Capitalism, peace and the Middle East

By Billy Joe Mills

What creates peace? What can override the historical human instinct to kill another person because their skin, religion or flag is different? A more powerful instinct: greed.

The annual Economic Freedom of the World study by Columbia professor Erik Gartzke and the Fraser Institute shows an overwhelming correlation between capitalism and peace (www.freetheworld.com).

Gartzke found that nations with a low level of economic freedom are 14 times more likely to be in a violent military conflict than nations with a high level.

There are many reasons why capitalism, and not self-righteous alternatives, can produce international peace.

When countries are economically interdependent upon each other via globalization it increases the cost of causing war. If China attacked the United States it would destroy trade not only with the U.S., but also with our allies. China is dependent on us to be a robust market for their exports and we are dependent on them to supply cheap imports. We are further bound by our financial markets, investments, currencies and debt.

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It is ironic that many pacifists disdain corporate influence on government policy. It is that influence that would compel Chinese firms to stop its government from attacking the U.S. for fear of losing profits. Self-serving Chinese entrepreneurs will never allow a war with the U.S. Our interests coincide.

Wars used to begin over land. Land used to be the source of wealth for kings and empires. War has always been fought for wealth.

The difference today is that wealth is no longer created from farmland. Rather, abundance is created through the productivity and efficiency of intellectual, physical and financial capital. These things are not attained through war; in fact, they are destroyed.

Capitalism created new channels for human aggression, a new battlefield. War between international corporations has replaced war between countries. Wars of efficiency and CEOs have supplanted wars of bullets and generals. We cannot change the human instinct of greed, but we can change the incentives greed responds to. Capitalism is doing that. It is fundamentally redirecting the pursuits of greed to be non-violent.

The study further states that the top one-fifth of economically free nations have an average per-person income of $25,062, compared to $2,409 for the one-fifth least economically free. Similarly, unemployment is 5.2 percent compared to 13 percent, life expectancy is 77.7 years compared to 52.5 and children’s participation in the labor force is 0.1 percent compared to 22.6 percent – all measures favoring free market countries.

Many Islamist attackers are poor and without access to education. Economically comfortable citizens are less likely to turn to violence as an outlet for their frustrations. Further, comfortable citizens are more likely to have access to education, also making them less likely to turn to violence.

The study attempts to tear down the theory that the spread of democracy creates international peace. “When measures of both economic freedom and democracy are included in a statistical study, economic freedom is about 50 times more effective than democracy in diminishing violent conflict.”

He further shows that unstable democracies, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are just as likely to engage in war as any other form of government.

The human desire to vote is forceful, but nothing is more powerful than the human need to gain. President Bush has naively focused resources on expanding democracy in the Middle East, but he should focus on spreading the instincts of the capitalist.

After World War II, learning from their prior blunders, the U.S. bombarded Japan and Germany with economic aid and entrepreneurial spirit. Today, the problems of the Middle East call for a modern Marshall Plan to lift the discouraged Islamic people into hope and capitalism.

The Great Peace will not come about because humans suddenly decide to become nice, as the far left wishes us to believe. Ironically, it will come from raw human greed and the unique ability of capitalism to safely channel that craving.

We will conquer the Middle East. But bombs barely penetrate a society’s culture – fundamental change must come from capitalism.

Billy Joe Mills is a senior in LAS, and his mom still does his laundry and sends him frozen meals so he won’t starve to death. His column appears on Mondays. He can be reached at [email protected].