Bryan Caplan  

Two Cheers for the Jedi

Globalized Education?... Don't Do Me Any Favors...

Warning: Sith spoilers!

It's tough to learn that my mentor Tyler Cowen is a Sith Lord, but I should have seen the signs. Only a Sith could watch the ruthless destruction of the Jedi order, then get on his soapbox to say "Good riddance":

The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:

1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.

2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?... Aren't they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.


4. The Jedi can't even keep us safe.


6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story...

Tyler never asks the great public choice question: Compared to what? Yes, the Jedi fail in the end to "keep us safe." But without them, Palpatine would have established his Stalinist dictatorship back in Episode I. The Jedi Council is quite simply the only part of the Republic that works. Palpatine effortlessly takes over the incompetent and corrupt Senate. All his machinations are ultimately directed at the Jedi, because he knows that if he openly seizes power, Yoda and Mace Windu will team up to take him down. Tyler's right that the Jedi are an unelected Supreme Court, but their mistake is too little "judicial activism." They should have overruled the Senate's decision to send the Naboo/Trade Federation dispute to a committee back in Episode I, keeping Palpatine from becoming Chancellor in the first place.

Despite the Jedi's undue restraint, it takes decades of scheming - and the greatest fictional exercise of backwards induction ever - for Palpatine to out-maneuver the Jedi. Ronald Coase once said that an economist who delays a wasteful program for a week earns his salary for a lifetime. The Jedi delayed totalitarianism for decades. Give them some credit!

After Anakin's betrayal, the remnant of surviving Jedi reveal their "secret and mysterious ends." They turn out to be neither secret nor mysterious. Yoda and Obi-wan take on near-suicide missions to assassinate the Emperor and Anakin before they solidify their totalitarian rule. It's about as diabolical as the German officers' plot to kill Hitler.

As for Jedi "sell-outs," the order has an amazingly good track record. There appear to be hundreds if not thousands of Jedi in the galaxy, and they lose a total of two - Dooku and Anakin - to the Dark Side.

And somehow child-killer, world-destroyer Anakin gets to be the "hero" of the saga? Now that's a Sith legend to ensnare weak minds. In the aftermath of Episode VI, it would be a miracle if the galaxy regained the freedom and prosperity it enjoyed back in Episode I. (Slavery on Tatooine? Remember, it's so far outside the Republic's influence the inhabitants won't even accept Republican credits!)

So why only two cheers for the Jedi? Because their enduring virtue strains my suspension of disbelief. In reality, the power of the Jedi would swiftly attract talented but unscrupulous careerists. In a generation or two they would take over. In another generation these power-hungry pragmatists would turn to the Dark Side.

Then again, Yoda's species has a lifespan of about a millenium, so perhaps I too underestimate the Jedi.

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The author at Emergent Chaos in a related article titled Only Two Cheers for the Jedi? writes:
    Bryan Caplan takes issue with his mentor, Tyler Cowen over "The public choice economics of Star Wars: A Straussian reading. (I also commented on that post). Caplan says: After Anakin's betrayal, the remnant of surviving Jedi reveal their "secret... [Tracked on May 28, 2005 5:02 PM]
The author at A Bluegrass Blog in a related article titled Two Cheers for the Jedi writes:
    Bryan Kaplan at EconLog says Two Cheers for the Jedi in RotS. And somehow child-killer, world-destroyer Anakin gets to be the "hero" of the saga? Now that's a Sith legend to ensnare weak minds. In the aftermath of Episode VI, [Tracked on June 1, 2005 3:42 PM]
COMMENTS (8 to date)
Danno writes:

I think, perhaps, you're forgetting that the Jedi are essentially Zen Bhuddist monks that don't have as large inhibitions against violence as our Zen Bhuddist monks do and are also a bit more socially pro-active.

Mostly, they'd like to be left alone to contemplate the force, but they go out and help people largely at the request of the senate and, if things are to be believed, they usually serve in the role of conflict mediators, as opposed to generals.

Maestro writes:

Don't forget Sifo-Dyas as a turned Jedi.
If it weren't for the Sith, how much good would the Jedi do? It seems to me that most of the benefits gained from the existence of the Jedi come from them dealing with Dark Siders. If 1% of the Jedi turn to the Dark Side, that probably balances out the good. Without meaning to, the Jedi have used the old trick of creating a problem so that you're needed even more.
Considering all the innocent people he killed (Alderan), I wouldn't call Anakin a hero, but he does fulfill his prophecy and unwittingly has positive effects. And yes, I believe the Galaxy will be better off post-Empire than it was pre-Empire.

Jordan writes:

I wouldn't count Sifo-Dyas...The best explanation I've found is this:

"It appears to me that it went down like this. Palp lost Maul, seduced Dooku (who was disatisfied with the Republic and craved power (see Obi-Wan discussion with Librarian in AOTC)). Dooku killed Sifo-Dyas and either Palp or Dooku posed as Sifo-Dyas to the Kamino's. From Jango's comment it appears Dooku was posing as Sifo-Dyas.";f=70;t=002579;p=0

Bob McGrew writes:

I don't get the backwards induction reference. When does Palpatine use it?

asg writes:

In the Timothy Zahn novels set 5 years after Episode VI (Heir to the Empire et al. -- the only SW novels worth reading), much is made of the difficulties involved in cutting the head off of a beast like the Empire. Princess Leia's full-time job is traveling around the galaxy (a) persuading worlds that the New Republic is for real and the Empire isn't about to return and punish them for their disloyalty, and (b) persuading Imperial holdovers that their best deal is to lay down their Star Destroyers and join the NR. Public choice abounds!

Fred writes:

Backwards induction fits quite nicely. I was looking for a way to describe the nefariousness of Palpatine, and now I have it. The way I see it: Palpatine needs to get the Senate to declare him Emperor so he won't be seen as a dictatorial usurper. To do this, he needs two things - a threat to the Republic and a way to eliminate the Jedi, who will oppose the Empire and the Emperor. The proverbial 2 birds with 1 stone is to declare the Jedi themselves to be the threat to the Republic. Getting the Jedi to rise against him is fairly simple - just have the Jedi vanquish a couple of Sith threats and then reveal yourself to be the Sith lord behind it all. But how to defeat the Jedi, given that there's only two Sith? For that you need an army that will turn on the Jedi at the appropriate time. So create a clone army. But to create the clone army you need a threat, so Palpatine manufactures one in the form of the Trade Federation, separatists, droids, etc. It's all done for the sole purpose of getting the Jedi to rise against the Chancellor (and by extension, the Senate and the Republic) and providing a means of eliminating the Jedi.

It's also the reaason that I believe Episode III redeems Episodes I and II to some degree (without excusing abominations like Jar-Jar). The mechinations in those movies seemed dull and a little bit pointless compared to the rebellion of IV-VI, but in context it makes more sense.

Marcus writes:

Tyler never asks the great public choice question: Compared to what?

Compared to the much maligned and often ridiculed Ewoks.

As I understand him, Tyler is arguing that the Senate is neo-fascist, the Jedi Council is crypto-fascist, the Galactic Empire is super-fascist, and the Rebels are proto-fascist. Compared to that rogue's gallery, the Ewoks look mighty impressive.

Cowen is not a "Sith Lord". He's an Ewok groupie.

Marcus writes:

Think of Star Wars as a taoist anti-fascist parable.

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