Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Preparing for Peace: A Political Economic Perspective

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Preparing for Peace: A Political Economic Perspective

Article excerpt

A political economic perspective on preparing for peace emphasises these aspects: reallocation: shifting resources from military to peaceful purposes; redistribution: redressing the material economic inequalities that underpin so many social conflicts; and revival: harmonising economic, environmental and social goals to enable more fulfilling lives in a peaceful society.

Introduction

That matters of war and peace have an economic dimension is widely recognised. Would the USA and its allies, including Australia, have invaded Iraq in 2003 if Iraq's main export was asparagus or bananas, rather than oil? Whether the military intervention was 'all about oil' is debatable, as Doran (2012) emphasises, but there is little doubt that it has been a major factor in the awful sequence of events that is still unfolding in the region.

The political dimension of conflict is even more obvious. Indeed, where there are economic interests there is always politics. Powerful people seeking personal advantages - such as 'corporate welfare' or low tax rates on high incomes - commonly influence the political institutions and policy processes. That influence can take many forms, ranging from the funding of political parties and 'think tanks' to outright corruption of politicians. The democratic political system of which modern societies boast is thereby subverted. The connection between capitalism and democracy, commonly posited by ideologues of the political right, looks ever more shaky. The formally egalitarian political principle of 'one person, one vote' becomes subordinated to the market economic principle of 'one dollar, one vote'. It also bodes ill for peace because, wherever powerful sectional interests dominate over broader public interests, social conflict and its manifestations, including violence, are endemic.

Bringing together these economic and political considerations takes us onto the terrain of political economy. It gives us a lens - or multiple lenses - through which we can understand how societies use their resources for better or worse, for war or peace. It gives us a basis for understanding the inequalities of wealth and power that underpin so many ongoing social problems. Further, it gives us tools for considering different political economic arrangements that would be conducive to creating a more equitable, sustainable and peaceful society. It gives us another avenue for preparing for peace.

This article develops these themes by looking briefly at three political economic dimensions of the challenges that we currently face in a dangerous world - reallocating our resources to more peaceful purposes, creating greater social cohesion through the redistribution of wealth and fostering harmony between economic, environmental and broader social goals. These three political economic challenges may be summarised as (1) reallocation, (2) redistribution and (3) revival. As a prelude to their consideration in this article, we need to recognise the flaws in the ideological underpinning of the current arrangements, particularly the economic ideas that are used to defend the status quo.

Challenging Conventional Theories

People whose primary concern is with promoting peace may be forgiven for shying away from the study of economics. Understandably, they may regard that subject as not directly relevant to the necessary personal and social transformations. It may even be dismissed as part of the problem, not part of the solution. This is a view with which I have some empathy, based on seeing how economics is normally taught and applied. University research studies show that young people who are predisposed to selfish, competitive and materialistic behaviours are those most likely to be attracted to the study of economics. Other evidence shows that these personal behaviours - the characteristics of homo economicus -become yet more pronounced as a result of studying the subject. A mutually reinforcing process of selection and inculcation is evident - chicken and egg - irrespective of the intentions of the teachers and students. …

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