The American Road to World Peace

By Alfred Zimmern | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 43: The Trade Agreements

AT this point we must interrupt the historical sequence of events in order to consider a slogan which has been much in vogue in recent times in different countries-the slogan that "the causes of war are economic," a companion to the slogan about armaments with which we have already dealt.

As in the case of armaments, there is a simple answer-that it is just not so. It is indeed demonstrably not so, as could be shown by citing many instances of wars which occurred when no important economic issues were involved and by citing other occasions when tension arising out of economic issues did not result in war because this was outweighed by other issues making for peace. If one had to choose between the so-called realists for whom the causes of war are economic and the so-called old-fashioned people for whom the one and only road to peace is economic, one would not hesitate to side with the latter. But no one who has eyes to survey the whole field of present-day world affairs would wish to become the slave of either formula.

It is worth while pausing to ask why such a palpable error as that the causes of war are economic has become so prevalent in our day. The answer would seem to be that it is due to a simple confusion of thought arising out of the careless use of the word economic." If that word is used in the sense in which it has been employed by educated people ever since the day of Adam Smith-- not to mention Aristotle-economic activity is undoubtedly one of the chief forms of international co-operation in the modern world and therefore an influence making for understanding and peace. Trade implies trust, as every merchant knows, and the more widespread the trade the larger the network of confidence and the volume of intercourse and good will.

But there is a school of thought which maintains that trade is not a process of exchange based on mutual confidence but a process of robbery and exploitation, part of a struggle for power

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