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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Appendix A: On Economic Stagnation

In his formidable 1942 A Study of War, Quincy Wright noticed that states with high standards of living seemed somewhat less likely than poor states to initiate war. 1 Nearly 40 years later Ruth Leger Sivard made a similar observation in noting that of more than 120 cases of armed conflict between 1955 and 1979, all but six involved poor states. 2 These observations, and other anecdotal coincidences, have suggested that economic stagnation, or negative growth, may generate international conflict as governments deliberately go to war to distract dissatisfied populations from domestic economic torpor.

Another suggestion is that economic recession or depression may lead populations to impute their economic difficulties to foreign sources, and into war or conflict in an effort to remove those foreign causes, or to revenge them. 3 Still another persuasive assertion is that the political instability induced by economic poverty is the necessary condition awaiting sufficient excuse to go to war--either civil, revolutionary, or interstate. While these, and other similar, propositions may appeal to public intuition and some ideologies, the dearth of historical evidence, and the obvious expenses of war and international conflict, combine to discredit the suggestion that sustained international conflict is systematically linked to economic stagnation, or depression. 4

It may indeed be heuristic to investigate the proposition that economic stagnation is related to international conflict. A systematic relationship, however, between economic growth and conflict seems not only more relevant to apparent global trends, but more useful in identifying manipulable factors that decision-makers can use to pursue the goals of avoiding conflict while encouraging growth. In addition, it seems plausible to consider cases of recession, depression, and stagnation simply as instances of "negative" or "zero" growth, which would be included in any lawlike generality about growth and conflict.

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