Guest Post: Is War Necessary?
Submitted by mickeyman of World Complex blog,
A recent article discusses an old document (the "Report from Iron Mountain") supposedly written by a committee of academics, explaining why war was necessary as an organizing principle of society. Supposedly these academics decided that if warfare didn't exist it would either have to be invented, or some replacement found. Numerous suggestions are made (the report can be found here).
The report finds difficulties in worldwide disarmament. The problem reiterates an old economic fallacy, which I am certain has been exploded by Bastiat previously. The pamphlet assumes that if there is no longer demand for weapons, missile systems, and the like, then all the poor employees of the companies that make such products will have to be retrained and put to work in some other (centrally planned enterprise) - suggestions included (but were not restricted to): 1) a worldwide program to improve human welfare; 2) endless space exploration; 3) a minutely detailed program of disarmament with forced inspections; 4) the creation of an omniscient, omnipotent global police force; 5) a desperate program to reverse global environmental catastrophe. Other options were offered as well.
I can see why this document is viewed as a hoax. Why replace our economic model of endless warfare with these alternates when we can have the endless war and the alternates?
The real problem with this document (and what gives it the whiff of truth in my opinion) is that it assumes an authoritarian framework. This premise is never stated, but it permeates the entire work. The document never considers that people might be able to make decisions on their own. Instead, the document would have us believe that war is a force gives us meaning.
Is it natural that war be a central organizing force, or is this a conclusion that has been forced upon us by our "betters"?
The trouble with authoritarians is that they believe that they can make any part of our human or cultural systems reflect the "reality" that they create. For instance--as covered in this blog before--Keynesian economics suggests that low interest rates automatically lower the unemployment rate. Empirical observations indicate that such is not the case, yet the Keynesians continue to set economic policy in accordance with their flawed assumptions. Such pig-headedness is akin to a physicist claiming that gravity could be made to fall off with the cube of the distance, given sufficient funding, and that the benefits of the new result would more than justify the costs.
In a free society, capital which was no longer being used to build complex weapon systems would be used for other purposes, as directed and desired by customers. I don't know, and probably can't imagine how the capital would be used, but that isn't actually necessary as it is better for the economy if I don't try to direct it. That is the key point missed by the authors. The capital would be used. It isn't necessary to direct it.
I frequently get a sense of frustration from the writings of some of these economists when they fret about the suboptimal strategy of, say, handmaking furniture as opposed to churning out by the container load out of some factory. The argument is about efficiency, and survival of the fittest. However, one of the things that we observe from nature is that all sorts of critters pursue what appear to our eyes to be suboptimal strategies--but here they are. They have persisted to the present day because their survival strategies are optimal when the environment is different than it is today.
Nature thrives from diversity. Diversity is what gives nature strength and ecosystems their resilience. Despite numerous attempts, we have not succeeded in creating a stable biosphere. Our limited understanding suggests that a functioning biosphere needs a lot of different types of plants and animals, and the more different types, the more stable it is likely to be.
Part of the stability is due to the presence of the suboptimal organisms, some of which really shine when climate suddenly changes, or lots of volcanoes erupt and make the sea acidic.
If autonomous political systems were organized along the same lines as natural systems, there would be a range of sizes from very small to very large. The organization on a global scale is not natural--it is shaped by a historical reality that large political entities have a military advantage over smaller ones--France and Spain vs Italian city-states, for example. The authoritarian vision appears to be to create a larger political union still.
But the end is coming for them. We have entered the twilight of their vision. It is the same fear that motivates the Report from Iron Mountain. The system is too complex to be controlled. Back then the authorities said they feared chaos breaking out over the necessary changes to the economy that would follow from a transition to perpetual peace. In reality they feared the loss of control.
The potential for the loss of control is magnified by the aspirations of billions of people, who can now contact one another directly free of authoritarian oversight. The authoritarians cannot control the future.
Instead they must accept there is nothing to do but watch it unfold.
Like this . . .