The Economic Basis of Peace: Linkages between Economic Growth and International Conflict

By William H. Mott IV | Go to book overview
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2
Historical Perspectives

Through most of human history, any growth-conflict nexus that may have existed was neither interesting nor even noticed, as both analysts and politicians have found it convenient to separate these persistent features of social intercourse along two separate paths of human progress-economic and political. International relations have involved the specialized interactions of governments dealing in the "high politics" of diplomacy and war, power and sovereignty. Whatever else that humans did to, with, or for each other was done by other groups (churches, companies, parties, families, etc.). In the real world of real people, however, economics and commerce, often relegated to low-status groups (Jews, Moslems, gypsies, foreigners, slaves), happened outside "high politics." Occasional academic forays into the "low politics" of other human concerns (economics, business, religion, philosophy, biology, physics, etc.) were left to the human and physical sciences. Liberal, realist, and idealist traditions of political and economic thought all adopted this perspective, albeit with different views and conclusions, and have been disposed to neglect any excursions across disciplinary boundaries.

Although conflict is as ancient as humanity, and every civilization has experienced some sort of economic growth--usually oppressively slow and best measured in 100-year growth rates--any sort of rapid sustained growth occurred only sporadically before about the seventeenth century. Speculations about connections were in the domains of philosophers, rather than the realms of kings, and indicated a positive relationship, not very strong, not very predictable, and not very important. For premodern humanity, conflict was simply an unpleasant, but inevitable, aspect of living; economic growth was usually little more than a hope that one's grandchildren would not starve.

The appearance of rapid economic growth on the wings of science and knowledge in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, and Napoleon's invention of "total war," blurred distinctions between what governments do and what happens to their societies, between economics and politics, between

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