|CAPITALISM AND WAR|
Capitalism is the opposite of war. Capitalism is a means of production. War, by definitiuon, is destruction. Under capitalism, every good or service -- even the lightest of entertainments -- has the potential to be a new tool of production. In war, every act destroys resources, your own as well as those of your enemy. Capitalism lets individuals who have nothing else in common -- sometimes, not even language -- find a single common interest that is mutually profitable. Wars involve anonymous masses who might have shared a wide range of cultural attributes before they demonized each other for their mutual destruction.
Capitalism has been criticized by socialists for being the cause of war. Obviously, wars existed before capitalism. So, the problem must be deeper than that. Historically, charismatic leaders -- whether Roman truumvirs or American industrialists -- have always used every tool to further their own interests. Yanking the strings of their paid puppets in the Senate is just one opportunity. It is also true that the prosecution of war demands resources which some people can produce and sell to the state and thereby profit from war. The fact is that capitalism can exist without war. Without resources -- swords or rocket propelled grenades; dried meat or meals-ready-to-eat -- war is impossible.
Business interests do resist war. Just before the War of 1812, New Englanders at the Hartford Convention considered secession from the Union. Although it was their ships that were being plundered by the British, war would have been even worse. When the government in Washington D.C. declared war, the calls for secession of New England were put aside, along with much of the commerce between the United Kingdom and the United States. Commercial opposition to the War Between the States, the Two World Wars and the Two Gulf Wars does not get a lot of attention in mass media or public schools.
Why would merchants resist a war that "everyone" wants, especially when they can profit from selling materiel to the state? The reason why is that successful merchants see through what Frederic Bastiat called the fallacy of the broken window. In Bastiat's scenario, a hoodlum has smashed the baker's window and stolen some bread. "This is good," the crowd says. Now the glazier will have work. The baker must pay the glazier and replace the stolen loaves, so his assistants will have more work. The money from the glazier and the kitchen helpers will circulate in town and we will all be richer. Of course, they will not. In fact, they are all poorer right now. The destruction of resources is never good.
Time, effort, material, energy, thought, and emotion that go into the production of weapons of war are lost forever. Swords prevent plows. Tanks prevent tractors. Radar screens prevent television sets. Aircraft carriers prevent airports.
Plows and airports are tools of production; they increase harvests and speed transportation. No abundance comes from swords and aircraft carriers. When a jet airliner takes off, the production and use of the plane, its fuel, support personnel, etc., are all paid for. Each passenger has found a profitable exchange in the purchase of a ticket and the air carrier has willingly taken their money for its own profit. When a military jet takes off on a sortie, no one's life is improved and the entire infrastructure that makes the plane possible is depleted. This is not a new fact. For two hundred years, Spain looted the New World of silver and gold. Spain became poorer and poorer. The simple truth is that it cost more to get each shipment than the precious metals were worth on the market. More subtly, as loot or booty or plunder, the precious metals had no special value to the Spanish. Rather than being invested, the money was sqaundered. In the meantime, Holland enjoyed the Northern Renaissance. The basic truth that explains this is not a matter of ancient history. The United Kingdom and the United States were victorious in two World Wars. As a result, the money of their governments slid from gold to silver to curpo-nickel. Victories are always expensive. Of course, defeats cost even more.
The fact is that profit and loss are signals that tell us when we are doing something right or when our actions are wrong. More than just counting the coins that go in the cashbox this moment, every merchant looks to the future, calculating the costs and benefits of alternatives. Risk is the source of profit, but profit must exceed risk, or the risk is unprofitable and is avoided. Will red coffee cups sell faster than blue ones? Will coffee cups sell better than socks? Will dry goods be a better investment than music disks? Somehow these decisions are not as glorious as the decision to charge uphill against cannon, no matter how many lives are lost. Tennyson wrote about the Charge of the Light Brigade. Waterford's fountain pen went unheralded. Which of them changed the world for the better? Waterford's pens brought him profit and put money in the tills of the stores that sold them and made work more productive for millions of people. In every case, each buyer, each seller, looked to the profitability of the purchase as weighed against the risks.
The true risks of war are never assessed. At war with the Dutch in 1899, the British invented "concentration camps" for control of civilians. The use of concentration camps by the Nazis is infamous. Less often discussed are the concentration camps of the United States in which American citizens were imprisoned because their ancestors happened to come from a nation with which the United States was at war. War destroys civilizations -- winners as well as losers -- because war dehumanizes all participants. The modern phrase is "post traumatic stress disorder." People who experience violence become violent. Americans were shocked to see Palestinians celebrating in the streets when The Two Towers fell. Of course, no Americans have had their homes bulldozed recently, so the Palestinians seem odd to us. We make a big fuss when airport screeners feel us up. Few of us get thrown to the ground and beaten for being out past curfew. This is not to excuse the Palestinians, but to warn that as long as we act like them, we make it harder to stop acting like them.
Is the anger of the Palestinians justified? Is American outrage appropriate? Feeling anger is one thing; acting on it is another. Rational people are not governed by their emotions. The fact is that World War II was not the result of Henry Ford getting back at the Opel Family for selling out to General Motors. Despite the fact that Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg had deep differences in physics and politics, neither saw fit to shoot the other. Destruction of that which threatens is the instinctive response of a sub-rational brute. The high minded person who relies on intellect to solve problems finds a solution that at least avoids losses, even if it cannot discover mutual profit.
The excuse for war is always the same: the enemy threatens us with extinction; therefore, they must be destroyed. Such is seldom the case. We, the people, seldom meet them, the people. If we asked them why they want to destroy us, their answer would be some form of "You want to destroy us first, so we need to destroy you even firster." In that case, war seems inevitable. It is not. Trade prevents war. Trade ends war. Trade brings individuals together -- admittedly, for their own selfish interests, but it brings people together nonetheless. Capitalism survives and thrives on voluntary agreements. People who freely choose to associate for their common profit are on the path of peace.