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Economic Disparity (Understanding Conflict)

The previous sections have covered in detail how our different beliefs can be the cause of many of our conflicts. In the following I will focus more on the area of economic disparity as a reason for conflict and the steps countries might take to reduce such conflicts.

Notwithstanding differing beliefs, in a world of economic prosperity where all countries had sufficient resources, would we have reasons to fight over territory or compete for economic supremacy? How can we work toward a world where all can find satisfaction with their level of prosperity and all can have access to education concerning the welfare of Life and Earth? Certainly if countries did not have to concern themselves over economic prosperity it would be easier for them to stay within global policies that might benefit the planet. The following will discuss the key ingredients necessary for prosperity and survival - working hard, resources, and innovation.

In order to understand what is required for the economic survival and prosperity of a country I will use a simple analogy found in nature. Take for example a wolf in the winter. Once I was watching a documentary and in order to survive each day the wolf had to eat a specific number of mice or it would die. Basically there was a trade-off between the calories the wolf would burn while hunting in the snow versus the calories it would receive from eating the mice. Now let's look at three elements that seem to affect the survival of any life form using the wolf as an example:

  1. If the wolf were in an area in the woods where there were a lot of mice, or it found a carcass of a deer, the wolf would not need to work as hard to survive. The wolf would have an abundance of "resources" and therefore not need to be innovative nor expel a lot of calories to find more mice by working hard.

  2. Given that the wolf might not have the "resources", as noted above, it would have to walk and hunt in the snow, basically "working hard". If the wolf were methodical in its hunting because it had hunted so many mice one might say it was benefiting from "economies of scale".

  3. Finally the wolf might find that, even if it did not have a lot of mice around ("lack of resources"), it might not have to work hard if it could instead be "innovative. For example, if the wolf, rather than run and chase the mice, waited behind a tree or bush as camouflage, this might be considered "innovative". One might even venture to say the wolf was using the tree as a form of technology to his advantage.

In the wolf example I wanted to convey how our survival seems to depend on either "how hard we work", "resources", or "innovation". If we have all three we are very prosperous and if we lack all three we must find the ones that are most attainable. Let's look at how these means of survival apply to countries and their economies:

  1. RESOURCES - Consider many of the Middle Eastern countries of the world. These territories have vast amounts of oil reserves that can be extracted at very low costs per barrel. They have an abundance of "resources", much the same as the wolf if it is in an area abundant with mice. Even though these countries may "work hard" and be very productive with "innovation" it is less critical for them to focus on "innovation" of new technologies or base their wealth on "working hard" given their abundance of resources.

  2. WORKING HARD - Some countries have a very strong work ethic and are extremely efficient. If a country does not have an abundance of "resources" or "innovation" (technology) its only alternative is to work hard. Take for example China and India. Many individuals in these countries live in poverty and they must work long hours during the day just so that they might barely get the things they need to survive (e.g. food and water). It is worth noting that these countries have developed significantly in the last few years and now have available to them technological "innovation" that they had not had in the past. China for example has a strong work ethic and access to the newest technological innovations giving them substantially greater prosperity and economic power than in the past. Countries like these will seek "resources" from other areas of the world to complement their productivity and innovation thereby further enhancing their prosperity. Also worth noting is that such countries have great productivity due to "economies of scale" as demonstrated in their large factories that might make millions of a single simple product.

  3. INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY - Some countries have been able to create amazing technologies that have revolutionized the world and given them a huge advantage even when they have been short of resources. For example, the U.S.A. has created inventions like the refrigerator, the telephone, and the polio vaccine. Many significant inventions were created over the last 100 years. "Innovative" technologies created by developed countries such as the U.S.A. have come to be much more available to other countries worldwide. Sharing innovative technologies that may have cost significant amounts in research and development has tended to reduce the competitive advantage that many countries like the U.S.A. have relied upon in the past. If such countries are unable to prosper based on "resources" or exhibit the "productivity" to remain competitive, they must continue to maintain themselves as "innovative" leaders in technology. As an extreme example to make the point, if the U.S.A. were able to create an antigravity car that would replace all vehicles on the planet they would have an innovation that would put them at the peak of "innovation" and maintain their position as a world leader both economically and in their ability to affect global policies. As is always the case though, technological innovations are easily copied around the world so "innovation" can be a short lived competitive advantage, especially if competing countries can produce equivalent products at a lower cost.

    Along with the shift in "innovative" technologies from developed to underdeveloped countries, education has been continuing to advance in underdeveloped countries as well, allowing them to become great technological innovators themselves. I expect over the next 20 years the shift in economic power will be very interesting and also very important. Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that the economically predominating countries will be those ones that are in the forefront of "innovative" technologies, meet worldwide standards of productivity (working hard), and have access to resources and make optimal use of them. The countries with these qualities will be the one's that set the global policies that affect Life and Earth. In addition, we now live in a world where economic prosperity is more dependent on innovation rather that just having an abundance of resources and productivity which was historically the case. Therefore countries that are the most advanced in education, especially in the sciences, will have a tremendous competitive advantage. Regardless of which countries predominate, it is my hope that the countries of the planet can connect and establish a Universal Philosophy or a set of well thought out global policies we can all live by.

Man's creation of Trade and Currency

In the preceding I have compared the things the wolf must do to survive to how countries create their economies to get what they require to survive. Unlike the wolf, the countries of the world have learned to develop "trade" to share the results of their "hard work", "innovation", and "resources". For example, the Middle East can send boatloads of oil to North America and China and, in exchange for their "resources", receive boatloads of refrigerators, tables, chairs, and food that had been constructed by combining "working hard" and "innovation". The concept of "trade" encourages countries to share because they receive something of value in exchange for their products.

Even more efficient than physically trading our goods, we have created currency. With currency the Middle Eastern countries can receive currency from China and the USA rather than receive boatloads of chairs and refrigerators in direct exchange for oil. They can then convert the currency into the goods and services that they may want at any time in the future. Human beings have been able to create a system of economics to "trade" or "share" resources which has given them an amazing advantage over other creatures. Upon doing so each country can then "specialize" and build their wealth. For example, a country like Africa with limited "resources" and "innovation" can create hand woven baskets and trade them with other areas of the world and receive currency. China can produce household products incorporating huge "economies of scale" and ship their brooms, microwaves, and televisions worldwide and receive currency in exchange. Like the wolf, each country is successful based on their level of "resources", "innovation", and "hard work", though instead they may receive their wealth in the form of currency from other countries.

Countries Accumulating Wealth

With currency and trade each country can "accumulate" the wealth from their prosperity and store it into different assets. For example, if the wolf stumbles upon a large carcass the food is available for all the wolves and each will feast until they have had all they can, but the wolf does not have the option of converting the carcass to currency and accumulating the money to buy food later. On the other hand, a country that is extremely prosperous in "resources" and "innovation" can store its surplus of wealth into an international currency like gold or bonds (lending money to other countries). Often the surplus will be invested into the military so that the country can protect its wealth from other countries that might threaten it. Other areas of investment might be in education, infrastructure, and the development of new more efficient technologies.

Countries Accumulating Debt

In the above I have discussed the concept of a country "accumulating" wealth which often might be called a surplus. Opposite to the concept of a surplus are the concepts of deficits and debt. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humankind can receive wealth from another party and promise to pay for it in the future. This has enabled some countries to experience what "appears" to be prosperity without relying on "innovation", "working hard", or "resources" for their wealth.

It was around 1950 that many economies encouraged mass credit to individuals. Many developed countries such as the U.S.A increased the availability of mortgages, credit cards, and high risk debt securities to extreme levels. Even though deficits exceeded surpluses, partly due to costs such as the Iraq War for the U.S.A., such countries continued attaining their wealth through borrowing with various debt instruments. These developed countries "appeared" to have prosperity but a great deal of the prosperity was based on borrowed money, or credit. Ultimately this caused an economic meltdown in countries like the U.S.A. spreading worldwide. Fiscal and monetary policies were implemented to help resolve the problem. It is an important lesson to remember that real prosperity for any country only exists if the essential keys to prosperity are present which are innovation, working hard, and resources. Without these elements living on credit will ultimately fail if it must be repaid. The concept of credit is a technology we have created and we must make a conscious effort to keep it in balance.

It is worth noting some of the other dynamics created from the concept of credit. During the period from 1950 to 2009 when credit in the U.S.A. and many other countries became more accessible, individuals were able to use credit to live rich lifestyles. This may have been one of the most prosperous periods ever known due to this geometric growth in the use of credit. During this period a great deal of innovation and production was made available to developing countries such as India and China. This in turn has catapulted their wealth and prosperity significantly. Essentially, a great deal of the surplus wealth and innovation generated from the boom in demand created from credit has been passed to many developing countries such as India and China. This has given these rising economies a tremendous competitive advantage since they have now gained access to innovative productive technologies and they have maintained their traditional work ethic to ensure aggressive productivity. The populations of developing countries like India, Latin America, and China represent the bulk of the world's population. Over the next few years as they continue to make use of and create innovative technologies and incorporate their aggressive work ethic we may see a tremendous shift in economic power toward them.

Should Countries Share their Wealth and Prosperity?

At this point we have seen how countries work independently of each other protecting their land within their borders. They attempt to build buoyant economies so that the inhabitants of each country can have enough wealth to enjoy healthy and happy lives. Ultimately, this can create a problem though because different countries are bound to be wealthier than others. The countries with the best combination of "working hard", "resources" and "innovation" will have the greatest advantage and be able to become the strongest and most powerful. The big question becomes, are the richer countries willing to share with the poorer ones? Does the wolf want to share its abundance of mice ("resources") with other wolves knowing they may eat all the mice? Does the wolf want to share its innovative methods of catching mice ("innovation and technology") knowing that in doing so the other wolves may be "harder workers" and use the "innovation" to eat all the mice as well? The wolf may share its resources and innovation voluntarily with its cubs but may be hesitant to share with other wolves or other animals.

Our ability to accumulate surpluses of wealth causes great disparity between countries and individuals. The capitalist system places no restriction on the wealth that an individual or corporation can earn (other than marginal tax rates). The theory may be that under the capitalist system innovation and competitiveness are encouraged because an individual is more motivated by the possibility of greater wealth. On occasion they may be philanthropic by giving some of their wealth away, but often this is only a small fraction of their total wealth. Who is to say whether individuals or countries should share their wealth by helping the more impoverished countries that may not have the "resources" or "innovation" to improve their lifestyle? Sharing of wealth between countries can indeed have benefits, just as it might be if you were to share with a neighbor, but of course you would only do so if your neighbor was appreciative and supportive. Certainly if you neighbor made your life difficult you might hesitate to help them.

Developed countries must recognize that over 75% of the rapidly growing population of the world is in developing countries like Africa and Asia and population growth in developing countries is going up and far outpacing that of developed countries. In many situations these countries do not have the "resources" or "innovative technology" that is required to have a healthy standard of living, yet they will represent the biggest population growth in the future. The developed countries that have the wealth, education, and technology have a responsibility to these developing countries to ensure that their growth and influence is in the best interests of Life and Earth. One cannot expect a farmer in the rain forests to refrain from burning wood to feed his family if he has no other option. One cannot expect a poor farmer and his wife in Africa to control the number of children they have if that is the only way they know to ensure their future survival.

The developed countries have a responsibility to the less advantaged countries of the world, but not just to feed the problems that already exist. The developed countries must "invest" in the developing countries. I use the word "invest" because the contribution of wealth to developing countries must be done clearly specifying that certain actions must be carried out in return, just as you might expect from a good neighbor. Basically the impoverished should be offered resources, technology, medicine, and education but in exchange they must fall within specific global policies such as living within humanitarian laws (e.g. slave labour or abuse), respecting global laws regarding the welfare of the environment, improving education on birth control, and so on. All efforts are with the intent of improving the living standards of developing countries but with the stipulation that they would also fall within certain "global policies" agreed upon by an organization such as the United Nations. This would assume the policies of the UN actually reflected the policies agreed upon by the influential developed countries of the world. Hopefully these efforts would help developing countries to become self-sufficient, encourage them to create a balanced population based on resources available, and encourage them to work within global policies - A Universal Philosophy in the interest of Life and Earth.

Developed countries assisting developing countries with education and development makes sense because disparity leads to conflict. If the education of a Universal Philosophy can encompass the countries of the world, whether developing or developed, while still allowing for cultural differences, it will significantly reduce the possibility of conflicts between countries. This is to the benefit of all. For example, as our technological side effects continue to become more complex, developing countries with their large populations will have a significant impact on resource consumption, waste and pollution, and risk that destructive powers might become more available in their regions. If developed countries can work with them and at the same time direct their behavior toward global interests it will be a good investment in the long run. I can't stress more though that any assistance to developing countries must take into account that they will follow strict guidelines. It is hard to motivate anyone to offer help and technology to someone only to find that later they will use it against them. This is not so unlike the master who teaches the student all his secrets then the student uses them against the master.

Some might suggest that we can ignore the problems of developing countries and they will work it out. For example, if there were a dispute in countries within Africa they could just sort it out. After all, 100's of years ago many developed countries would never even have been aware of their problems given the lack of communication technology.

This argument may have worked in the past but we cannot just brush off these problems because they affect all of us on this increasingly small and fragile planet. In addition, it is not so much about now as in the future. What if two countries had weapons such as deadly viruses that if released would not only affect them but the entire world. If a day like that does come we will all wish we had worked harder at working together and resolving conflicts before they escalated. We must think outside of the box. We must think ahead and imagine, if we combine the probable conflicts that may occur between countries today with the more devastating side effects of the technologies that may come available in the near future, what will be the potential impact on Life and Earth?

Developed Countries Must Work Together First - The Problem of Conflicting Economic Interests

Ultimately, in order to bring developing countries under global policies, developed countries must first learn to work together. One developed country cannot be expected to be responsible for implementing all the changes to the developing countries while other developed countries ignore the problem and continue to build their wealth and economies. We are all affected by global warming, overpopulation, and other damage to the Earth and we must all agree to work together on this.

Consider the following example to show how difficult it is to get two countries to work together. Assume there are two developed countries, A and B, both that create a product. In this example we will say "running shoes". Country A has very specific guidelines, which might be that the factories must meet specific pollution standards and that the workers are treated in humanitarian ways (full coffee breaks, good health standards, etc.). The shoes cost $5.00 to make. Country B makes a similar shoe but they have no pollution standards for their factories. They pollute rivers and the air, which affects everyone globally. In addition they use slave labour costing them a bare minimum, conflicting with internationally agreed human rights. The product costs $2.00 to make. Now most consumers, unaware of the circumstances under which shoes from Country A or B are made, will naturally all buy the $2.00 shoe. Even most consumers in country A will import the shoe from country B rather than buy their locally made one for $5.00.

As can be seen from the preceding situation there are conflicting economic interests in each country that overshadow the interests of global pollution control and international humanitarian concerns. It is very difficult to implement global policies unless all countries are willing to support them. This example just shows that there is really only one way for the developed countries to agree and take responsibility. The developed countries must ALL be willing to make compromises even if there are some significant costs.

The World as One

Working together is a choice we have to make ourselves and it will only happen when we realize that aggressively supporting and implementing global policies now is to all our benefit in the future. Ultimately, as difficult as it is to imagine or even consider, given all the differences we have between countries such as religion, economic disparity, and cultural differences, the world might be better off operating as one country. This would not be necessary if the side effects of our technologies and those to come were not affecting Life and Earth on a global level, but they do.

In order to envision the concept of the world as one, I sometimes think of countries like Switzerland, Norway, or Denmark. Though not perfect, within their borders issues are handled with a social system so that disparity is minimized, the environment is cared for, and economic growth is encouraged. One does not find nuclear arms pointed at their neighbors and technology is pursued and placed in a careful and organized fashion. Conflict is minimized. If countries can work within their borders like this then we should be able to work toward a similar model on a world level. In order to achieve this ALL countries must work together as if they were one country.

In the past, the concept of world unity where the world acted as one Nation was a dream for idealists. Now, given our unfolding technologies, it may become an absolute necessity for our survival.

I believe there is a time issue at hand and it will be very interesting to see how the countries of our world can learn to work together toward a Universal Philosophy. We must learn to work together as one and bypass our differences or, while the sands of time go by, the increasingly dangerous side effects from future technologies will unfold before us and become available to all countries regardless of their differing beliefs and economic interests.

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