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Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed that the world has been becoming a lot less warlike.

I already agree with Harari that a major reason for this reduction in warfare is nuclear weapons. On page 17 of my paperback edition of Home Deus, he says this:

Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …

Quite so. But next comes this thought, which I had not, until now, put together in my mind:

… Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.

I knew that war is diminishing, in fact I have written blog postings about what a big change that is for humanity. And I knew that the knowledge economy is now becoming a bigger deal than the mere possession of agricultural or resource-rich land. Who now does not? But call me dumb, as maybe some tactless commenters will, but I had never – or never very clearly (only “sort of”) – made the causal connection between these two things. Taken together, the rise of the knowledge economy and the arrival of nuclear weapons, themselves a consequence of recently acquired knowledge, amount to a transformation in the cost-to-benefit ratio of war. It used to be that war incurred some costs, heavy costs if you did badly, but if you did well, war might yield handsome gains. Not any more, except when it comes to places still stuck in the logic of quarrelling over physical resources.

A more respectable reason, besides me being dumb, why I had not made this rather obvious connection is that there has been another process that has masked the peaceful nature of knowledge-based economies, which is that when “knowledge” first arrives in a society, its first impact is not to cause peace to happen, but rather that particular sort of war that is so misleadingly categorised as “civil”, i.e. war of the worst sort. Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, eighteenth century France and twentieth century Russia and China. All were in those times cursed by newly “educated” generations who each fervently believed that they possessed knowledge, of why and how they should rule the world, but who were really themselves possessed by various sorts of ideological frenzy. So maybe I can be forgiven, as can others who took a while to see or who still do not see the connection between knowledge and peace. It’s because the connection between knowledge and peace takes a while to even happen, and at first it goes in the wrong direction rather than the right one. To put it another way, it takes quite a while for “knowledge” to shed its sneer quotes. To put it yet another way, there are experts and there are “experts”.

39 comments to Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

  • lucklucky

    If knowledge is king then we will have wars because of taxes.

  • Paul Marks

    The “knowledge economy”.

    I will not go into the minefield of the morality or otherwise of patents and copyrights – but I will say this, manufacturing is key and it moves to where it is cheapest and best to manufacture things (regardless of patents and copyrights – be they moral or not).

    In short the “knowledge economy” is Moonshine – the economy that matters is making things.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course the “knowledge economy” may mean “knowledge of how to make things”. But the post did not make that clear.

  • John Galt III

    Kindly explain then why the West is now importing people who believe in voodoo (Mohammed and Islam), who could care less about knowledge, except acquiring the knowledge necessary to murder the people in the lands they emigrate to, where they are enthusiastically following the tenets of Hijrah. Ask 99.99% of non-Muslim Brits what Hijrah is and you reach the pinnacle of cluelessness. Well, you may not know what is, but the people who wish to conquer you understand it completely.

    Europe has given up on Christianity, reverted to being Eloi secularists, disarmed themselves and are creating their own Trojan horse. That is not knowledge. That is suicidal stupidity and self loathing.

    ….and we in America are madly trying to catch up to you, so quite frankly I don’t care about this knowledge economy B.S. theory at all. It sounds like Francis Fukuyama not Samuel Huntington. Read them both and see where we are today. It isn’t a Fukuyama world at all. It is 100% a Huntington world.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    America is safe. I read a great book called “The Triumph Of Christianity”, which shows how Christianity has been gaining ground in America ever since they got rid of established religions. When the Churches had to fight for their patrons, then they lifted their game, and attendance started to increase to the high level of today. If European countries disestablished their churches, then they would become more robust.
    As for the knowledge economy, we might be seeing that in all the new games and services you can get on your phone. We might get more entertainment without getting more things.

  • The trend isn’t a straight line, but “war” has been declining for millennia. I wouldn’t call it an earth shattering observation.

    But the trend isn’t a straight line, JG III, and frankly, I’m of the opinion that while the Christian notion of God evinced the sort of spirit that imbued, say (after a long run), the American Revolution, in that it laid moral obligation on the individual in an egalitarian way, the modern form of it is heavily muddled, and hasn’t kept pace with what might be termed the “knowledge economy”.

    And, I’m afraid, the knowledge economy is suffering a wide array of dislocations in knowledge. The ignorant mob is finding itself ascendant in terms of power and effect, while the technical elite and a small portion of the intelligentsia are increasingly limited to influence in their increasingly narrow realms, and when the mob crushes those centers, as they are wont to do, a whole lot of knowledge is going kaputski.

    But when the next crash/collapse comes, it will teach lessons, thereby adding, ya know, to the next knowledge economy.

  • Predictions that we’ve ‘evolved beyond war’ and the like have been commonplace in modern times. Being able to read almost anything (I have a good sense of humour), I once read Normal Angell’s “The Great Illusion”. Much like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, Angell’s “The Great Illusion” was immensely popular in its day. It explained that modern states were all so interconnected economically that they could no longer wage war: this interconnectedness meant that conquest and indemnities no longer made sense; a war in Europe would inevitably grind to a halt within six months. He published in 1909 and was widely believed by the smart set – in the years before WWI. 🙂 In the interwar years he reissued it (it was this second version that I read). He explained that he’d been right all along, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – in 1933. 🙂

    “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.” I would be very cautious in assuming that wars, whether state-run or otherwise, are on any irreversible downward path. I would also be very cautious of the idea that expectations of economic profit (let alone rational ones) were or will be the key driver of war. “Men do not become tyrants in order to keep warm.”

    Santayana is one of several (Burke is another) credited with versions of my ‘learn from the past’ quote above. Santayana also said “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” I’m confident that is true of all of us now alive.

    The knowledge economy permits cyber-war, which could one day provide motive or pretext or both for real war.

  • Alisa

    I have not read any of Harari’s books – and I doubt I will, because every time I see him quoted on something or other, I feel like screaming ‘you are missing the point!’. And here we are again. For one thing, wars are never about mere resources – they are always, first and foremost, about territory, which may or may not include what is usually referred to as ‘resource’. Secondly, and more importantly, economy has always been about knowledge, with the human brain being one of the only two real natural resources (the other being territory – which humans, or even robots who may once replace them, will always need). Oil was worthless until the knowledge of how to use it was acquired, and the same can be said of any other material we commonly refer to as ‘natural resource’.

  • In short the “knowledge economy” is Moonshine – the economy that matters is making things.

    Because getting paid £250 for making something is better than getting paid £250 for providing a service? Why?

  • MadRocketSci

    I wouldn’t say the knowledge economy is entirely moonshine, but it has been used (starting with Alvin Toffler, at least in my awareness) to excuse the raiding and destroying of our very real industrial economy. If your nation is deindustrialized, what does it need any of that knowledge for? Who will employ the engineers/technicians/scientists, and why? Don’t tell me that people on the other side of the world, in the middle of their work are going to perpetually need the guidance of office-bound engineers to whom the work is an abstraction. (In the 90’s Western idiots would say that “China will always need us to manage – they aren’t creative!” Now in 2017, some in China ask what they need American consultants for: It’s been so long since any of them have *built* anything – what do they *really* know?!)

    “Knowledge economy” leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it’s really shorthand for bean-counters and bureaucrats “administering” previously successful enterprises and functional social systems to death: 15 ‘knowledge workers’ managing for every one guy that actually knows and does the job.

  • MadRocketSci

    Because getting paid £250 for making something is better than getting paid £250 for providing a service? Why?

    Scalable vs. unscalable productivity, for one thing. If you are providing a service, you are limited by the amount of attention you can personally spare. If you are using capital to produce a product, in some cases the limitation doesn’t even apply, and you can become arbitrarily productive once you have your machines set up and your process mastered.

    Range of who you can sell to – you can only sell most services locally. Some services provide the illusion that you can render them globally (engineering, etc), but are also really local to the actual work. You can sell goods globally.

    For another thing: You can’t eat services, drive them, or otherwise use them to solve your problems. There is an upper limit to how many haircuts you will need.

    Without people producing real goods with industrial processes, no one is going to buy your services. (Or if they are, they’ll only be able to exchange services in return – real goods will be absent from the economy.)

    Frankly: There are two kinds of economy: Non-industrial economies (uncapitalized/decapitalized) in which the limits of someone’s personal labor productivity bound above how much average wealth anyone can have, and industrialized economies, which have no such limitation.

  • Watchman

    Hey, a thread where I get to pick a fight with almost everyone – brilliant!

    Paul – how is manufacturing key, if we can use knowledge to make manufacturing obselete, which is the current trend (whilst we make more stuff, we do it with less resources)? This sounds surprisingly like the old-school Corbyn supporters that plague the Guardian comments, who seem to think that manufacturing is the key and services have no value. But as value is accorded by consumers (who pay for it) not us (other than in that we consume things), then clearly services are increasingly important in relation to manufacturing.

    JGIII – non sequitur much? You can have a knowledge economy amongst Muslims you know – Dubai is developing a very big one – so I have no idea what you are talking about. And as voodoo is a separate set of religious beliefs (check it out – it is endereingly weird from a Christian point of view) then you might want to not use the term to describe Islam, as it makes you look stupid. And to use voodoo to imply nonsense might work, but how would it distinguish Islam from Christianity, which is a very similar brand of nonsense.

    Nicholas – I think the recent trend is for a drop in church attendance and allegiance, after the boost the last born-again movement produced. Also not sure how dominance of a religion makes anywhere safe: what good does it do me (as a theist through general laziness (and the hope that if God made us in his image, then there is a very powerful version of me somewhere having fun)) if any religion controls society.

    Mike Soja – I am not sure war has been declining for centuries. The rise of the state has managed to reduce violence in some forms, brigandage (which effectively includes border raiding) and strong man dominance being the most obvious examples. But the rise of the state has meant war has become more common (because it is states that fight wars, or occasionally host wars over the state, in the main) and touched more people (the World War I model – a death in Sarajevo ended up drawing in men from the arctic fringes of the American continent due to the reach of the state). I think you might be able to say organised conflict has become less common (but not less intensive), but I would point out that war was rare for most of early European history outside of the city states of the wider Greek world (guess what the key word there is?) and the fact that Rome bordered so many polities and proto-polities that war was likely to be occurring somewhere (seriously, could the Romans have designed a longer land border – perhaps dividing Britain North-South, or occupying half of Ireland?).

    Niall – cyber-war is, despite the name, not war. Organised cyber-war might lead to actual war, but how does this differ from any other organised activity (or even tolerated activity) of a state? As it is basically a modern form of intelligence (having seen Putin’s online supporters in action, I have my doubts on that word even more than usual) activity it is hardly even a new category of possible causes for war.

    Alisa – has any western democracy fought a war for territory since 1918 (arguably since 1901)? They may have fought against those seeking territory (see the Falklands, first Iraq War etc), but not set out to conquer and hold territory for themselves (the possible exception I can think of is Suez, but that was partially regime change, partially a reaction to the nationalisation of the canal and partially about access to transport links). And it is worth noting that contrary to popular expectations most medieval warfare did not result in changes of territorial boundaries (indeed, especially in the later middle ages a lot of warfare was linked to getting the right candidate in to rule an existing territory…).

  • Alisa

    Watchman, why single out Western democracies? I didn’t, nor have I singled out any other state. My point was about war as a general human phenomenon, and so your question seems to be totally beside it.

  • Watchman


    Just so you’re not left out. I think you’re confusing bureaucratic control and the concept of a knowledge economy for some reason. A knowledge economy could be bureaucratic, but speaking as a bureaucrat, how the hell would you manage it? A knowledge economy is about adding value to what exists (is manufactured), and that tends to involve innovation and risk-taking, something you’d have to be a die-hard socialist to see as a bureaucratic area (note that no university, the home of bureaucratic thinking in many respects, expects bureaucrats to do innovation – just to support it).

    A knowledge economy, just like a manufacturing economy, can have any characteristics which work (so not 100% bureaucrats, and probably not 0% either).

    As to taking from a manufacturing economy, you do realise that manufacturing is growing in all the knowledge economies (Japan, UK, Germany etc – not sure on the US as I guess the economies should be analysed at state rather than most of continent level) don’t you – but it is staying steady or falling as a share of GDP because more and more wealth is being produced in other ways. Knowledge is hardly the opponent of manufacturing, but the hand maiden.

  • Stuck-record

    Harari is well worth reading. I would suggest ‘Sapiens’ first though for an insightful overview of history.

    IMO he’s very good at seeing the forest rather than the trees. It’s very humbling to realise that one’s ‘sacred’ Humanist view of the Universe is every bit as prey to the same religious thinking as traditional religions. It helps very much in understanding the current dead-end we seem to be rushing into with SJW.

    It’s also a bit unfair to see him as a Utopian. I came away from both books with the overwhelming sense of our irrelevance in the Universe. Especially with regard to our current Liberal Humanist view of the Universe. Harari’s view is that what we have is all very clever and nice ut we shouldn’t be under any illusion that something that ‘works’ better can come along and replace our systems (or even us) at any point.

    The Universe doesn’t give a c**p about us. Most Humanists LOVE to rock this idea because it discomforts the religious but they haven’t finished the thought adequately. Harari has. There’s nothing special about Humanism. We can go the way of the Zoroastrians.

  • Alisa

    I came away from both books with the overwhelming sense of our irrelevance in the Universe.

    Well, if you thought of yourself as relevant in the Universe, then Harari was obviously useful to you 🙂

    The Universe doesn’t give a c**p about us.

    WHy should the Universe interest in me (or lack thereof) be of interest to me? This whole universe/nature vs. humans premise sounds like one big fat starw-man, at best. At worst, it strongly smacks of postmodernism, – or worse, nihilism, and as such is not useful at all.

  • Stephen K

    “I have not read any of Harari’s books – and I doubt I will, because every time I see him quoted on something or other, I feel like screaming ‘you are missing the point!’. And here we are again.”

    Very much this. I read his book Sapiens a little while ago. That’s several days and £10 I won’t be seeing again. It was very irritating – as my Amazon review says, a mixture of arrogance, naivete and hand-wringing.
    On the question of territory and war – yes, wars are usually about territory one way or another. And it is odd that the country with more territory than anyone else, viz. Russia, seems to be the one most interested in acquiring more. You’d think they had enough already.

  • Alisa

    You’d think they had enough already

    Just as with any other possessions, ‘enough’ is purely subjective – which is fine, as long as more of the same is not acquired through aggression. Unfortunately, for Russia that has rarely been the case.

  • Watchman


    Because you state that wars are “always, first and foremost” about territory, when the western democracies (those countries with the most developed knowledge economies in the main) tend to fight wars for other reasons (even if the other party are fighting for territory – both parties have to choose to fight a war and other than the Falklands I can’t see a war fought over direct invasion of a western democracy’s territory (civil wars against the inhabitants did happen a lot mind you)). So your contention, which is historically questionable anyway, is certainly not applicable now and possibly hasn’t been for the countries most of us come from for 100 years.

    Stephen K,

    How are wars about territory? The very fact that Russia is an example argues against this. Russia’s recent wars are about influence (it is not looking to get territory in Syria is it?) or nationalism (trying to bring all “Russians” into one country). Wars tend to be fought for territory but once the war is over that territory is hardly ever retained.

  • Alisa

    I am sorry, Watchman, I should have written ‘wars are always initiated over territory’ – does that help? Because even though, as you point out, there are at least two parties to a war, it takes only one party to actually start it; such party is commonly referred to as ‘the aggressor’. Now, you may want to refer to a situation where the victim of the aggression chooses not to fight back as a non-war, or peace, or something else – but the fact is that the aggressor did initiate a war, and would have had it if not for the other party refusing to play ball 😀

    Wars tend to be fought for territory

    I am glad you agree with me now…

    but once the war is over that territory is hardly ever retained.

    Once the war is over, there is no longer a war, but rather some other situation. I’ll just point out that there have been wars in history where the conquered territory was in fact retained…

  • EdMJ

    @Stuck-record – I’m partway through ‘Sapiens’ at present, and very much enjoying it (and thus looking forward to ‘Homo Deus’).

    By far the most impactful part on me so far has been the section on myth-making. For those who haven’t read it, here’s a good summary of the ideas in it:


    Of course, this leads to a fascinating result of human culture: If we collectively decide to to alter the myths, we can alter population behavior dramatically and quickly. We can decide slavery, one of the oldest institutions in human history, is no longer acceptable. We can declare monarchy an outdated form of governance. We can decide females should have the right to as much power as men, reversing the pattern of history. (Of course, we can also decide all Sapiens must worship the same religious text and devote ourselves to slaughtering the resisters.)

    There is no parallel I’m aware of in other species for these quick, large-scale shifts. General behavior patterns in dogs or fish or ants change due to a change in environment or broad genetic evolution over a period of time. Lions will never sign a Declaration of Lion Rights and decide to banish the idea of an alpha male lion; their hierarchies are rigid.

    But humans can collectively change the narrative in a period of a few years and begin acting very differently, with the same DNA and the same set of physical environments. And thus, says Harari: “The Cognitive Revolution is accordingly the point when history declared its independence from biology.” These ever shifting alliances, beliefs, myths, and ultimately, cultures, define what we call human history.

    This seems to me to cut to the core of the battle between what those of us on this blog might consider ‘good’ ideas and principles (Liberty/Freedom/Individualism/etc), and the alternatives. It’s a battle between myths, and who can get theirs adopted en masse wins. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I think we’re losing overall…

    So, how can we either tell our myths better, or, come up with better myths?

    Here’s a video of Harari going into detail in person on myths: http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/yuval-noah-harari-on-the-myths-we-need-to-survive/

  • Julie near Chicago

    Let’s give just one cheer to “the Knowledge Economy.”

    When the K.E. has succeeded in supplying our need for clothing to keep warm, for shelter from the elements, from food for nourishment, for drugs and surgical equipment to fix us when we’re busted; hence for the producers of all these, plus the equipment to make or grow them, even though that equipment might consist entirely of robots; when all these things can come into existence directly from thinking and Pontificating about the thoughts, with know one lifting a real-world finger to act on said “knowledge” without making any thing; then we will have a true Knowledge Economy.

    Producers, men and women of real-world, physical capabilities who act to make things, will always be necessary.

    Manufacturing, and growing or catching food, will always be necessary. The question, as in nearly every issue of life, is, Where is the balance-point? — in this case, between the acquisition and sharing of knowledge and the production of tangible goods that it makes possible?

    There have to be manufacturing and producing real things.

    The other is wishful thinking.


    If it ever got to the point that this was all done by non-human devices — from the inception of an idea to the finished material object — then what would humans do besides Play and Consume?

    I think we would Make. It is our nature.

    (And remember the thing about Idle Hands. What about 7 – 9 billion of them?)

  • Snorri Godhi

    My way of looking at this is quasi-Marxist.

    In the old times, land was the limiting factor of production: if a ruler/ruling class wanted more power, they had to acquire more land; hence wars of territorial expansion. (Though it is true that, in Europe, in the age of monarchies, boundaries changed more by marriage than by war.)

    What changed the picture is not the knowledge economy: it is the industrial revolution, and perhaps even more, the agricultural revolution. The latter did not just increase land productivity: it also increased labor productivity in the agricultural sector. As a result, lots of people could focus on making trinkets instead of tilling the land, and the wealth of nations could increase “vertically” rather than “horizontally”, as it had been the case until then: wealth is no longer a zero-sum game. (Except in countries with strict zoning laws, such as Britain…)

    It is a good insight, though, that war can still be worth fighting in resource-rich parts of the world, such as the Middle East and central Africa.

    Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, […].

    I suspect that Brian meant to say:
    Look at seventeenth century Germany and Britain, etc.

  • Alisa

    Both agricultural and industrial revolutions were ‘knowledge revolutions’, and so is the current technological revolution.

  • bobby b


    “Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …”

    “U.S. President Donald Trump said following his first White House meeting with NATO’s secretary general on Wednesday that the security organization “is no longer obsolete.”


  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Watchman, current attendances are much higher than they were in state-religion eras, and the churches making the most converts are the Pentacostal movements, especially in South America, and Africa. So if Europe got rid of all vestiges of Established religions, then the Churches would become more competative, and try to attract people to their churches. Europe is not the future, it is the dying exception.

  • Paul Marks

    As Brian makes clear – ideology (rather than the desire for natural resources) is the real source of most modern wars.

    Even if the “knowledge economy” was making manufacturing unimportant (it is NOT) this would still not reduce war – as war is (mostly) not for the purpose of gaining resources in the first place.

    For example Imperial Germany had no real economic interest in invading France and so on in 1914 – it did it anyway (because of the ideology that infested the German academic and political elite). And Russia has no economic interest in supporting Assad – but does so anyway.

    The Hollywood Marxism (“vulgar Marxism”) that led Jane Fonda to say that the Vietnam war was about “tin and tungsten” should be avoided.

    “Big Business” does not determine policy – and most large companies do not benefit (net) from war anyway.

  • NickM


    I quote:

    “In the 90’s Western idiots would say that “China will always need us to manage – they aren’t creative!”

    It’s “’90s”. That is the knowledge economy. knowing things is very useful. And Paul (as has been noted above) there is a strong intersection between knowing and doing. I have been mooching the ‘net for a new watch. As well as realistic options I indulged my fantasy self by looking at Jaeger-LeCoultre. Yeah, I could buy a new car for the same price as the sort of chronometer I’d want. This is interesting in terms of Brian’s post. In terms of the quantity of stuff needed to make, say, a top-end Swiss watch versus a good spec Ford Fiesta saleable at much the same price.

    You can buy (Amazon, eBay) Chinese mechanical movement watches for 20 quid (post free) but… Are they any good? Probably not. This may change.

    Until then (or a decisive win on the Euromillions) I’m sticking with my Casio (which needs a new strap) and my Omega Speedmaster (which needs servicing). Omega being the only watches worn on the Moon. Good enough for me. I like mechanical time pieces. The Casio isn’t but is solar powered which is cool.

  • Alisa

    Paul, not every ideologue (secular or religious) is eager or even willing to wage war, let alone personally engage in actual fighting; for those so willing, ideology is a mere pretext.

  • Even if the “knowledge economy” was making manufacturing unimportant (it is NOT)

    This really is your blind spot & it is weird to hear you parroting Denis Healey on this topic 😆

    Manufacturing is not unimportant, it has just become less important to the overall size of the economy it serves. Ok, so you churn out ever more teddy bears, cars and tractors. Now you need marketing, inbound and outbound logistics, futures markets, insurance etc. or the stuff you have made will just pile up somewhere. I recall Kinnock once loudly proclaiming during the Thatcher years (words to the effect) that “Under Labour we produce x amount of coal and steel!”, with x being a vast increase above then current production … and a wry Times journalist pointed out that a huge increase in UK production of coal & steel by putting already uneconomic mines and mills back to work would certainly show the UK’s competitors we where serious about extending the glorious days of the 1970’s into the indefinite future.

    In fact manufacturing is going on in the UK, but much as armies now have far more people involved with ‘tail’ rather than ‘teeth’ (and for very good reasons), a modern economy really needs the dynamic organisational infrastructure that we call a ‘service sector’ to make manufacturing work. The economic value of services are in no way less ‘real’ than cranking out widgets, and typically much less capital intensive to adjust as the market dictates than a factory.

  • Tarrou

    This may reduce the frequency of wars, but I’d predict it increases their intensity and length. If wars are not fought for material gain, they will be fought for ideology, and those are the most destructive of all.

  • NickM

    An interesting point. I dunno.

  • “Big Business” does not determine policy – and most large companies do not benefit (net) from war anyway.

    Quite so, and yet I have heard the most preposterous conspiracy theories claiming otherwise, often in the very war zones themselves where the overwhelmingly local causes are staring them in the face. This was very true during the breakup of Yugoslavia where anyone paying attention saw this was the product of a series of local cause-and-effect reactions, and not ‘Western Bankers/The Jews/CIA” or whatever. It was good old fashion ethnic nationalism, but no, not nuanced enough (western half-wit lefties) or it places blame uncomfortably close to home (for local conspiracy theorists).

  • Watchman


    I think we’re agreed – wars may often be started for territory, although I think Paul is right that the territory is often ideological capital (to come over all French Marxist philosopher) rather than a requirement for resources, but not all parties fight wars for territory (and not fighting wars is generally an option for western democracies – when was the last time the core territory of the US was threatened by an attack rather than by brigandage (which is how you have to class Mexican rebels or small bands of non-integrated Apaches) – the UK was about 1943). It’s a matter of interpretation. And a lot of wars did end up with territory conquered (most of the time Alsace for some reason), but I would suggest with decreasing frequency (so after the Seven-Years War the Dutch got a load of border fortresses, which would be replaced now by a demilitarised zone and the ability to monitor it – different technologies).

    Tarrou – the knowledge economy shorterns wars. Have you not noticed the fact that the US wins wars a lot quicker nowadays due to the fact it has much better weapons than for most of the last century, and its opponents do not have the same technological ability, as they do not have knowledge economies – a problem that even affects Russia.

  • Alisa

    I am sorry Watchman, but I find your arguments totally incoherent – although there is always a good chance that it is just me…

  • Jacob

    “the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy.”

    This is nonsense. Which economy is not “knowledge-based”? There ain’t such a thing. Whatever you do, agriculture, industry, anything – knowledge is involved. And – the end product of any economy (that is necessarily knowledge-based) is usually some material product.

    So, Harari’s claims as detailed here (I haven’t read him, probably for the same reasons as Alisa) make no sense at all.

    “war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.”
    That’s another silly observation. Wars are restricted to the primitive parts of the world, because they still don’t posses highly sophisticated and destructive weapons (nuclear).

  • Jacob

    Here is a new article by Yuval Noah Harari (though no new ideas).

    I don’t like it at all…yes, many myths fill human history, but it is facts and knowledge of reality that advances us, the myths play some role, but not the predominant one.

  • Confucious

    Back before WW1 a lot of highly educated people thought that big wars between civilized nations would no longer happen, due to their more and more interconnected economies making any big war economic MAD (phrased differently of course).
    In 1913 Germany and France were each others biggest trade partners, rather than AH being the most important trade partner for Germany and Britain or Russia for France as one might assume.
    Didn’t stop WW1 from breaking out.
    Nr 1 reason why IMO: The ruling class didn’t care how their decisions affect the lives of the entrepreneurs and their employees. Remind me, how do the ruling classes in most of the world view entrepreneurs and blue-collar private sector employees in the present day?

  • Sonny Wayze

    Stephen K:

    “And it is odd that the country with more territory than anyone else, viz. Russia, seems to be the one most interested in acquiring more. You’d think they had enough already.”