Arnold Kling  

A Non-Pacifist Syllogism

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A few weeks ago, Bryan wrote,

Premise #1: Wealth makes men cowards.

Premise #2: When all men are cowards, there will be no war.

Conclusion: When all men are wealthy, there will be no war.

Here is my non-pacifist syllogism:

Premise 1: There will always be individuals and groups whose comparative advantage is plunder and extortion. Call them pirates.

Premise 2: Private property ultimately depends on the willingness and ability to use force to defend it. Capitalism that is not backed by the force of arms cannot survive. Peace only prevails where and when the absolute military advantage of the armed capitalists is sufficient to suppress the pirates.

Premise 3: Pirates will always find places, circumstances, and methods with which to challenge armed capitalists.

Conclusion: War is not going to disappear.

Life is complicated by the fact that pirates may turn into armed capitalists, and vice-versa. That is one reason that pure and simple ideologies fail.

Some of this thinking is stimulated by reading Power and Plenty, which I am about 1/4 through. I will say more about the book when I am finished. Meanwhile, you should would wait to buy it--I'm not sure whether I'll recommend it.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (6 to date)

Neither of you has constructed a VALID syllogism. Arnold's violates the TWO premise rule, and Bryan's is a non sequitur.

Alex J. writes:

It seems obvious that there should be supply and demand curves for piracy just like everything else.

Also, as was pointed out in the previous thread, the more cowards there are, the more payoff there is for the remaining brave people to become pirates.

jaim klein writes:


Is it thinkable that "capitalists" started their careers as "pirates"? And never changed? As in "We are in this advertising business only because it is better than pimping"?

No... It must be my Marxist upbringing that makes me say these things.

Alex J. writes:

More thoughts:

I think "cowardice" is the wrong word to use. In a recent econ talk podcast, Pete Boettke pointed out that people can relate to each other with truck and barter or with looting and plundering. As potential plunderers get wealthier, truck and barter looks more appealing. They have more to trade (marginal benefit) and more to lose if they get on the short end of things (marginal cost). As potential victims get wealthier, they have more appealing loot, but also more means to defend it.

One might also consider specialized labor in fighting or ruling. If you have professional warriors good at fighting off the bandits, they will also be good at oppressing their local merchants.

Marc Resnick writes:

Even with the limitations described by previous comments, there is a lot of validity in both arguments. Conflict will generally diminish as long as we get wealthier because the negative externalities of war will always keep it from being as profitable as trade.

We can afford to get cowardly as long as we do it intelligently - by maintaining a defense that keeps pirates from organizing. As long as there are no large alliances of pirates, even a small defense industry will suffice.

But pirates get smarter too. The future pirates will not be using guns, but rather Internet viruses, phishing scams et&c. The risk/reward profile is much better.

Ross Levatter writes:

AK: "Peace only prevails where and when the absolute military advantage of the armed capitalists is sufficient to suppress the pirates."

This seems a strange statement from an economist. Wouldn't an economist say something like "Peace only prevails where and when the military position of the armed capitalists is sufficient such that the expected return to the pirates is negative." That does not require "absolute military advantage," merely sufficient power to make pirates think twice.

One notes that polls of prisoners indicate that a major concern on their part, frequently keeping them from assaulting people, is the suspicion the victim might be armed. This does not require the arming of all victims. In fact only a small percentage are armed, and this seems sufficient.

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