Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Price vs. Power

Matt Yglesias brings up this point:
The hawks warning us to be afraid, be very afraid of China are never very clear as to what we're supposed to be afraid China will do. Conquer Thailand? But what would that accomplish? In fact, it would accomplish nothing.

[John] Gray goes on to make the traditional counterpoint, which is that those who've predicted that wars won't happen simply because wars don't make rational sense in the context of integrated market economies have been proven wrong in the past. People don't always do what makes sense.
I always just (perhaps naively) assumed that these two different views stem from the different worldviews of political scientists and economists. Or, to be glib about it, whether you think that it is power or price that is the ultimate underlying fact of human relations. Of course there's a little of each, though I lean strongly towards the price side. "Power" has always struck me as a strongly ambiguous concept. Which one does it make more sense to focus on?
Nevertheless, fatalistic pessimism strikes me as unwarranted. People -- even governments -- often do do what makes sense. Traditional wars between states have become mercifully rare. Faced with the rise of new powers in Asia, our first instinct should be to try and ensure that everyone recognizes that nobody would gain from conflict. Assuming that conflict is inevitable only ensures that predictions of conflict will come true.

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