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Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior

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I coined Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior years ago as a corollary to Gresham's Law. Economic policy gave rise to Gresham's Law (Bad money drives out good money), now generalized to 'Inferior goods, services, or behavior drive out the good goods, services, or behavior.'

My corollary became Gresham's Law of Competitive Behavior: "You must descend to the behavior of your adversary to defeat him."  If that law is true, it poses some somber questions in dealing with either conventional or asymmetrical terrorist threats. 

In a private note, 'Weaponized anthrax, preemption, and other sticky thoughts,' I cited Richard Preston’s visceral description of weaponized anthrax in "The Cobra Event" and then asked readers to consider someone wanting to bring that to our shores and how they would react to preempt had they the chance. My point was that their answer would concentrate their mind one way or the other as to where they wanted to fight the battle and to the degree to which they wanted to fight it.

In response to aggressive measures by ASEAN states -- Singapore's aggressive Internal Security Act first among equals -- to halt a terrorist effort to create a regional Islamic state, I asked those who disdain aggressive interrogation and police powers to consider that most likely the only reason that 10 to 12 US flag airliners did not drop into the Pacific was an intense Philippine search and subsequent interrogation that flushed the details of the plot.

We then moved to the general argument over preemptive use of deadly force occasioned by an unmanned CIA Predator drone strike (forgetting that a man is controlling the drone from a ground station) in Yemen that killed six al-Qaeda suspects including a US national. Under what conditions will the US initiate lethal operations away from a recognized battlefield? What is a recognized battlefield these days? Under whose authority can such an attack be issued? Does Director CIA now have an automatic license to kill? Can US nationals lose their constitutional protections, possibly their life, on an agency’s decision?

Pam Hess wrote that the attack "may not have violated the U.S. ban on assassinations, but the Bush administration's new rules on America's right to self-defense in the uncertain battlefield of the war on terrorism need to be sharply defined, according to former intelligence officials and experts." Condoleezza Rice said that, "I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here. The President has given broad authority to US officials in a variety of circumstances to do what they need to do to protect the country" and he is "well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority."

At the time, I commented that, "We are going to have to make increasingly difficult decisions to resolve the survival of our national wellbeing and polity in the face of increasing aggressive adversaries armed with potent weaponry and waging a war unlike any that we have experienced." I returned to this theme in a later private note, "Life is indelicate when one’s continued existence is at odds with one’s ethics, especially when the foe is assuredly not a Geneva signatory and feels that he can torture and kill you at will to achieve his aims. And better to fight it there than here -- and enlist the governments in question to assist lest they themselves fall."

We are now on the eve of what appears to be a systematic massed human target attack by al Qaeda.  I feel that if we were not then, we are now firmly on the glide slope of Gresham’s Law of Competitive Behavior and that the art will be to recover a larger humanity if and when it is over.

Gordon Housworth



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