Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The World Not At War

Just a quick hit from a busy day:

The thing is, though, these aren’t particularly dangerous times. “Today we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth,” cognitive scientist Steven Pinker notes.

Over the last half-century, in particular, the data on global violence “paint a shockingly happy picture” of dramatic declines in mass killing.

The latest Human Security Report, tracking trends in political violence, provides more good news: “High-intensity wars, those that kill at least 1,000 people a year, have declined by 78 percent since 1988.”

Not coincidentally, 1988 was right before the Soviet Union collapsed.  I once asked P.J. O’Rourke what the best thing about the collapse of communism was.  He replied that the day communism fell, two-thirds of the world’s civil wars ended.

But hasn’t the decline in mass killing by nation-states been matched by a rise in privatized violence by terrorist groups? Hardly.

In his 2008 book “The Science of Fear,” Daniel Gardner points out that “in the last century, fewer than twenty terrorist attacks killed more than a hundred people.” Sept. 11 was a horrific anomaly, and there’s very little evidence to justify hysteria over weapons of mass destruction.

I don’t quite agree with the last point, which is a bit deceptive.  While big grand terror attacks are rare, the constant rain of small attacks is piling up bodies, destabilizing countries and creating the potential for the new millennium to get awfully bloody awfully fast.  Terror attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed many thousands, just not all at once.

I do agree with them that using a WMD effectively is something only a nation-state can really do (or at least sponsor).  And his general point—that war and bloodshed are on a steep decline—is right on target.  Last year, Foreign Policy did a pictorial on 33 conflicts raging around the globe.  But many of them were small and more were not “raging” at all, but merely armed standoffs.  And at any previous time in human history, there would have been hundreds of conflicts raging.  Those armed standoffs would have been armed ongoing conflicts.

Healy has his theory for why this is:

Columbia University professor Erik Gartzke offers an alternative theory, the capitalist peace. He found that the statistical correlation between economic freedom and peace is vastly greater than the relationship between representative government and peace.

The new Human Security Report echoes that line of reasoning: “Greatly increased levels of international trade and foreign direct investment have raised the costs of conquest and shrunk its benefits,” the authors write. “In today’s open global trading system, it is almost always cheaper to acquire goods and raw materials by trade than to invade a country in order to steal them.”

Free trade leads to a wealthier world, and a wealthier world is a safer world.

Gregg Eastebrook made this same point on the eve of the Iraq War.  Responding to the “No Blood for Oil!” crowd, he pointed out that invading Iraq for its oil would make no sense as it would be far cheaper to simply buy it.  That’s what prosperity has done: made war a bad investment.

The explosion of economic liberty made the last decade the best in history.  Here’s hoping for an even freer decade to come.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 01/08/11 at 12:01 AM in Politics   Law, & Economics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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