Decades ago I read an essay that stated world peace was a pipe dream, an impossible hope. The argument was that because most industrialized nations had a war-based economy, peace was a deterrent to their continued success. In a private conversation with the sitting Argentinian president U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly said something very similar, the quote being “Nothing stimulates an economy like war.”
Economist Henry Hazlitt published what he called the “broken window fallacy” in 194r in his book “Economics in One Lesson”. Hazlitt gave the example of a boy throwing a rock through a storekeeper’s front window. The broken window would cost the storekeeper an expense to repair. Let’s posit that expense would be three hundred dollars. The glazer would need supplies to make the new window so he also would spend roughly three hundred dollars with his suppliers who would need to refurbish their stock, etc. The original three hundred dollars spent by the store keeper would be imitated in each link on the supply chain also spending three hundred with their dealers, providing income and jobs for all involved.
Hazlitt summarized his broken window fallacy and the resulting conclusions, both incorrect and correct. “The logical conclusion from all this would be … that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor. The Broken Window Fallacy is enduring because of the difficulty of seeing what the shopkeeper would have done. We can see the gain that goes to the glass shop. We can see the new pane of glass in the front of the store. However, we cannot see what the shopkeeper would have done with the money if he had been allowed to keep it, precisely because he wasn’t allowed to keep it.” In other words, we never get to see what positive things might have been wrought with that same three hundred dollars.
Environmental activist David Suzuki uses an example of a corporation polluting a river instead of a broken window. Once the river is polluted, Suzuki explains that a costly program will be implemented and residents will purchase bottled water because the naturally flowing water they had depended upon is now polluted. While the grocery owner will appreciate the increase in sales of bottled water and some people might be hired to work the cleanup program, overall quality of life has suffered and the individual has lost money in his/her pocket because of the need to purchase the bottled water. Again, we would never know what programs might have used that cleanup money if the pollution had not occurred. Economic winners are always easier to track than the losers and Hazlitt proved there will always be losers in such a thought process.
Economist Mike Moffat explains the fallacy in a war-based economy using refrigerators. He asks us to imagine an army dropping refrigerators on the enemy instead of bombs. To obtain these refrigerators, they could, Mike proposed, do one of two things. Each citizen would be asked to pay one hundred dollars to purchase said appliance. That means, the citizen would lose instantly one hundred dollars of their disposable income, income they might have used to purchase life-essential items. The other option would be for the government to come into each home and remove the privately-owned refrigerator from each citizen’s house.
Moffat correctly assumed neither would be a satisfactory solution to the general population. Yet, Moffat explained, an increase in taxes to pay for war does steal money from your disposable income. The destruction of war not only takes away someone’s appliances, it destroys their entire environment and often, their families, either directly or indirectly. No war has ever been fought without destruction and death. War has come to be seen as an economic tool and yet, like the broken window, it is not.
Peace offers a much quicker and clearer path toward economic prosperity and general well-being. Monies spent on the destruction and subsequent injuries could be spent on finding cures for naturally-occurring illnesses. Instead of fighting each other, the economies of said countries could grow with stability and increased growth which would provide more trade opportunities, increased production and escalated job growth and prospects.
So what, are you thinking, does this have to do with Pokémon Go? Pokémon Go is the latest RMG – reality-based mobile game. It is a multi-player, individually played game in which imaginary characters are seen in the real world and battled then captured. Confused? Let me explain. Players use smart devices to view their surroundings. The game application then superimposes the Pokémon characters into the viewed environment. For example, you might see a character resting beside your garbage can at the end of your driveway. There might be two sitting on the curb at the local library. Some public places are designated for specific activities within the game. While you compete in the overall points competition, the game is played solo.
Many have posited that this game is getting kids off the couch and out into the real world. After all, the more you move around, the more opportunities you have to score points. Like the broken window fallacy, though, we fail to see the real picture. While these players are moving around capturing and accruing points, other things are left undone, other sights unseen, other responsibilities left undone.
What we need, I realized, is a Peace Go game. We need to recognize the points the world accrues when we do find a cure for a disease like cancer. Forty years ago people died from AIDS but today, people are living with it longer than anyone ever dreamed possible. Two years ago, an ice challenge dared people to pour ice cold water over themselves. Those who failed to take the dare paid ten dollars and many paid rather than get soaked in freezing water. Yesterday it was announce that those monies have resulted in medical breakthroughs. I know of no one who died from the ice bucket challenge but today many have a better chance to live because of it.
We need to start awarding points to those who see opportunity in ordinary living and create extraordinary living for others. We need to expand our definition of a hero to include the teacher who teaches a child how to say thank you, to the stay-at-home mother who teaches courtesy to her children, to the father who works a dull job but provides for his family. We need to realize that we all are players in the reality game application called life. The only way to really win that game is to create and support peace. Otherwise we are all losers.
We move around our environment just like that storekeeper. No one wants their home invaded or destroyed. We not only play the game, we make the rules. Will you create an effectively attractive strategy for winning today? Will you be the window breaker or someone who helps build opportunities for us all?