Mythology and Economics of War


Money is stored energy

Money chases desire.

Desire is informed by myths.

Ergo: myth governs the flow of money..

My method is pure perversity.

To understand economics, I will begin with mythology.

To understand peace I will begin with war.

I approach my subject from the rear because any frontal assault on the idea of the economics of peace is bound to down in a swamp of vagueness and obscurity. I will skirt this quicksand that defends the Maginot line of thinking about peace and attack my subject from the firmer ground of the mythology and economics of the warfare system. Bear with me—the long way round will prove to be the short way home.

I. The Nature and Function of Myth

Like computers we are hardwired at birth by our DNA. But the moment we are born our parents and peers insert software disks into our minds. In the strong sense of the word, myth refers to the cultural software that informs our minds and actions. Many other words might serve as well:   the cultural DNA, the unifying vision, the paradigm, the world view that in-form a society. Or what Richard Dawkins called the memes—the self replicating cultural ideas, symbols or practices that are transmited from one mind to another through speech, gestures, and rituals.

I prefer to stick to the old rough and ready notion of myth. The organizing myth of a culture provides a overarching structure, a narrative that ties together a panoply of heroes and villains, and images of the good life that gives us a sense of coherence. It govern our notions of gender our choice of enemies and allies. And, of course, our economic priorities.

In  times of great historical change new myths emerge slowly from the experience of a community. They are not simply made up. For instance. The mythology of hunters and gatherers was gradually replaced by the myth of the goddess and the practice of agriculture. Later, the evolving experience of scientific modes of thinking and the industrial revolution gave birth to the myth of progress.

The dominant myths that inform modern consciousness and culture are —-the ancient myth of war, the myth of progress born with the industrial and driven by science and technology, and the more recent myth of a global economic order driven by markets and corporations. These are reflected in the images by which we define ourselves—-homo sapiens, homo faber, homo economicus, homo furens, or home hostilis

When we live under the spell of a myth the view of the world it presents seems reasonable and inevitable. Every mythic system proclaims as Margaret Thatcher famously said: TINA (There Is No Alternative). Think of the airtight myth of any true believer–Fundamentalist Christian, Muslim, nationalist, Capitalist or Marxist.

I have said that every overarching myth provides us with a sense of coherence—an imaginative whole into which to fit the pieces of experience. But—here is the catch. The coherence is false. Myth achieves coherence by ignoring all that does not fit into its idealized picture. Every mythic system suffers from a repression of what Jung called its shadow Myths, like icebergs, exist largely beneath the surface of awareness.  In the degree that we give our unquestioning assent to any myth we are sleepwalkers, our actions are determined by unconscious assumptions and emotions. Like the fish that does not know it swims in water, the true believer does not know he or she is  informed by a myth. In the degree that we are animated and captivated by any myth we are blind to alternatives, costs and neglected opportunities.

II The Myth of War

The mythology of warfare is easy to understand.

There is very little we do not understand about the perennial myth that undergirds the warfare system. In my book and PBS documentary Faces of the Enemy, and in subsequent lectures, I explore in detail how we create an enemy, a warrior psyche and propaganda that heighten our sense of threat and justifies endless military expenditures. There is nothing more stable or less mysterious than the mythology that supports the warfare system. From the beginning of recorded history it has been the same old story: Us vs Them, good vs. evil, the people of god vs infidels.

The warfare system is perpetuated by an unconscious agreement—-every time a government announces an increase in the threat level from the activities of the designed “Enemy” an increase in the military budget is approved by congress. Increase the level of fear and perceived threat and the military is issued a blank check—-(no matter that the Pentagon itself estimates that the threat of climate change is more a threat to the US than Al Quaeda). Notice, no one has ever done a cost analysis of the war in Vietnam or the invasion of Iraq in terms of the increase in our national security vs. what the increase would have been had we invested a comparable amount in clinics, hospitals, agricultural missions, entrepreneurial stimulation,…etc. The mythology of the warfare system prevents us from even asking such questions.

III The Economics of War

The  economics of the warfare system are systematically and cynically wrapped in ideology, misinformation, propaganda and downright lies. Studies in the costs of war are largely an exercise in creating questionable statistics based on even more questionable assumptions. At best they are “scientific wild-ass guesses( SWAG) that count only what can be counted.


US Military Budget for 2009 —-620 billion.

Not included:  Dept  of Energy- nuclear energy research, Veterans affairs, pensions and payments to families, Homeland security, Black budget that isn’t listed. Interest on debt from past wars. Or the nearly 900 billion and counting dollars of special appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The best guess of the true cost of our annual military expenditures is l. trillion dollars. And this does not count the cost of repair of infrastructure of Iraq, to say nothing of compensating innocent civilians for collateral damage and innocent lives destroyed.

(By contrast: UN budget 27 billion peacekeeping budget 6.8 billion ( 2007-8   1/2 of cigarettes in Europe))

Global military spending is over $1.46 trillion a year.

( US share is 41% of world spending (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)  But, if  US military spending is anywhere near 1 trillion the numbers don’t at up)

In addition;

2.4 trillion goes to industries that create or manage violence

4./8 trillion is lost from economic activity suppressed through violence





7.2 trillion per year—The grand total

And what other costs we have not tally up? Who is to pay for the destruction of environment and physical infrastructure in Iraq, the deaths of 185,000  +++ civilians and the millions of refugees—the predictable “collateral damage” of a policy of Shock and Awe? W. Kip Viscusi at Harvard Law School estimates the value of one blue-collar male worker in 2000 to be $7.5 million. How much is a Mother worth? A child? Who pays for the loss?

Left totally off the books are the horrific consequences of mass slaughter that endures for generations. Go to the Vietnam memorial wall and you will witness the ongoing pain of one small war that cannot be counted in numbers. And what economic measures could we use to calculate the death of six million Jews (or was it 5 million + a million more or less Gypsies and Homosexuals), a million or so Vietnamese. Or, what about three or 4 million in the Congo. who don’t count very much because they are in Africa. Hitler got this right: “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic.” Or if we want to keep to the hard line numbers–the bottom line. How much in trade have we lost by boycotting Cuba or North Korea?

We are so easily bewitched by numbers especially when there is a systematic efforts to hide the real costs of war. Maybe the best we can conclude is that our unquestioned adherence to the myth of war and the escalating cost and efficiency of weapons of mass destruction is rapidly impoverishing our ecosystem and our global economy. And, should we deconstruct the warfare system, we would have an unbelievable amount of money and energy available to invest in peace—if we could figure out what that means.

IV. The Mythology of Peace.

First, the bad news.

Currently it is impossible to calculate the economics of peace because we have neither a coherent myth of peace to guide us nor any hard economic facts. The notion of peace suffers from vague thinking, sentimental emotions and questionable assumptions The quest for peace is like a blind man taking a long journey through a dark land without a map or a clear idea of the goal of the journey.

The problem begins with the definition. “Peace” is most often defined as the absence of war, violence or destructive conflict (GPI—Institute for Economics and Peace) or by freedom from disturbance. Sometimes fairness, decency, tranquility, serenity, equanimity and harmony, elements of “positive peace” are added to the definition to make it more cuddly.

Years ago, after I had done the book and film Faces of the Enemy I decided I would do a parallel work onImages of Peace. After a week or two I gave up. The iconography of peace was filled with children holding hands, multicolored figures dancing in circles, dove and garlands and lambs lying down with lions. None of them stir the cockles of my imagination or heart. None were as powerful as faces of the enemy. In fact, they tempted me to believe that the hope for peace is naive at best and dangerous for lambs at worst. Alas, the rhetoric of peace trails off into vagueness, sentimentality and/or utopian thinking.

We do not now, nor have we ever, had a robust narrative of peace, a nation committed to its practice or an economic vision of what it would require. Amorphous ideas of peace cannot generate a community, a mythology or a consistent economic vision. We cannot create an organizing myth based on an absence, or gather a community committed to a negative vision. ( Even the recently Global Peace Index compiled by theInstitute for Economics and Peace is in reality a catalogue of conditions indicating the probability of violence. It is based on the assumption that absent these factors a nation is peaceful. )

I suggest we practice what I call “linguistic asceticism. For a time, let’s declare a moratorium and refrain from using the word ‘peace’ until we can determine what it means. I believe such restraint might force us to think more clearly.

The  Emerging New Myth

Now for the good news.

My Dear We Live in an Age of Transition

Something’s dying.

Something’s being born.

Just beneath the surface of our global crisis a new myth is slowly emerging, a story that gives both positive content and a consistent economic imperative to the ancient longing for justice. As Nietzsche said: From chaos comes a dancing star.

For the first time in human history a global community rooted in an ecological imperative is coming into being. Its credo: “ We hold these truths to be self evident– All sentient beings are bound together in a single ecological, political and economic commonwealth in which we will either prosper or decline together. One world, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. This new ecologically based myth is gathering strength because there is no alternative if we want to prevail and prosper in the 21st century.

TINA because the great problems, the nightmares, of the 21s century   —ecocide, climate change, militarism, poverty, population explosion—are global in nature, and so must the solutions be.

TINA because the escalation of military spending and the creation of yet more deadly weapons of mass destructions renders the ancient myth and habit of warfare obsolete.

TINA because a global order organized around corporate economics is unsustainable.

TINA because the earth simply cannot sustain a rapidly expanding population all of whom long for endless consumer goods. For three centuries we have neglected to acknowledge that the myth of progress in its technological and economic versions excludes the majority of inhabitants of this planet.

TINA because the emergence of the myth of homo ecologicus is historically inevitable because it emerges from shadow side of the myths of homo faber, homo furens and homo economicus.  Thanks to our global crisis we are experiencing what Freud called a return of the repressed. The neglected reality of human existence has returned to haunt us. We human beings are still graced, limited and defined by our participation in a cosmic ecological order. We belong to the humus, the earth. TINA

The New Myth: The Commonwealth of Sentient Being

The emerging myth of The Commonwealth of All Sentient Beings involves a revolution in our psyche, polis, religion, world view and economics that is, if anything, more radical than the transition from hunting to planting, or planting to manufacturing. It is opposed to both the myth and economics of the warfare system and global corporate capitalism. It is universal rather than national and rooted in a story and institutions of governance that reflect the needs and rights of the majority of all sentient beings. It is, thus, cosmocentric rather than anthropocentric, It defines humans as cosmopolitan beings—homo ecologicus.

The driving force of the Commonwealth, its purpose and charter, is the struggle to fulfill the ancient dream– to create liberty and justice for all. Not peace but justice. From the time of Amos and the Hebrew prophets, of Socrates and the Greek philosophers, our experiments with democratic government have been based on the idea of justice. The great epic that sets Western culture apart is as much the story of an evolving communal quest for greater justice as it is the story of the lonely quest of the individual  Joseph Campbell called the “hero with a thousand faces.” Generation after generation the body-politic has steadily, if reluctantly and stumblingly, yielded to the pressure from the dispossessed and edged toward greater justice for all. Gradually, the non-persons who have been denied political rights since the time of the Greeks–slaves, women, children, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities– have been enfranchised.

This ancient, evolving but unfulfilled, vision of justice for all offers the organizing paradigm and vocation for the 21st century, the only possible foundation for an enduring global community.  A heroic effort to enact ecological justice, political justice, and economic justice is the only communal crusade that could result in a relatively peaceful world by the end of this century.

My suggestion is that we replace the Global Peace Index with a Universal Justice Index organized under three categories– ecological, political, and economic justice.

This will force us to cease asking the wrong question–What is the economics of peace?—and turn to the right question—What is the economics of justice…..

Ecological Justice.

We begin with ecological justice because our contemporary crisis is the result of a modern ideology that placed economic rights first, political rights second and ecological rights a distant third.

Of all forms of justice, ecological justice is the easiest to conceptualize and the most difficult to imagine achieving in a world suffering both from overpopulation and an economic system based on the self-interest of corporations. Our quest for justice needs to begin with the non-human members of our commonwealth because they are absolutely powerless, while the human poor are only relatively powerless. Those suffering most from ecological injustice –the myriad non-human species and the unborn—lack sufficient advocates and political power to protect their rights.

The principles of ecological justice are:

1. Each living being has the right to a share of the natural endowment of the land, water and air that is necessary to sustain life. You shall not steal from your neighbors.

You shall not exceed your allotted ecological footprint. Currently, scientists estimate that the carrying capacity of earth would allow our present population an ecological footprint of l.7 hectares per person with .3 set aside for non-human species. At present, the average ecological footprint is 2.8 hectares, which is “40% larger than the available space necessary for producing food, fuel and forestry products on a sustainable basis. The per capita ecological footprint in the United States is 10.3.)

2. Persons yet unborn have the same right to an equal share of the natural endowment as those now living. You shall not steal from future generations by squandering limited resources.

3. Non-human beings have a right to an environment necessary to sustain life. You shall not steal  from any other sentient inhabitants of the commonwealth. (What does this tell us about the preservation of wilderness and the extinction of species?)

4. No species has the right to exponential growth. Clearly, we must live within the limits of our resources or the entire community of living beings will suffer. You shall not steal from other species. (An old Gary Larsen cartoon showing two deer in a forest gets as the heart of the matter. One deer says to the other “ Why can’t they thin their own goddamn herds? The ecological problem is the population problem.)

Economic of Ecological Justice

To put teeth in the quest for ecological justice we need an International Court of Ecological Justice with the power to monitor abuse and overuse of natural resources by nations and corporations and assess fines forcrimes against nature. We need an absolute standard that makes it a crime against the common good for any nation to exceed its allotted ecological footprint.

We need an International Court for Non-Human Rights. Trees, birds and wolves have standing and must have advocates to can speak for them.

We need an immediate massive bailout, investments in the environment on the scale previously devoted only to military spending–trillions of dollars a year– to invent non polluting technologies, reverse global warming, recreate healthy air and watersheds, manage our forests, clean up our oceans and farm lands and limit the growth of our population. ( Time 10/19/09. 10 trillion Estimated investment in green technology needed to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030— ie. 1/2 of military budget.  Or. NYT 10/15/09  100 billion a  year by 2020  to help developing countries to get clean technologies)  We need to phase out a major portion of our military budget and devote the savings to waging peace by land reform, supporting small scale farmers and entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Industrial nations who use a disproportionate amount of the carrying capacity of the earth —raw materials, land, water, air, carbon emission— should be required to pay for their past plundering of the ecological commons and prevented from future ecological irresponsibility. The strategy for controlling carbon emissions should not be cap and trade but “Just say No.!

The global development process has ignored landless laborers, sharecroppers, and marginal farmers who constitute the majority of the rural residents of the world. If we retain the system that allows the majority of land and natural resources to be owned by a wealthy class of absentee landlords and deny access to the land to the poor we force rural populations to migrate to already overcrowded cities  (Which need to be greened…80% of produce in WWII in the US was grown in Victory gardens.)   Without access to land, we cannot have economic justice. To create a sustainable ecological practice much of our economy needs to be re-ruralized and localized and be supplementary by community currencies, such as those advocated by Bernard Lietaer. Heifer International has the right idea. They will be glad to stay down on the farm after they have seen Calcutta.

Universal Political Justice

The principles of Universal Political Justice look like this:

1. To be a member of a community is to be entitled to an equal share in the commons–rights, privileges, responsibilities, and resources.

2. In a globalized world order what effects one country effects all countries; therefore, a Universal Bill of Civil Rights for all citizens is a hygienic requirement for a healthy commonwealth. You can’t have massive abuse of civil rights in Zimbabwe, Darfur, or Tibet without having an effect on South Africa, the United States, or Germany.

At this stage in world history, the United States Bill of

Rights probably gives us the most realistic list of the rights necessary for living in a political community, and provides a minimal standard against which to measure the progress or regress of nations. (The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is more a wish list than a realistic political standard, proposing as it does that everyone has the right to a job and a paid vacation.) This minimal standard spells out the basic rights that are necessary to live within a political community. They are, in short, the sine-qua non of the social contract which ought to be guaranteed to all citizens by the global community.

3. Civil rights cannot be maintained without institutions to enforce them. An emerging universal community requires nations to surrender a larger measure of their sovereignty to institutions of transnational governance.  Global law needs to be expanded beyond that governing the relationships to nations to apply to individual civil rights and rights of non-human beings.

We need an effective International Police Force with the power to intervene and put an end to abuse of civil rights,  ethnic wars, genocide and flagrant genocidal wars and environmental destruction. Currently the United Nation’s peace keeping forces are too few, too constrained from using significant force to manage conflict between nations or ethnic groups.  Clearly, in genocides in progress, as in Rwanda, we need highly trained and mobile special forces able to deadly force when necessary.

The cause of global law has recently taken two giant steps forward.

A first step came with  the arrest of General Augusto Pinochle in 1998 in London by British police acting on a Spanish warrant charging him with human rights crimes—torture, murder, disappearances–during his 17 year dictatorship  in Chile. This has given rise to a new principle of “universal jurisdiction” in international law that asserts that any nation may prosecute crimes against humanity that are breaches of the Geneva Convention or the UN Convention against Torture no matter where these crimes were committed.

A second step came in 2002 when an International Criminal Court with the authority to deal with cases of genocide and crimes against humanity moved from dream to reality as it was ratified by more than 80 nations. Unfortunately, for the cause of global justice, the United States is bucking the trend and undercutting the efforts of other countries to strengthen the international rule of law by its refusal to submit itself to the World Court at the Hague or the International Criminal Court, by violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and by revoking the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

A next step would be the establishment of an International Court of Torts that would render legally binding judgments for monetary damages against corporations and nations responsible for destruction of civilian property and the loss of life (due to “collateral damage) in war. If the right to compensation for the destruction of private property and injury to civilians was established in international law, it would go a long way toward making war to expensive to wage.

A step in this direction. Plaintiff diplomacy–currently being negotiated by 45 countries in The Hague as the Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters– is giving citizens access to domestic courts to sue defendants living abroad for damages from torture or illegal seizure of property, or to sue corporations such as Texaco for dumping toxic waste in Ecuador or Del Monte for undermining the health of Nicaraguan plantation workers.

Universal Economic Justice.

The principles of universal economic justice are:.

1.Traditional theories of distributive justice have applied only within the limits of national borders. But we live in an increasingly globalized world. Ergo, we require a theory of global justice to deal with the catastrophic gap in wealth between the minority of rich nations and the majority of poor.

2.A global economy depends on the joint action of suppliers of raw material, producers and consumers, on a web of social interdependence that entails mutual obligation and duty.

Therefore: The community owns the economy, not vice versa. As the word suggests, we all are entitled to a share of wealth. The goods and services created by a global economy must be redistributed.

How? What do the wealthy owe to the two billion men, women, and children who live on less than $2 per day?  What is implicitly owed to any individual who is forced by the need to survive to abandon village life to work in cities such as Calcutta or Sao Paul?

Extrapolating from the democratic principle, “no taxation without representation” leads us to “no globalization without representation.” Anyone who is forced into the global economic system has the right to participate in its decisions. And, in the kingdom of economics, representation means having money to spend.

The principle that a universal right to a reasonable amount of money is conferred on all citizens of the global economic system leads to questions that make the average CEO squirm and point to the need for a radical revision of the global economy. What do global corporations owe to global citizens? What percentage of the profits of any private corporation is owed to the public?  What is a fair level of profit for a corporation? What is an unjust level? At what point should there be a cap on profits distributed to executives and stockholders and the surplus given to the least advantaged members of the global economic community.

3.Economic justice requires that we create an International Court of Global Justice based on a new system of social and economic accounting that acknowledges the ways in which the prosperity of the winners in the global economy is dependent on the hidden costs of Industrial production that have been paid by those who have little stake in the profits. Such an accounting system would demonstrate that the moral, social and ecological debt owed by the prosperous far outweighs the financial debt owed by the poor and would lead tocancellation of much of the debt of the developing countries.

Corporations such as Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb. Monsanto and others should pay a fair  amount for their appropriation of crops, plants and seeds developed by indigenous peoples and for the knowledge gleaned from native healers about medicinal herbs–an estimated value to the pharmaceutical companies alone of  $30 billion per year  ( see http:/ Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice)

Multinational corporations should pay for the minerals and forest products and compensate communities for the deforestation and degradation of land used for export agriculture and for the destruction of native habitat from petroleum extraction.

4.A just economic order depends on reinvesting a major part of our military budget in a new war against poverty, a new Marshall Plan that would substantially reduce poverty and unnecessary suffering. To quote George Marshall: It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health to the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace. Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.

The major consequence of establishing economic justice would be an enormous increase in the funding of the United Nations, the transfer of a substantial portion of national military budgets to international peace keeping organizations.  Current funding of the UN is a kiss in the dark– $27 billion per year of which $6.8 billion is for the peacekeeping budget.  This represents 1.8% of world’s military expenditures and about half of what is spent per year in Europe for cigarettes.

Fully funding the UN Millennium Development Goals( 0.7% of GNP by  2015) is a necessary but not sufficient condition for establishing economic justice.

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2: Achieve universal primary education

3: Promote gender equality and empower women

4: Reduce child mortality

5: Improve maternal health

6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

7: Ensure environmental sustainability

8: Develop a global partnership for development.

To get an idea of the radical changes that are possible absent a warfare system look at Bhutan which is well on the way  to achieving the  MDG’ and the GNH –Gross National Happiness Goals.

5.To secure greater justice for all we need to refocus economics back to its original meaning– the art of managing a household. Strictly speaking, “global” economics is an oxymoron. Economists would do well to begin thinking of themselves as enablers of households. Move away from our obsession with Gross National Product and toward the ideal of Gross Communal Well Being.

Economic policy needs to promote small-scale local solutions that pay special attention to the rights of women and rural communities. Micro-loan programs, such as those begun by the Grameen bank in Bangladesh, have created a generation of small entrepreneurs and have advanced gender equality. To keep the rural poor from flocking to the even poorer cities, most third world counties need to abandon their current emphasis on export-driven agriculture and promote sustainable agricultural development in order to feed local populations. Greater justice demands the protection of local industry and the integrity of village life based on community control of the inflow and outflow of capital. Create local currencies. Conversion to sustainable goods. We need to levy heavy taxes on trading of currencies—i.e. non productive assets.


The myth I invoke of a Universal Commonwealth based on justice— the harmony of the whole–is radical, and many would say Utopian and impossible in the “real world”

Indeed, it is if we look at the world through the eyes of homo furens and homo economicus.
But it is more like visionary realism if we see that there is no other alternative that will allow us to survive another tumultuous century.

In the eons it has taken for the conditions of life on this planet to evolve and for the human species to emerge it has come to this. It is our moment to decide whether this great adventure ends in self-destruction or takes the next leap and becomes a self-conscious commonwealth.

The challenge facing us is both moral and

Spiritual. The ideal of a just economy based on sharing our bounty with our neighbors calls us to recognize the sacredness of all who are our kin and kindred—human and non-human. There can be no possibility of moving toward global justice without the traditional spiritual virtues of wisdom, compassion and generosity.

Finely, let me say a word in favor of war. Beating swords into ploughshares will not bring justice. Marx taught us that the powerful never voluntarily surrender their power. In any foreseeable future, those who love justice will need to struggle against the objective evils that threaten our commonwealth. Perhaps, we are at the beginning of a new 100 year war against poverty, pollution, overpopulation, war—the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And our odds of winning are no better than 50%. Nevertheless, this struggle is our duty, our vocation and our honor.


“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”

Reinhold Niebuhr