"A war regarded as inevitable or even probable, and therefore much prepared for, has a very good chance of eventually being fought."
                  George F. Kennan
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Shift Our Economies

From War-based Economies to Ending-war Economies

The Relationship Between Resources and War

A great many wars—arguably all of them—are fought over resources.1,2

People must have access to essential resources. People must make a living. To end wars these fundamental economic truths must be addressed.  

Gold, oil, water, salt, women, land, fishing rights, garden rights, trade routes, cattle—if a resource brings wealth to those who possess it or provides survival essentials, a decent life, and hope for the future, men have fought over it. Other reasons are often given as the "cause of the war," most notably religious or political differences. But the passions that are whipped up over religion or politics are almost always rationalizations to mask the ultimate motivator—the resource. For the purposes of this simplified look at economics and war, essential resources are defined as adequate daily food, clean, healthy water; shelter from weather and dangers, basic health care, the means to make a living, and education for children.

People deprived of these necessities by corrupt, insensitive, or self-indulgent leaders eventually revolt. Otherwise, they must be kept down by force, deception, ignorance, or some combination of the three. If we hope to create a future without war, we must give high priority to providing these basic essentials. These are not luxuries. People can be quite happy without luxuries (see What Makes People Happy).3 Looking at it another way, the rates of psychosis and psychoanalysis in America make quite clear that people living in the lap of luxury are not necessarily happy. Providing for the essentials will not guarantee happiness, but providing essential resources will eliminate one of the prime motivators for revolution and war.

By trial and error we've learned what does not work and gained clearer ideas into what will. We are now, historically, in position to meet these needs across the globe if we choose to.  

How Is Economics Involved?

To end war, we must consciously shift our economies from ones based on war to ones based on ending war.

Anyone older than sixty and living in America has experienced six major wars: the Second World War, the Korean War, The Vietnamese War, the First Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Second Iraq War. There have been other major killing conflicts: in the middle east, Cambodia, between India and Pakistan, and in the Balkans. Sadly, the list of our killing conflicts is long. The stupendous amounts of money, time, natural and manufactured resources, and human lives that governments have expended planning for, executing, and cleaning up after these wars is beyond comprehension (see Examples of War Expenses).  

Our task isn't simply to stop spending money on war. Our task is to shift our spending purposefully so our money fills people's needs for essential resources and promotes the other cornerstone objectives of ending war. How do we do that? We have years of studies to draw on. For example, the September 2005 issue of Scientific American, entitled "Crossroads for Planet Earth," presents several articles outlining how we might proceed.5,6,7

Topics include how we can eliminate extreme global poverty, how businesses can increase profits through efficiency, and how affordable irrigation and market access can enable farmers in the developing world to feed themselves and climb out of poverty.

Social historian Riane Eisler has explored the nature of what she calls economies the underpinning philosophy of which is a social model or philosophy based on domination. She contrasts these (e.g., communism, socialism, and capitalism) with what she proposes as an economic system the underpinning of which is egalitarianism, or her term, partnerism. 4 Her argument is that old economic rules and principles are tragically warped because they don't give value to human endeavors that include caring and care-giving. We do need to shift the global paradigm from a dominator model to an egalitarian (partnership) model that will allow for the full expression of human creativity and happiness, and Eisler's book envisions a way forward. 

We will make amazingly rapid progress toward putting things in order on the planet—including reducing conflicts—if we make one vital shift in particular: we must shift a substantial percentage of gross domestic product from spending on the accoutrements of war to spending that will advance the goal of bringing an end to war. (for more detail see Provide Security and Order and The Vision Thing).

The Win/Win Nature of Shifting Our Economies

The beauty of this concept is its win/win nature:

  • We employ people in positive, constructive (and where possible, war-ending) projects
  • We allow entrepreneurs to make profits, but on positive, constructive (and where possible, war-ending) projects

The goal is not to put anyone out of business, not even those companies that currently produce the products and services associated with armed conflicts. Their employees need jobs, and their owners and investors need profits.  

We can make this transition. We have the creativity and imagination to make it happen. We need the will.

Tax incentives, for example, can be offered for projects that promote human achievement and well-being:

  • for correcting and preventing environmental damage
  • for developing a means to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in a safe manner
  • for exploring the moon and Mars
  • for bringing clean water to every community on the planet
  • for eliminating poverty and providing quality health care and education to underdeveloped countries
  • for retrofitting or constructing new infrastructures and buildings that can withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.  

This list is limited only by our imagination.

There is a growing understanding that private enterprise is, and must be, a part of the solution to global ecological problems.8 The same holds true for any effort to end war. Economic incentives like those offered in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency can change the way money is spent.8 As part of our strategy, constructive projects can provide profits and at the same time employ young men, empower young women, spread democracy, foster connectedness and tolerance, and provide essential resources. Everyone wins when everyone benefits.

Dealing with Resistance to Change

This radical economic change will be resisted. Governments will not unilaterally trim down their defense spending or war effort and shift money to other aspects of the economy, not even gradually. Difficult negotiations will be required, but we already have many international agreements and treaties that further mutual goals.8 Shifting our economies is necessary, and where they have the will, humans can find the way. The continuing reduction in American and Soviet nuclear arsenals is one example. Free-trade agreements are another. The Kyoto Protocol is yet another. We don't need to invent new processes to draw up agreements. Shifting world economies in an agreed-upon fashion away from war-based economies to ending-war economies would be one more set of agreements reached by already known methods of negotiation.

Ending War Requires a Permanent Financial Committment

We need to be clear. A WARLESS FUTURE CANNOT BE BUILT OR MAINTAINED WITHOUT FINANCIAL COST. Because of our nature (see Biological Differences Between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability) there will always be some individuals—hyper-alpha males—driven by a compulsion to conquer the world. Consequently, every generation must recognize the need to invest financially in maintaining conditions that favor nonviolent resolution of conflicts. Perhaps initially even as much as we have invested in war in the past. But once we define our priorities, execute them, and achieve international stability, we will likely discover that we can maintain stability at a fraction of what we now spend on destruction and killing. But this will be a commitment in perpetuity. Just as maintaining personal freedom for all requires eternal vigilance, so, too, will maintaining freedom from war.

An Environmental Reason to Shift Our Economies

There is one more reason to shift our economies. In an article entitled "Economics in a Full World,"7 Herman Daly, co-founder of the journal Ecological Economics, explains why the global community cannot continue to rely on growth as the cure for the major economic ills of modern life. He describes what he calls "economic growth" and "uneconomic growth." Economic growth occurs when increases in production increase personal well-being and the cost to environmental resources is outweighed by the improvements in lives and the accumulation of man-made capital (such as roads, factories, and appliances). Uneconomic growth occurs when production increases at the expense of well-being and the depletion of resources is worth more than the items created or built.

According to Daly, most developed countries have probably already made the transition from the former to the latter. In other words, developed nations are using up natural resources at an alarming rate and not becoming all that much personally happier for it. We live in what he calls a full world as opposed to an empty world. In the empty world that we have known historically, people often emigrated whenever resources became limited or depleted. In the full world of today, all available habitable land is occupied. Given that global resources are limited—we are a finite planet and our resources are finite—Daly calls upon scientists "to develop a 'full world' economics to replace our traditional 'empty world' economics" before ecological and/or economic disasters overtake us.7,9 He outlines the nature of the changes we will have to make, and he freely admits that "establishing and maintaining a sustainable economy entails an enormous change of mind and heart by economists, politicians, and voters ... "

If we create major ecological disaster, war will be hard to avoid as societies begin to collapse.9 If we must shift our economies to avoid ecological disaster, why not at the same time shift these economies from their war orientation and encourage activities, incentives, subsidies, and treaties needed to create conditions that can also end war. Win-win.

The subtitle on the September 2005 Scientific American special issue states: "The human race is at a unique turning point. Will we choose to create the best of all possible worlds?"

Why not? Doing so is within our grasp (see How Far We Have Already Come). Human imagination is the only limit on what we can create en route to freedom from the tragedy of armed killing.


1 Diamond, Jared. 1997. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
     NY: W.W. Norton.
2 Hand, Judith L. 2003. Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace. San Diego:
     Questpath Publishing.
3 Layard, P. Richard G. 2005. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. NY: Penguin.
4 Eisler, Riane. 2007. The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics.
     NY: W.W. Norton. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
5 Sachs, Jeffrey D. 2005. "Can extreme poverty be eliminated?" Sci. Am. 293:56-65.
6 Lovins, Amory B. 2005. "More profit with less carbon." Sci. Am. 293:74-83.
7 Daly, Herman E. 2005. "Economics in a full world." Sci. Am. 293:100-107.
8 Gibbs, W. Wayt. 2005. "How should we set priorities?" Sci. Am. 293:108-115.
9 Diamond, Jared. 2005. Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed . NY: Viking.

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