Mike Gravel on Sunk Costs in War
Former Democratic Senator from Alaska Mike Gravel died on Monday in Seaside, a city on the Monterey Peninsula. He was my favorite candidate for the Democratic president nomination in 2008. Here’s his best minute and a half in one of the debates. I like the whole thing, but the part that’s a really nice application of the sunk cost theorem is the last 10 seconds:
You know what’s worse than a soldier dying in vain is more soldiers dying in vain.
When I had my old office on Alvarado St. in Monterey in the early 2000s, I looked out my window and thought I saw Mike on the street. I rushed down the stairs and talked to him, finding out that he lived in my area. How did I recognize him? Back in late 1979, the Hoover Institution and the University of Rochester had held a joint conference on the draft at Hoover that Marty Anderson had organized. (Some members of Congress had been making strong noises in favor.) I was at the Cato Institute in San Francisco at the time and there was no way I was going to miss this.
The last event at the two-day conference was a debate about the draft between Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who supported it, and Milton Friedman, who opposed it. I’ve often told people that I think I saw Milton’s worst performance ever and it was still pretty good.
In Q&A, a middle-aged guy I didn’t recognize got up and claimed that he had ended the draft. He then went on to say that he had been in the U.S. Senate at the time, representing Alaska, and had engaged in some procedural move that helped end the draft. He told us his name was Mike Gravel.
So I recognized him on the street and wanted to find out what specific move he was referring to. So I asked him and he told me. His story was a little vague and I later learned that it was false. But he did his best. What he was referring to was his attempt to filibuster in 1971 to prevent renewal of the draft.