What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace, War & Economics?

You’re in a grocery store and shopping for dinner tonight. On your left is that delicious tikka masala marinade you’ve been hearing so much about, and on your right is a rocket-propelled grenade. No, you heard me correctly – there is military-grade artillery at your neighborhood supermarket, because in truth there is little to no economic difference between how a jar of marinade and an RPG are created and consumed.

You learn it on the first day of Economics 101: when there’s a demand, supply rises to meet it. To achieve a higher supply, you need higher production – and higher production means more jobs and more paychecks to more workers. Thus the money flows – from consumers to producers to workers, who in turn start consuming. It makes so much sense, and so it applies across the capitalistic board, from tikka masala to high-caliber weapons. In fact, it’s unthinkable that any manufacturer would mass-produce a product that people don’t want to buy (or in other words, that has no demand).

But let’s go back to that supermarket – which do you want to buy, the marinade or the grenade?

Granted, we all have different needs – while the everyday person is more likely to buy food, clothes, and commodities to meet his or her everyday demands, armies might be more likely to buy weapons to meet theirs. So munitions companies hire workers to manufacture the current demand – everything from bulletproof vests to aircraft carriers – and money begins its healthy flow. The army is equipped. Workers get paid. Money-grabbing politicians and shadowy ‘private contractors’ get paid. And everyone is happy.

Well, almost everyone. Because if you stop to think about it, where are all those munitions going? Those guns and bombs and chemicals – and why did we make bulletproof vests in the first place? What happens to these things?

The morning newspaper will tell you. Those clever munitions find themselves buried inside people, scattered across cities, and seeping into well water. How and why they got there precisely, maybe that’s a different story. But the fact that our economic system runs full steam to put them there, that’s the real problem.

Because here’s the thing: for every job that the war industry creates in manufacturing, there is someone – a soldier, civilian, family member, or friend – suffering and dying as a casualty of war. It’s not a question of picking jobs over lives or vice-versa – it’s about having our tikka masala and eating it too. It’s about figuring out ways to make money and employ people for tasks that don’t inevitably end in death and heartbreak.

How about building schools instead of missiles? Making clean water accessible instead of poisoning it? Developing new, safe, and efficient forms of energy instead of squabbling over resources? Empowering people with education and understanding instead of guns and hand grenades? The solutions are endless and they’re out there – it just takes some rethinking.

War may be in vogue, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only thing on the shelf – and thanks to our economic system, what isn’t purchased isn’t wanted, and what isn’t wanted isn’t made. Try to imagine a different product worth buying – one that puts peace at the forefront.

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