Bryan Caplan  

A Pacifist Syllogism

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Efficient Markets Theory... Efficient Markets vs. Mortgage...

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.

Reasons to Believe Premise #1: Richer countries are much less violent than poor countries; within countries, the rich are much less violent than the poor. Also, in rich countries, small numbers of casualties seem to have large negative effects on public support for war. (My main qualification: It may take a generation or two for the cowardice to kick in. There is probably a gradual social multiplier effect that amplifies the change in individual behavior).

Reasons to Believe Premise #2: This seems obvious enough. However, game theorists will tell you that matters are a little more complicated. When everyone else is a coward, even a coward can safely become a bully. In the real world, though, a small probability that a cowardly victim will defend himself will be enough to deter a cowardly bully.

Upshot: Since there is every reason to expect economic growth to continue throughout the world, world peace is probably only a few generations away.

Do you buy it? Why or why not?


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TRACKBACKS (6 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/779
The author at Club for Growth in a related article titled Wealth and War writes:
    An interesting syllogism.... [Tracked on December 13, 2007 8:59 AM]
The author at Right Mind in a related article titled A Pacifist Syllogism writes:
    Bryan Caplan is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and an adjunct scholar [Tracked on December 17, 2007 5:18 PM]
COMMENTS (31 to date)
Troy Camplin writes:

Free trade will do it too. Nobody wants to go to war with someone who is helping to make you rich. As Voltaire observed, the Moslem, the Christian, and the Jew all get along at the London Stock Exchange.

caveatbetttor writes:

Jesus said that we will always have the poor. I think this is one of those rare claims upon which empiricists agree with Him.

caveatbettor writes:

Oh, I forgot to mention another convergent claim between Christ and the empiricists: the persistence of wars, and rumors of wars.

Troy Camplin writes:

Poverty is often subjective. The poor in the U.S. are the rich in the poorest countries in the world (corrupt leader of said countries excluded, of course). There could and likely will come a day when we think of someone who owns their own home, a few cars, a computer, a couple TVs, an iPod, an iPhone, microwave, a boat, and whatever new technology comes along in the future will be considered the poor. But don't worry, there will be liberals in the future who will complain that it's not fair that they don't have two boats.

Buzzcut writes:

I'm skeptical of one thing.

Yes, the poor are more violent than the rich, at any point in time.

But just because the poor become richer doesn't necessarily mean that they become less violent.

I think that we can all agree that poor neighborhoods became a lot more violent from the '50s to the '80s. But they also became richer. There were other things going on (sociological, moral, whatever) that increase the rate of violence.

dearieme writes:

"Free trade will do it too. " As wise men agreed in 1913.

Jeffrey Horn writes:

I agree with Troy. Doesn't matter how rich the whole world gets, one guy will be pissed because he's at the bottom.

And who is to keep the richer rich from opressing the poorer rich? It's not hard to imagine how uber-elite cliques would form.

Of course, this is assuming that envy is a more primal motivator to violence than economic status.

Daniel Yokomizo writes:

Does cowardice trump the market? If there's economic interest in violence, wealthy cowards may invest on violence along the less wealthy (even if those are sufficiently wealthy to not want war on their own). The usual liberal examples of war for oil or bloody diamonds come to mind.

Actually the more I think about it the less I'm sure of either proposition. I don't think if we can reduce the violence issue to a couple of boolean premises.

Jared writes:

I'll concede that getting rich has made some people peaceful before (Northern Ireland, perhaps?) But I don't think you can extrapolate all the way to "the end of war" on that basis. I think we'd need to make it all the way to a (probably impossible) post-scarcity economy to acheive that. Consider Merton:

"The more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt."

I think it's more accurate to say that suffering and violence are linked rather than wealth and violence. Getting rich is a very good way to attempt to avoid or mitigate suffering, but I'm not sure it will ever end suffering. And until you can end suffering, you won't end violence.

Do not overlook property rights and the defense of property rights. I suppose that people decide to fight when that seems to be about the best way they can defend what they consider to be their property. I do not believe that cowardice even enters this picture. It has to do with calculated risks and economic choice of human action.

With wealth comes specialization, including specialization in supplying force or threat of force to defend property rights. A wealthy person (or an average person in a wealthy nation) can probably call the armed guard or the police or a lawyer, and benefit from specialized skill in protecting property rights. Whereas a poor person (or an average person in a poor nation) more likely has to improvise his own methods; the poorest has to use his own fists.

I recommend reading Bruce Benson, starting perhaps with The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, 1990. Note that property, conceived in a broad way, includes pride and reputation.

TGGP writes:

I'm less optimistic about the future. I think The Return of Patriarchy will replace the rich-and-cowardly culture with a poor-and-brave one.

L Zoel writes:

You're right to put some doubt on premise 2. Why shouldn't we assume that when all (99%) of men are cowards that the 1% who aren't won't just become dictators and drive us into pointless wars. The NAZI's didn't come to power because all of the other Germans were so brave, but rather because no one really wanted to go out of their way to stop them. Sadly 1% of evil people can do a lot more damage than 1% of good people can stop.

Unit writes:

Slavery was indeed abolished almost everywhere and it had lasted for millennia. So it's conceivable that war will be abolished too in the future. I don't know about cowardness, maybe war is just an inferior good.

Troy Camplin writes:

Wars begin when someone perceives their economic interests to be threatened -- typically by the erection of trade barriers or by the taking of property, typically by those who think that seizing others' property is how one gets economic growth. Both are examples of government interference in the free market. Countries that have economic rather than political relations don't go to war.

Dr. T writes:

Premise #1 is false: Some men are not emasculated by wealth, they see it as a tool for attaining power. Many wars were started by powerful men.

Premise #2 is false: Wealth is relative. When everyone is wealthy, some greedy men will want more. Many wars were started by greedy men.

What is needed to avoid wars is wealth for all PLUS satisfaction for all. The rich and contented do not want wars, even if they have not become cowards.

Steve Sailer writes:

Historically, rich aristocrats have been braver than poor peasants at war.

You probably need to modify the first premise to say something like, "Wealth makes the median man cowardly." Societies where the rich are few make them brave to retain their riches.

Josh writes:

I dispute your #1. I don't think there is a causal relationship from wealth to cowardice. I think there is probably some third factor that leads to both. Like a certain kind of mindset that leads you to save but also leads you to be more cautious.

Kiel Stone writes:

I call bullshit. I would argue that between history and current events we have a healthy amount of evidence showing that as men (or countries) become wealthy they either seek out more wealth or ensure what they have remains and more times than not that pursuit leads to lots of war and violence. As The Boss put it so well:

"All men wanna be rich,
Rich men wanna be kings
And a king ain't satisfied
'Til he rules everything.."

Floccina writes:

Isn’t this the sort of reasoning that led to the war in Iraq? The idea that Iraqis being rich and educated would not be much for war.
Knowledge of the benefits of trade and of division of labor should lead to less war.
Could it not be true that lack of violence leads to prosperity. Which would mean that petroleum could explain why the Middle East is rich but violent.

dearieme writes:

In 1812 there were only two sizeable democracies in the world, both rich by the standards of the time. And yet the USA, on the flimsiest of pretexts, attacked the UK.

Daublin writes:

It's an interesting challenge whether *relative* poverty might make people violent. I don't lean to say no, . Not so many get violent against Bill Gates or Madonna. Not so many East Europeans seem ready to invade West Europe. If you're fed and healthy and happy, somehow it doesn't matter that much that someone else is fed, healthy, happy, and wearing big diamonds. Certainly it doesn't matter enough to risk your life over it.


Also, I wonder how well the super-wealthy can simply buy off life-threatening activity by poorer people, thus making things more violent. I am not terribly worried about this, because relatively poor will sill not want to risk their lives, but it is a possible problem with the theory.

The biggest threat I see would be if money starts buying major power. I don't care if my next door neighbor has bigger jewels or even a bigger TV, but if they start hogging the prime real estate, for example, that's a drag. If they start getting the laws changed in their favor, that's a real drag. Worst of all would be if police activity is harder on the relatively poor. Come to think of it, that is already the case with drug laws in the U.S.


Anyway it's a good question, and I think at the very least a good starting point. If you want to see the world squabbling like in Europe, versus warring like in Africa, then it would seem good to adapt the free trade and free travel policies the European populace hates so much.

Daublin writes:

Ack, I do lean to saying no. I don't think income inequality, per se, will make people warlike. It is absolute poverty, not relative poverty, that makes people risk everything.

Bob Knaus writes:

9/11 hijackers. Without getting into the weeds of whether they were cowards or no, by world standards they were wealthy and by anyone's standards they were violent.

spencer writes:

Rich men appear to be less violent. But it does not mean they are less violent. A rich man usually has the power of the state protecting his position.
The rich man can be less violent himself because of
his ability to call the police and the police will used their implied threat of violence to threaten the law breaker.

Consequently the point that you observe less violence among the wealthy does not necessarily imply that they are less violent.

doug writes:

I think what you are describing here is democratic peace theory. Wealth tends to come with democracy.

Steve Sailer writes:

For an analysis of the Decline of War, see:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2006/08/woody-hays-chair-of-national-security.html

Minute writes:

L Zoel is right - if everyone is rich then you have an unstable equilibrium, like balancing a pencil on its point.

Human progress in the 21st century will hinge on whether the poor can become rich faster than the rich become complete cowards.

notsneaky writes:

I don't buy it because I think Premise 2 fails. It fails for all them game theoretical reasons. Sometimes (usually?) cowards make the worst bullies.

Heather writes:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned employment. High unemployment numbers, regardless of wealth levels, leads to higher civil unrest. I would contend that Premise #2 needs the condition that wealth be tied to employment before this argument begins to make sense. Once this is done, I would tend to agree with this statement. It does not preclude outliers and terrorists because there will be some portion of the population that is crazy, but it does reduce support for their causes. While the US did manage to produce the Oklahoma City Bombers, it did not manage to produce a massive following for them that would continue their "work".

Looking at areas of the world where there is large support for terrorism and/or war, one theme that can be found is high unemployment. In Chechnya the unemployment rate was ~50% last I checked, and while unemployment isn't terrible in Great Britain and Germany, the immigrant population has unemployment rates in the 30% range and this is the group that is producing a significant number of terrorists from the first world.

Nicholas Weininger writes:

One problem with premise #1 is that while wealth makes people cowardly, it also lowers the risks of war. The courage required to go to Iraq, while significant, is less than the courage required to go to most previous wars, because the modern military technology (esp. battlefield medicine) paid for by our enormous wealth brings down the military death rate.

Bill Drissel writes:

Old men want to start wars. Wealth may make them cowards but they don't have to fight. Young men want to fight wars. They aren't old enough to have the kind of wealth that makes cowards.

Wars will always be won by the side that can put 18 yr olds with rifles on hills.

Regards,
Bill Drissel

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