Do global markets promote global peace?
February 10, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in conducting some preliminary research on this topic and am looking for the key thinkers and arguments on either side of this debate.

Despite my own political views, I do see some credibility to the idea — two countries with complex and overlapping economic interdependency may be less inclined to go to war with one another and jeopardize these interests. However, I imagine that this intuition is flawed in many respects, so I am interested to hear counter-examples, historical or theoretical, to disprove this thesis.

Note: While I am speaking of free trade and peace between nations, I am also interested in scholarly work arguing that economic liberty, markets, and property rights promote peace within nations (or not) as well.

I am by no means an expert in economic and political theory, but both academic and popular works are welcome.
posted by ageispolis to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Arguments for this thesis are often a subset of Democratic Peace Theory. That wikipedia section has some academic references that might be a good start, at least in terms of intrastate conflicts. One problem that immediately springs to mind with the thesis you mention is that there may be various interest groups (say, companies that produce weapons) who may benefit from conflict while other economic interests benefit from peace, and which one wins out would not be immediately obvious ex ante.

There is a small subset of the empirical economics and political science literature that looks at the relationship (in a sort of kitchen-sink-regression type way) between terrorism and various indicators of economic and political development. This working paper is an example focusing on domestic terrorism specifically and might be able to point you to other literature relevant to your question.
posted by dismas at 2:06 PM on February 10, 2013

Best answer: It depends on what you mean by "peace".

If you mean "lack of occurrence of officially declared wars," then yes, almost certainly. Since the emergence of the global economy in the mid-twentieth century, there have been drastically fewer declared wars than in previous centuries. The United States has been in a total of five formally declared wars, the last of which was World War II. Indeed, there have only been a handful of such formal declarations since 1945, one of which was a declaration of war on the US by Panama in 1989, to give you an idea of how serious these conflicts are these days. Prior to WWI though, it seemed like there was a decent chance that some European power would declare war on some other European power on any given Tuesday.

But if you mean "lack of armed conflict," then. . . well the 1989 Panama example is telling. Panama declared war because the US invaded, deposing de facto leader Manuel Noriega. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Nicaragua, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Gulf War II, Libya, none of these involved formal declarations of war. Doesn't mean US troops weren't involved. And in something of a reversal, the most serious armed conflicts since WWII have not involved declarations of war.

And globally, I don't think there's been a single day in the last century that wasn't witnessed armed conflict somewhere in the world, especially if you count civil wars in Africa.

All of that being said, it does seem like industrialized nations don't tend to do a lot of fighting, at least on their own soil. But rather than society evolving beyond such pedestrian affairs, it seems more realistic to say that we've simply exported our conflicts just like we've exported our demands for rote physical labor. We weren't about to fight Russia or China here or there, but we didn't have any problem doing just that in Southeast Asia or Central America. Much cleaner and more convenient to wage war by proxy than expose our own civilian areas to such unpleasantness.

So I think you might need to do a little work refining your question. What exactly do you mean by peace? And might it also be worth asking whether it's markets that promote peace or peace that promotes markets? Hard to have a free and functional economy if you're getting shelled by tanks, after all. Just ask the Bosnians.
posted by valkyryn at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2013

Dismas beat me to the punch regarding democratic peace theory! It primarily deals with democracy but there are works that focus on the economic side of democracy and peace as well.

Also, you could look at modernization theories dealing with democracy. You could research how economic development leads to democracies which then in turn might have more obligations towards peace-keeping than a non-democratic country. It switches your argument around a little bit because it is suggesting that peace promotes global markets and integration. It is worth looking at because this might also be a point of weakness in your argument - does peace promote economic integration or the other way around?

Finally, your last point regarding economic liberty, markets and property rights within nations remind me a lot of traditional liberal thinkers and a lot of social contract theorists. Rousseau, Locke all talked about property rights and liberty in terms of setting up strong societies. It might serve as a good starting point of analysis.
posted by cyml at 2:18 PM on February 10, 2013

Best answer: You may be interested in one of the early thinkers who set out such a belief: Richard Cobden. He believed that free trade inevitably brought strong grounds for ongoing peace.
posted by Jehan at 2:19 PM on February 10, 2013

Best answer: Steven Pinker's book The Better Angels of our Nature treats the Democratic Peace and Doux Commerce theories at length. His own conclusion is that the weight of the evidence supports these theories, even after accounting for the proxy wars valkyryn mentions.

I read Pinker with interest, then went out and found four or five critical reviews. None of the reviews seemed to address Pinker's actual positions, from which I can only surmise that the scholarship is reasonably sound.
posted by lambdaphage at 3:42 PM on February 10, 2013

This study argues that a subtle shift in the primary independent variable of the commercial peace literature—from trade to free trade—provides an opportunity to respond to the some of the strongest criticisms of this research program. Free trade, and not just trade, promotes peace by removing an important foundation of domestic privilege—protective barriers to international commerce—that enhances the domestic power of societal groups likely to support war, reduces the capacity of free-trading interests to limit aggression in foreign policy, and simultaneously generates political support for the state often used to build its war machine. A series of statistical tests demonstrates that higher levels of free trade, rather than trade alone, reduce military conflict between states. Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, these arguments suggest how the puzzling case of World War I may confirm, rather than contradict, the central claims of commercial liberalism.
posted by John Cohen at 8:11 PM on February 10, 2013

Jeffrey Sachs fights for this (although I disagree with him). His The End of Poverty has a lot on the issue.

Chomsky, for one, disagrees, as do, for example, Marx, Bakunin, and their descendants.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:57 AM on February 11, 2013

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