June 4, 2015

NO ONE HAS IT HARDER THAN THEIR FATHER DID:

Steven Pinker explains how capitalism is killing war (Zack Beauchamp, June 4, 2015, Vox)

I spoke with Pinker this week to discuss some of the reasons why, specifically, he thinks the world has gotten so much safer, especially in the past 70 years. We talked about the idea that war just isn't as profitable as it used to be, why Vladimir Putin and ISIS seem to think differently, and what world leaders should do if they actually want to make sure the unprecedented peace of the past 70 years holds. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp: One story you hear from political scientists for why there's been less war recently that it's just less profitable --countries don't gain very much, economically or politically, from taking over new land anymore. Does that seem right to you?

Steven Pinker: Yes, it's one of the causes. It's the theory of the capitalist peace: when it's cheaper to buy things than to steal them, people don't steal them. Also, if other people are more valuable to you alive than dead, you're less likely to kill them. You don't kill your customers or your lenders, so the arrival of the infrastructure of trade and commerce reduces some of the sheer exploitative incentives of conquest.

This is an idea that goes back to the Enlightenment. Adam Smith and Montesquieu extolled it; it was on the minds of the founders when they built incentives for free trade into the Constitution.

I don't think it's the entire story of the decline in war. But I do think it's part of the story. There was a well-known study from Bruce Russett and John Oneal showing statistically that countries that engage in more trade are less likely to get into militarized disputes, and countries that are more integrated into the world economy are less likely to get into trouble with their neighbors.

Posted by at June 4, 2015 5:55 PM
  

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