Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not away of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. Dwight D. Eisenhower President of the United States
Economics and War
Economics is all about acquisition and distribution of scarce or limited resources, and a great many wars, arguably the majority of wars, are fought over resources that give power to whoever controls them (Diamond 1997; Hand 2014, pp. 21-35).
Gold, oil, water, salt, women, land, fishing rights, garden rights, trade routes, cattle—if a resource brings wealth to those who possess it or provides survival essentials, a decent life, and hope for the future, men have fought over it.
Other reasons are often given as the cause of a war, fourteen of which were listed in a chapter entitled “Proximate Causes of War” by Judith Hand (2014, pp. 31-33). Several relate to resource acquisition. Notable among the others are fighting over religious or political differences, but the passions whipped up over religion or politics are almost always rationalizations to mask the ultimate motivator—who will have control over a resource or resources.
At the most fundamental level, people must have access to essentialresources—those that are basic to survival—and will fight if necessary (and possible) to secure them (see the essay “Ensure Essential Resources”). For the purpose of this simplified look at economics and war, essential resources for the war-free future we hope to build in the modern world are defined as: adequate daily food; clean, healthy water; shelter from weather and dangers; basic health care; the means to make a living; and education for one’s children.
People deprived of these necessities by corrupt, insensitive, or self-indulgent leaders are not happy. If seriously deprived, they become deeply unhappy. Deeply unhappy people must be kept down by force, deception, ignorance, or some combination of the three or the eventual result, very often, is revolt into civil war. Simply creating fear within the populace that they might loose access to a fundamental resource can be used by a leader wanting to wage war to rally support from his people (Hand 2014, p.33).
If we hope to create a maintainable war-free future, high priority must be given to providing basic essentials, and that involves the economics of supply and demand. It’s for this reason that “Shift Our Economies” is an AFWW cornerstone.
Sustainability and Economics
In an article in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American, “Economics in a Full World,” ecological economist Herman Daly discusses the implications of a remarkable fundamental truth. Our species evolved in what he calls an “empty world,” and we are now confronted with the radically altered challenge of living in a “full world.” Daly is referring specifically to the numbers of humans occupying the planet.
We have by our enormously successful reproduction created an entirely new physical environment. We are crowded with other humans on a planet with limited habitable living space. A biological description of our current situation would be that the environment in which we evolved to be what we are today is no more, and arguably we must adapt to this new “full” environment or face extinction.
Lands stretching out before us, empty of others of our species, is no longer our reality. In that “empty world,” when resources in one area ran out or serious conflicts erupted, some people could pack up their few belongings and emigrate to a new location with fresh resources and no human competitors. Unthinkingly using up resources in one place and moving on to another unoccupied place is no longer an option. Moreover, for the foreseeable future we’re confined to our Earth. Access to essential resources and the quality of our survival will depend on how we do, or do not, learn to live in harmony with this reality. To ensure that the world’s now teeming billions have access to essentials in this radical new environment we must significantly change our behavior.
Daly, addressing the potential for global ecological disaster, explains why the global community cannot continue to rely on growth as the cure for our dilemma. He compares “economic growth” and “uneconomic growth.” Economic growth occurs when increases in production increase personal wellbeing, and the cost to environmental resources is outweighed by improvements in lives and the accumulation of man-made capital (such as roads, factories, and appliances). Uneconomic growth occurs when production increases at the expense of wellbeing, and the depletion of resources is worth more than the items created or built.
According to Daly, most developed countries have probably already made the transition from the former to the latter. In other words, developed nations are using up natural resources at an alarming rate and their people are not becoming all that much personally happier for it.
“Full-world” Economics and War
Given that this is a finite planet with finite resources, to avoid ecological meltdown Daly calls upon scientists “to develop a ‘full world’ economics to replace our traditional ‘empty world’ economics.” He outlines the nature of the needed changes. And he freely admits that “establishing and maintaining a sustainable economy entails an enormous change of mind and heart by economists, politicians, and voters . . .”
Assuming we begin to make critical shifts to avoid ecological disaster, leaders of a campaign to end war can, and should, encourage making shifts that at the same time foster an end to war. When the first edition of A Future Without War was written, in 2003, environmental alterations projected to negatively impact us due to global climate change were still for the most part theoretical. They have become real; changes in the size and frequency of damaging storms, floods, fires, droughts, and shifts in climate that affect agriculture are already causing major disruptions (European Union 2018).
Economies everywhere are in for a major battle to adapt. Most acutely, technological advances in the use of sustainable sources of energy should be a top priority included in all economic projections. In 2018 elections in the United States many new young women and men came into the House of Representatives and some began advocating for a “Green New Deal” (Viebeck & Weigel, 2018). It proposes a major restructuring of the U.S. economy with an effort compared to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. The objective of the new economy would be to meet head on the challenges of both climate change and human fundamental resource needs with justice for all.
The Relationship Between Happiness [Life Satisfaction] and War
The “basic essentials” listed above are not luxuries. They’re not even comforts or pleasures. Understanding that people can be quite happy without luxuries or even the comforts and pleasures associated with middle-class life is critical to efforts to end war.
Given access to life’s basics, people everywhere, in all sorts of conditions from living in a palace or what others would call a slum, can feel that they are happy and satisfied with their life (“What Makes People Happy”) (Layard 2005). Suggesting that we need to do the impossible—viz., raise the entire world citizenry to American or European levels of affluence in order to foster the life satisfaction that leads to social stability—is simply an excuse to do nothing.
Looking at this another way, the rates of psychosis, psychoanalysis, and drug addiction in the United States make quite clear that people living in what historically is the lap of luxury are not necessarily happy or satisfied with their lives. To be clear, providing for the basic essentials cannot guarantee life satisfaction. Nevertheless, providing the world’s citizens access to essential resources [ending poverty in the broadest sense] will eliminate one of the most powerful underlying conditions fostering revolutions and war. And again, that’s where economics comes in.
How is Economics Involved?
What has become evident is that economic practices and notions of the past have become wildly, dangerously unsuitable for the changed ecological circumstances in which our species now finds itself. In fact, significant progress is being made globally to eliminate conditions in which people do NOT have access to the basics. This is one of the United Nations’ Millennium Goals for Sustainable Development (UN Millennium Goals). It’s a focus of many efforts across the globe, both public and private.
Anyone older than sixty and living in the United States has experienced seven major wars: Second World War, Korean War, Vietnamese War, First Iraq War, Afghanistan War, Second Iraq War, and Syrian War. There have been other major killing conflicts: in the Middle East, Cambodia, between India and Pakistan, and in the Balkans. In 2018 the proxy war against Iran waged in Yemen by Saudi Arabia has created a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.
The stupendous amounts of money, time, natural and manufactured resources, and human lives that governments have expended in planning for, executing, and cleaning up after these wars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is literally beyond human comprehension. It is a moral abomination measured in many millions of lives and trillions upon trillions of dollars. And relevant to this essay, it is money not spent on creating conditions that make people happy: fulfilled, satisfied, and content. It is bad economics.
Capitalism, Communism, Human Nature and Social Democracy, Globalization, and the Tragedy of the Commons
Thousands of books and essays have been written about these intertwined topics. A brief review as a reminder needs to be said here about the “tragedy of the commons” because avoiding the tragedy of the commons is critical to ending war. If we can’t find a way to promote the “common good” wars will be inevitable.
The phrase itself refers to the sad end result in a resource system that is shared by many individuals (the commons) when each individual acts independently and wholly according to their own self-interest. Each individual acts with no concern for the common good, no concern for what’s best overall for the community of sharers (Hardin 1968).
In the modern world, examples of such common resources on a global scale are the atmosphere, the world forests that supply oxygen, the oceans and the food resources in them, nonrenewable metallic and nonmetalic mineral resources needed to produce modern products, and natural supplies of materials with stored energy. But resources that call for sharing can equally be very local, such as the local river that runs through a town or the land surrounding a town that is needed for grazing cattle.
If access to such resources goes entirely unregulated—if it is every man [or women or corporation] for himself [or herself or the shareholders] the end result is collapse. Thus the word “tragedy.”
Capitalism – Capitalism relates to the “tragedy of the commons” in that capitalism is an economic system that is based on private ownership of the means of production and using resources for profit. The end goal is not the “common good,” it is profit for the individual (or group of individuals whose goal is profit). In many modern economies, capitalist enterprises (money-making enterprises) are allowed to compete against each other to produce items of value to be sold for profit (“free market economies”).
Supporters of free-market capitalism point out that the competition that is characteristic of capitalist systems 1) is responsible for creating better products and innovation, 2) it spreads wealth out to many productive people rather than concentrating it in the pockets of a few, 3) by decentralizing wealth it fosters decentralization of power, and 4) beyond question, capitalism has generated levels of prosperity never before experienced in human history. Capitalism provides powerful incentives for individuals because it fits nicely with human nature, viz., the innate biological predispositions our species has for self-interest above all else.
But problems arise when the self-interest of capitalism goes unregulated, free to exploit a resource and then move on without concern for the common good, leaving nothing or even destruction in its wake. Critics point out that when unregulated, it puts power in the hands of a few who begin to accumulate wealth by exploiting not only a physical resource, but exploiting the many workers who come to depend on the capitalist enterprise for their daily living.
Because it prioritizes profit over the common good, it uses up resources leaving nothing to replace them because it is cheaper to do so, maximizing the profit. Feeding off the human inclination to accumulate wealth and social status, particularly strong in men (see the essay “Differences between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability”), it fosters tendencies toward inequality and corruption.
Regulated Capitalism - Happily, we humans also have strong inclinations toward cooperation to achieve common objectives. It is one of our most extraordinary traits. We also have the memory and intellectual wherewithal to figure out what is, over the long term, destructive of the common good to the ultimate detriment of all. Various forms of what can be called “regulated capitalism” and “small scale capitalism” have existed for centuries. For example, merchants, renting and lending activities, or very small-scale industry with some wage labor. When such private enterprise and gain is accompanied by some form of community action to spread the wealth throughout the community, or to make sure that the resource is not completely depleted, or that it is systematically replenished, regulated capitalism can serve the common good very well.
Globalization - Capitalism has now gone global. We live in a new economic environment where big corporations operate globally for profit and their own self-interest. Even once communist countries have shifted to modified forms of capitalism in order to tap into its power to motivate both human creativity and the desire to work hard. China is a notable example.
And where it is not regulated it is wreaking havoc. Many experts dealing with resource issues are, for example, beginning to question the wisdom of massive globalization when it comes to basic resources (e.g. Korten 2009). Sharing things like art, music, scientific advances, sports, sharing the cultural advancements that can link us together as humans facing a shared future, they say, is to be valued. But when it comes to life’s essentials, people and organizations with foresight are exploring the survival and strategic importance of local self-reliance
That concept certainly isn’t new. For example, the great social transformer Mohandas Gandhi himself spent much effort on teaching local villagers how to be independent and self-reliant, using the example of spinning their own cloth. This came out of Gandhi’s understanding of human nature and his own belief that no man who depends on others for his life’s basic essentials can be totally free.
Experimental intentional communities that use “green” principles to guide their development are springing up across the globe, e.g., growing their own foods, making efficient use of water, adopting renewable sources of power that they can manage themselves (Korten 2009). There is a nascent movement to create nuclear power-generating resources that can be controlled locally (World Nuclear Association 2019). The issue of local access to that very most basic essential, fresh water, grows more critical every year.
Economic Systems and Human Nature - A review of history shows that no amount of social engineering, no law making, no peace treaty, can endure the stresses of time—decades and centuries—if it does not take human nature into consideration and is not designed to be in harmony with it. And that includes economic systems.
The most notable recent example of a grand failure was the attempt at Communism, a form of governing having many appealing theoretical qualities: e.g., the idea of community, and sharing so that all people have what they need. If you will, concern for the common good.
From a biological perspective, however, a fatal flaw of Communism as an economic system was that the mechanism adopted to achieve the desired goals entirely contradicts human nature. In simplest terms, the means to achieve the ends was for the state to take the fruits of labor from some people who were very productive and distribute them to people who, for whatever reason, were less productive so that the needs of all were met. Very specifically and in complete contrast to capitalism, there was to be no ownership of private property.
Human beings are not by nature willing to have any of the fruits of their labor taken by others. An attempt to meet the needs of all by removing the reward for work—giving it to a faceless state that is unaccountable to the workers—is a guaranteed recipe for reduced desire to work and very little incentive for creativity or invention. So how does one balance the plusses of capitalism with the need to look out for the common good? In economic terms, how to you regulate capitalistic wealth production and then distribute it in ways that satisfy selfish human nature and also the common good?
Interestingly, and noteworthy, free people in a democracy who are able to hold leadership of their state accountable will agree to willingly vote to have SOME of the fruits of their labor distributed to others [they will accept taxation]—if they receive very desirable essential benefits in exchange (e.g., free health care and education systems, good jobs, clean water and healthy food, etc.). So for example, because it does not contradict human nature—it allows motivated and creative people to choose to willingly share—democratic socialism (or social democracy) at least has the potential to be stable and enduring while providing good quality of life and respect for human rights. Finland and other Nordic countries are currently the world’s most obvious functioning models of this approach to governing and economics (Common Dreams 2019, Ollila 2019).
Shifting Our Economies – Where to Begin
For a campaign to end war the task isn’t a negative one, to stop spending money on war. The task is to positively shift spending purposefully so that vast sums, at least equal to what we spend to support the war industry, go to 1) supplying people’s needs for essential resources and 2) to promoting the many works of the AFWW cornerstones, all of which are necessary essentials that undergird the establishment and maintenance of a warless future.
We have years of studies to draw on for ideas. For example, articles in that September 2005 issue of Scientific American, under the overarching title, “Crossroads for Planet Earth,” outline how we might proceed (Daly 2005; Lovins 2005; Sachs 2005). Topics include how we can eliminate extreme global poverty, how businesses can increase profits through efficiency, and how affordable irrigation and market access can enable farmers in the developing world to climb out of poverty.
Economist and former professor at the Harvard Business School David Korten writes extensively on economic issues. His book Agenda for a New Economymakes a case for an economy that works to enrich people’s lives. He provides numerous suggestions for how to create such an economy (Korten 2009).
Social historian Riane Eisler, in The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, analyzes economies the underpinning philosophy of which is a social model she argues is based on domination (e.g., communism, socialism, and capitalism). She contrasts these with what she proposes as an economic system the underpinning of which is egalitarianism, or her term, partnerism (Eisler 2007). She makes a case that old economic rules and principles are tragically warped because they don't assign financial value to human endeavors that include caring and care-giving. Caring and care-giving are traditionally considered “women’s work,” and for humans, they are absolutely essential components of happiness. Old economic structures and logic, she argues, are oriented toward power (dominance) for the few rather than the common good of the community. They most significantly do not factor in the enormous financial value of women’s caregiving on the overall economy (e.g., watching/raising children, keeping up a home, caring for elderly parents at home, volunteering in a variety of community services). Her central point is that any economic analysis or dogma that does not include the monetary value of women’s contributions to community wellbeing is unrealistic and hence fatally flawed.
Eric Weiner is Senior Editor and Director of Communications at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. In an article, “Not their Fathers’ Economics,” he described the sclerotic nature of orthodox economics and what he calls a growing social revolution, fired by younger scholars coming into the field (Weiner 2012). They reject, in particular, out-of-touch principles of traditional market-oriented theory. For example, the “efficient market” hypothesis makes sweeping generations that, writes Weiner, “render human beings practically unrecognizable. Do people ever have ‘perfect information’ or a complete understanding of their best interests? Of course not. They’re humans.” Weiner says these students are “frustrated by a field they believe could provide so much to society but instead is mired in outmoded thinking.”
We do need an economics based not only on the realities of human nature, but one that will serve 1) our profound need to shift the global paradigm informing our lives from a dominator model to an egalitarian (partnership) model, and 2) will foster environmental sustainability of resources and habitat, and 3) make use of our resources to foster the full expression of human creativity and the emotional state of happiness.
In his 2013 book The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters’ Choices Determine the Quality of Life, political scientist Benjamin Radcliff present an analysis of many economies and makes the intriguing case that countries with the highest levels of social programs (if you will, “nanny states”) seem to produce happier populations with high standards of living (Radcliff 2013). The 2013 UN World Happiness Report’s top ranked countries were Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. For insights and models of both successes and pitfalls we might look to such countries.
Gross National Happiness
A fascinating experiment in this direction comes from the small kingdom of Bhutan. Jigme Singye Wangchuck became king of the Himalayan nation in1972. It was his view that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment. In 2005, the tiny kingdom began to design and implement a measurable Gross National Happiness index. Time Magazine published articles on this novel approach to economics: “What about gross national happiness” by Nadia Mustafa, and “The pursuit of happiness” by Jyoti Thottam/Thimphu (Mustafa 2005; Thottam/Thimphu 2012).
An online search for Bhutan GNH Survey, which is their attempt to quantify the status of the effort, presents an index that measures wellbeing on things like personal satisfaction with relationships, employment, meaning and purpose in life, as well as the extent to which new drugs and technology improved people’s standard of living. It focuses on four pillars of Gross National Happiness: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy. Economic think tanks from larger nations, such as the independent London-based New Economics Foundation, are starting to explore the utility of looking beyond money in deciding economic theory and policy.
We will make amazingly rapid progress toward putting things in order on the planet—including reducing conflicts—if we make one vital shift in particular. To repeat: we must shift a substantial percentage of gross domestic product of all nations from spending on the accouterments of war to spending on those things that will advance the goal of bringing an end to war (e.g., empowering girls and women, working with young men, programs to foster connectedness or to teach nonviolence, programs to provide essential resources, investing in legal and policing activities that provide security and order within and between nations, encouraging not just democracy but the emergence and maturing of liberal democracies).
The Win/Win Nature of Shifting Our Economies
The beauty of the concept of shifting our economies from heedless exploitation to seeking ways to conserve and make sustainable choices is its win/win nature:
• We employ people in positive, constructive (and where possible, conflict-reducing and war-ending) projects, something that is emotionally rewarding for a human being. • We allow entrepreneurs to make profits, but on positive, constructive (and where possible, conflict-reducing and war-ending) projects, something that is emotionally and financially rewarding to them.
The goal is not to put anyone out of business, not even those companies that currently produce the products and services associated with armed conflicts. Their employees need jobs and their owners and investors need profits. But they need to be encouraged/incentivized to shift the focus of their labors.
We can make this transition. We have the creativity and imagination to make it happen. What we need is the political, corporate, and popular global will to pursue the objective with haste. Tax incentives, for example, can be offered for projects that promote human health, safety, achievement, and general well-being:
for correcting and preventing environmental damage, whether caused by commercial projects or the onslaughts of global climate change
for developing a means to sequester atmospheric car bon dioxide in a safe manner; for perfecting affordable renewable, non-polluting power sources
for exploring the moon and Mars, projects that inspire young people and employ them
for bringing clean water to every community on the planet
for eliminating poverty and providing quality health care and education to underdeveloped countries
for retrofitting or constructing new infrastructures and buildings that can withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.
A list like this is limited only by our imagination.
The Role of Private Enterprise and Governments
There is growing understanding that private enterprise is, and must be, a part of the solution to global social and ecological problems (Gibbs 2005). For example, Bill Gates, founder with his wife Melinda of The Gates Foundation, is one of a group of investors in a private fund called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. They are investing more than $1 billion dollars into helping promising companies take energy projects from the lab to the market.
Governments are getting involved. The Mission Innovation project (mission-innovation.net) unites two-dozen governments committed to doubling their spending on clean-energy R & D. Economic incentives like those offered in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy can change the way money is spent (Gibbs 2005). If the U.S. government would embrace the concept of a “Green New Deal” as a way to overhaul its economy, that would create a significant role model for other countries.
Local and state governments can offer incentives to promote good health practices or retraining for people who are going to lose their jobs to automation. The essay “Enlist Young Men” suggests incentives to encourage young men, and women as well, to volunteer for public service with the promise of a job when their volunteer work is completed, and the service options offered could focus on AFWW cornerstone projects.
Well-thought-out incentives can provide workers and profits for companies and employment for citizens. If the projects are also ones embraced by any of the cornerstones of a campaign to end war, they will contribute simultaneously to the global community’s shared desire to abolish war.
Dealing with Resistance to Change
Radical economic shift from a war-based economy to an ending-war economy will be resisted strenuously and even violently for many reasons and by many actors, both private and public.
Governments will not unilaterally trim down their defense spending or war effort and shift money to other aspects of the economy simply in hopes of ending war, not even gradually. For one thing, lobbying efforts by the war industry will vigorously fight any such trimming for what they will argue is an impossible dream. And unless they are offered and can see other income alternatives, citizens working in the war industry who fear loosing their jobs will join the lobbying resistance. Absent any conscious prodding by citizens who demand change, any significant motivation to make changes in war budgeting will likely only come as a nation’s treasury is severely drained to pay for necessary responses to climate change. Perhaps not even then. Perhaps the response will simply be a decreased quality of life for the people within the nation.
Realistically, world powers would be most likely to make significant changes in war budgeting if an enforceable global peace treaty were to be signed that would insure that all members would be protected from invasion. In this digital age, such a treaty might need to encompass the use and prevention of state-sponsored cyberattacks.
There is good fortune in the reality that the world community already has many international agreements and treaties that make mutual goals a cooperative effort (Gibbs 2005). There are treaties that underlie our use of the Antarctic and Outer Space. Work is occurring now on drawing up agreements as to how deal with the opening of the north polar sea due to the melting of the ice cap. A most notable recent example is the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 175 Parties (174 nations and the EU). But in spite of the profound existential dangers that agreement seeks to address, it took years of work and lots of compromise and haggling to make the agreement happen, and years more work to lay out the detailed provisions of the agreement, including issues of enforcement.
We must expect similar difficulties when, hopefully, the world’s nations attempt to draw up and implement a working global peace treaty. But fortunately we don’t need to invent new processes to create even very complex agreements. Shifting world economies away from war-based economies to ending-war economies would be one more set of agreements reached by already known methods. And where human beings have the will, they can make the way.
Ending War Requires a Permanent Financial Commitment
Finally, we need to be clear: a warless future cannot be built or maintained without financial cost. Every generation into the near and intermediate future must recognize the need to invest financially to establish and maintain conditions that favor nonviolent resolution of conflicts and provide access of all citizens to basic life essentials. Perhaps initially we might need to invest as much as in the past we’ve invested in war.
But once the global community defines priorities, executes them, and achieves international stability, we will likely discover over time that we can maintain social stability with good quality of life, personal freedom, and respect for human rights at a fraction of what we now spend on destruction and killing. The idea of going to war would come to be seen as foolishly counter-productive.
This will, however, be a commitment in perpetuity. Just as maintaining personal freedom for nations and citizens requires eternal vigilance, so, too, will be the case if we are to maintain freedom from war.
A war regarded as inevitable or even probable, and therefore much prepared for, has a very good chance of eventually being fought. George F. Kennan Diplomat and Historian
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