David R. Henderson  

President Trump's Tragic Sunk Cost Fallacy

Never say never... The Not-So-Curious Absence of ...

In his recent speech in which he threw out his earlier idea of ending the war in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump stated:

First, our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.

I think I sniff a sunk-cost fallacy here. He seems to be saying that the past sacrifices of lives mean that the U.S. government should not get out. But past sacrifices of lives do not, in themselves, mean that future sacrifices are justified.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Thomas Nagle writes:

This is the same logic that Lyndon Johnson used to justify sending more troops to Vietnam.
It is the same logic used by those who, when losing at the Casino, double down in order to make up for their past losses.

Eventually, the results are always the same, whether losing money or losing lives.

Steve F writes:

The rhetoric is sunk cost fallacy. When it comes to something like lost lives, people do often think in terms of sunk cost.

This doesn't mean his policy decision was based on sunk cost fallacy. It could be rhetoric to get support from the people.

Chris writes:

I completely agree. I thought of this when I was watching the speech as well. Whether it's his reasoning or just rhetoric to get support, it's still a fallacy and a dangerous justification for risking more lives. There may be reasons to continue the war, but this shouldn't be one of them.

P.S. I don't think it's actually his reasoning. I think this strategy is a combination of generals telling him it would reflect badly on him when Afghanistan went south after pulling troops out and acknowledging that an ongoing war is good for his ratings with conservatives. The speech itself (most importantly) is just a distraction from the bad press he's gotten in the last week. It almost worked too, until his narcissistic rally in Arizona. (That's twice recently that he read a decent speech and then within a day ruined it by speaking his mind; his speech writers must be incredibly frustrated.)

Floccina writes:

Very disappointing. My friend who supported Trump solely for his get out of Middle-east wars rhetoric is very disappointed.

Dan C writes:

When America lost Vietnam, support for the military plummeted for half a generation and demoralized the military itself. Gulf War I greatly elevated the status of the military, while GWII was less successful. By refusing to accept defeat, he (or the military) is searching for a face-saving solution that will protect the social status of the military and provide public support for future military adventures, and funding. They may also be worried that Afghanistan will once again destabilize the region (ie Pakistan) and give birth to another terrorist movement.

Phil writes:

While the sunk cost fallacy resonates in economic circles, in the world of public policy "my sunk cost is your vested interest." Here, again, the real world is less rational than the world economists wish existed.

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