the University of Georgia School of Law and my move to Athens, and the unfortunate passing of my grandfather, Paul Norman Engstrom.

Therefore, it has been quite some time since I wrote my original post — which at that point was posted by Professor Jarrell with me as a guest author — in which I laid out my goals pertaining to a discussion of the United States’ education system.  Since then I have discussed the positives of our system, the negatives of our system, and pointed out the view of Sir Ken Robinson, who believes that creativity should be given the same status as literacy in education systems.

We are often surprised after researching a topic to find our conclusions to be in opposition with our previous line of thought.  However, sometimes it can be equally as surprising to do a great deal of research and then wind up back where you started, simply with a larger factual foundation behind.  This has been the case for me throughout this entire discussion of the United States’ education system.  Despite the attempt I have made to challenge my own viewpoint and think critically about my own biases, I continue to see the costs of the United States’ education system as far greater than its benefits.

Brick and mortar school building

As I have stated before, there is a great difference between formal education and learning.  Or, to be more precise, perhaps I should say that formal education is merely one part, and perhaps not even that large a part, of what “learning” entails.  I would suggest that the problem is not so much that the United States’ education system is damaging merely because of its existence, but rather that the greatest damage comes from society expecting far too much from this system.  School is no replacement for the learning that entails integration into a complex and competitive global society that necessitates human interaction, critical thinking skills, and creativity.  Sure, one can force youths into cinder block rooms and force them to learn multiplication tables and historical dates.  And, to an extent, I think this is necessary in a mass society as we have today.  However, this formula of forcing youths to learn facts and then having these facts regurgitated has been entrusted with far too much of what we today consider “learning,” and if we are ever to have a positive shift in our society from one of idea-accepters to idea-creators, this must change.

Learning the multiplication tables

Perhaps high school could integrate into their programs a larger degree of extracurricular internships that count for course credit — I am sure that this is an experiment that could be undertaken by a few school districts quite easily, and then expanded if it proves successful.  Perhaps also school curriculum could be altered to include more classes on philosophy and economics, which I see as foundational for a solid understanding of our world.  However, this alteration of core curriculum would be a much more difficult task to accomplish, and would require some serious time and thought.

by Elliot Engstrom

The Foreign Policy Handbook

An outsider’s view of the European Union

Recently Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian organization that I write for, published the second issue of the Foreign Policy Handbook, a magazine on foreign policy written by and for students.

However, the fact that it’s “for students” does not mean that others aren’t encouraged to check it out!  (Who says you need to be in school to be a student, anyways?)

The European Union

My article in this issue, “The European Union: Eurocrats and the Eurosphere,” discusses a few problems that I see with the European Union.  The article begins:

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, European governments came under attack for their colonial policies in the African continent.  One of the primary claims made by pan-Africanists and other anti-European individuals was that such European policies denied the peoples of Africa the right of self-determination.  For example, the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, drafted at a 1920 convention of the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Garby, stated, “We believe in the self-determination of all peoples.”  Through policies ranging from direct rule via military force to indirect rule via forced economic dependency, European governments were holding African countries back from determining their own course.

While the modern “third world” certainly is not free from the tethers of traditional western powers, the situation has greatly improved from what it was a hundred years ago.  However, the modern European governments now are directly denying the right of self-determination not to the peoples of other continents, but to the peoples of Europe itself.  Considering the rhetoric surrounding the European Union, such as a commitment to “sustainable development” and the goals of “peace, prosperity and freedom” for the people of Europe, this is a sad irony indeed.

Other articles in this issue of the FPH include:

  • “The War on Terror and Sun Tzu: Is American Strategy Sound?”,
  • “Why Conservatives Should Hate Our Foreign Policy,” and
  • “Law or Hoax? Disproving Democratic Peace Theory.”

Check out an entire digital copy for free here.

By Elliot Engstrom

Elliot’s schooling – Sir Ken’s view

Sir Ken Robinson’s view

I plan to have my final post on education finished very soon.  However, with my last week of finals and papers at the undergraduate level (which is finally over!) constantly hoarding my time, I have not yet quite been able to truly decide on which side I plan to end up.

My instinct tells me that the costs of the US schooling system far outweigh its benefits, but I feel I must be sure that this is truly a case that can be supported with logic and not simply my own biases coming through.

However, while I continue to ponder, I thought that readers might find this video interesting.  It’s a different take on the nature of institutionalized schooling than is often seen.  It’s on the longer side — approximately 20 minutes long — but I definitely think it is worth a watch for anyone pursuing a clear and well thought-out perspective on education, and it’s actually quite humorous and entertaining.

The video is of a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of innovation and human resources.  His thesis statement is as follows:

My contention is that creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

I hope the Learning From Dogs community enjoys this video.  Upon my return from celebrating my college graduation in Charleston, I plan to present my final finding on whether the costs or the benefits of schooling in the United States outweighs the other.

By Elliot Engstrom