Saturday, December 27, 2014

Modern War

This is Joseph.

Paul Krugman:
Angell’s case was simple: Plunder isn’t what it used to be. You can’t treat a modern society the way ancient Rome treated a conquered province without destroying the very wealth you’re trying to seize. And meanwhile, war or the threat of war, by disrupting trade and financial connections, inflicts large costs over and above the direct expense of maintaining and deploying armies. War makes you poorer and weaker, even if you win.
I think that this insight is something we should think about a lot more.  In the modern and interconnected economy, even the peaceful absorption of a state (think East and West Germany) can be fraught with difficulty.

Once imperialism looks cost ineffective, it really does change the best ways to deal with opponents.  It's no longer the case that Alsace-Lorraine is really what we want to be fighting for -- instead it is the human capital where a lot of the value lies and it is hard to loot that.  This is not to say that resources are not a good thing (the resource curse can be over-rated) but that they are no longer the sole thing that drives a states economic power. 

This is likely to be a good development, in the long run. 

1 comment:

  1. The general thrust of the piece is correct but the reference to Rome is dead wrong. The Romans didn't plunder resources and/or convert the people and production into a sort of "lebensraum" factory. The Romans built Romans. They developed their colonies, made them prosperous, encouraged their trade, encouraged and built cities, encouraged investment.

    Some ancient empires did this. Athens did with its colonies in Italy, though on a smaller scale. Rome is the only great example in the West of an Empire that sought to make its people Roman, that sought to integrate them into the Roman fabric.

    Most places were glad for it. Southern Gaul became so Roman they still call it Provence. Britain was happily Roman. The barbarians who wrecked things were the bad guys, not the Romans.

    The wars with the Jews, for example, weren't about conquest but about Roman assertion of Roman values - particularly Roman civic "Gods", which are hard to understand today. The Jews didn't want to be Romanized but they were very happy to be Romans, at least outside of the zealots in Judaea. Estimates are 10% of the Eastern Empire was Jewish, with higher numbers in the cities. I've always found it interesting that Rome itself was perhaps 10% Jewish when Titus destroyed Jerusalem, meaning there were Jews watching the parade we see on the grand Arch.