15 July 2007

The limits of scholarly focus; or give greed a chance

From Chapter 1 of Another Blood Century: Future Warfare, by Colin Gray:

If an apparently convincing general solution to the problem of war were achievable, it is probable that someone would have discovered it by now. The fact that none such has yet been promoted suggests that the scholarly campaign against war may have been thoroughly misconceived. ... [War] is simply too rich a subject to be captured, let alone prospectively controlled, by the conclusions of general theory.
In this, writes Professor Gray, war is similar to disease: individual maladies can be treated and even cured but 'disease per se does not lend itself to direct scientific assault'.

I agree with this, as far as it goes, but I am more optimistic. Poverty has been reduced not because people have deliberately set out to do so, but largely as the byproduct - or positive externality - of people and corporations maximising their wellbeing in the market. Yes, government intervention and private philanthropy have played a large role in distributing some of this wealth to the poor and into the provision of public services, but the ultimate source of the funding for this was mainly the private sector. In the west the effects of disease as a whole have, in fact, been drastically reduced, though as Professor Gray says, this is not because scholars or intellectuals decided to focus attention on all disease and target it for reduction.

Scholars aren't going to bring about world peace. I don't know whether greater wealth is more or less likely to reduce the level of violent political conflict in the world. Perhaps the trickle-down effect of higher incomes and reduced poverty will make war less likely. Or perhaps by raising the stakes, and the availability and destructive power of weapons, it will have the opposite effect. But I think we can do more than simply be passive observers of the effects of globalised wealth generation on the incidence of war.

A Social Policy Bond regime would target all violent political conflict, including wars within and between states. It would not directly generate solutions to the problem of war, but it would give incentives to those who are currently engaged in conflict reduction and conflict resolution. It would also enlarge the numbers of people willing and able to work toward those ends. We don't need systems, ideologies, more government intervention or more scholarship. Neither should we sit back and hope that war will be reduced or eradicated as a spin-off from world development. What we do need are adaptive, diverse solutions to the problems of potential or actual armed conflict in all its myriad manifestations. To see how the Social Policy Bond principle could be applied to one particular field of conflict (the Middle East), read Peace Bonds: Give Greed a Chance.

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