Prosperity, Then Peace

Tracy O (ASA)money money money

I recently wrote about how globalization could make the world a much safer place. The logic is essentially this: countries that have significant business interactions are much less likely to go to war. A China that relies on exports to the West probably won’t start a war with anyone, and a West that relies on imports from China is less likely to go to war with them. If you extend this logic to a world in which each country relies on imports and exports to and from everywhere else, a completely “globalized” world seems destined for peace.

In explaining that theory, I drew on the (easy) example of Europe. The logic is straightforward: trade liberalization under the auspices of the European Union has made Europe more interconnected. That interconnections has made war all but impossible. After publishing, a very interesting and reasonable counter-argument came to mind: the prosperity of Europe, not it’s liberalization, has kept it at peace.

Consider, for example, that almost all the violence in Europe to have occurred in the last few decades happened in the relatively poor Balkans. Consider too, that Africa–a continent almost synonymous with war–is easily the poorest inhabited continent on the planet.

Now I’m not that interested in listing hundreds of examples. I’m well aware that for every example I can give there are probably an equal number of  counterexamples.

The mechanism by which prosperity would yield peace is more intuitive than rational. The basic idea would be that the wealthier a person is, the more social capital–education, acquaintances, leisure time–they have, and the more resistant they are to putting a nice life on hold to risk their own neck in war. This makes sense, but without some actual data remains “just a theory.”

However, it follows that if this worked, generally speaking, to turn a populous against war a responsive government would almost necessarily be less likely to wage war. Even a government deaf to the desires of its citizens would likely struggle to conscript people to join an undesired military action.

Certainly the theory has flaws. Rich countries do start wars. There are poor countries that are peaceful. But I can’t and wouldn’t contend that prosperity alone makes a country or population less likely to go to war. I would say, however, that it’s a factor that shouldn’t be ignored if one desires to end all wars.