On Consumerism: The Myth of the “Peace Dividend” | Weekend magazine


By Arthur Vidro

As ugly or chaotic as our departure from Afghanistan may be, and however much damage may be done to the Afghan people, we are leaving and this war is coming to an end. I am not here to discuss its benefits or results. I’m here to look into money matters.

In the August 21 edition of that newspaper, an opinion piece on the editorial page discussed the money the United States had spent on its 20-year stay in Afghanistan. Calculating these numbers is more art than science, but the columnist gave an estimate that our nation will now save $ 70 billion a year. These savings – the result of funds not spent on hostilities or military training or preparation or logistics or materials in Afghanistan – are known as the “peace dividend.”

I do not dispute the author’s guess or preference for how that money could be better spent each year.

But I don’t think the peace dividend exists.

The term “peace dividend” first caught my eye in early 1990. I worked for a weekly trade newspaper. The term was in the news because our nation’s main enemy at the time – the old Soviet Union – was disintegrating into its bits and pieces. East Germany and West Germany negotiated terms for their reunification, and the Soviet Union – although it still existed – allowed them!

In short, the Cold War was coming to an end. Little by little the iron curtain was drawn back.

Wow, thought many writers. With all the money no longer needed for the Cold War, think about what other areas could benefit from it! Let’s put the money into education! Medical research! The social system! Environmental remediation! Health insurance for everyone! There is no shortage of worthy reasons. A colleague wanted everything to be spent on the space program to expedite our eventual landing on Mars.

The hypothetical issue of the peace dividend was a great way to learn about each individual’s priorities. It’s still a great classroom exercise today: “Students, if the peace dividend is $ 70 billion every year, how would you spend it?”

In 1990 I was in the minority if I believed the peace dividend didn’t exist. In my opinion, the national debt was so great that if you shoveled money on the debt, the peace dividend would be depleted and there would be nothing left for new spending.

My reasoning was flawed, but I had found the correct answer. At that time there was no peace dividend. And I predict there will be no peace dividend now.

Why was there no peace dividend back then? Because although we no longer have a communist empire to fight, our nation and its military quickly and easily found new enemies and battlefields. It may have started with the 1991 Gulf War that drove the invading Iraqis out of Kuwait. That was a worthy thing, that’s right. But wherever there was trouble, our leaders and military soon became aware of it and too often became overly involved.

Maybe without a Cold War we have focused more on the rest of the world. There was a lot going on, especially in the Middle East and Africa. There are many civil wars that attract outside forces. (As in high school, I was beaten by a fighter in a fight that I foolishly tried to end.) Out of my head there have been civil wars in Rwanda, Somalia, Yemen, Uganda, Congo, Syria, and Lebanon. The Iran / Iraq war was more traditional but no less deadly. There was abundant bloodshed and fighting as areas of the former Yugoslavia overflowed. And I’m sure other wars and military actions have taken place, but now I miss them.

The United States played a role in many of these actions – sometimes only in monetary terms, sometimes it provided weapons, soldiers, or other assistance.

In any case, the overly optimistic feeling of world peace in early 1990 only lasted a blink of an eye. And without world peace there is no real peace dividend.

So discuss the peace dividend. Speculate on spending it. But don’t expect it to happen. It’s chimeric.

Arthur Vidro is a recurring finance columnist for the Eagle Times. His “EQMM Goes to College” appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.


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