All Commentary
Tuesday, April 1, 1986

How to Stop Wars

Dr, Russell teaches economies and is the author of Government and Legal Plunder, published by FEE.

When trade is truly free, peace is present.

For thousands of years, nations have fought each other to get “raw materials,” which they then usually refused to share with other nations. Thus the wars go on, from one generation to the next—almost always to get goods and services that would have been readily available at lower prices (in blood, as well as money) if markets were free.

More than anything else, that’s what free trade is all about—peace. For when trade is free (truly free, in all nations, among all people), peace is necessarily present. It is the only possible arrangement to accommodate that peaceful activity. But when trade is forbidden, a form of war automatically exists to some degree—both within nations and among nations.

Some unknown writer a hundred years or so ago expressed that sentiment on free trade and peace in dramatic terminology: If goods don’t cross borders, armies will. He was right.

If I could travel freely in Russia, and trade my goods and services with like-minded Russians on terms negotiated by us as traders, it would be impossible to induce me to spoil that desirable arrangement by fighting them. It works both ways. What in the world would we fight about if we could peacefully visit and trade with each other; baseball versus ballet?

But as it is, I am literally scared of the Russians. I just don’t know what they’re doing behind those walls that are designed to keep their own people in and me out. Perhaps they’re plotting against me. Maybe they even want to kill me. Since I don’t know for sure, perhaps we’d better send more missiles to Europe. Be prepared, whatever the cost. I just don’t trust people I can’t visit and trade with.

When you get right down to it, that’s the basis of fear, as well as wars that grow out of fear, i.e., it’s mostly lack of information. And I’m quite sure it works both ways. The Russians are doubtless as scared of me as I am of them. That “fear of the unknown” will begin to evaporate when individuals and groups from one country have full opportunity to travel and trade freely in other countries. That’s the secret of peace; and in its absence, the best we can hope for is an armed-to-the-teeth standoff.

While I’m quite certain that the path to peace is the abolition of all restrictions on trade and travel for peaceful persons in any nation, i don’t know how to persuade the Russians to agree. Their system of common ownership of all means of production and distribution seems to forbid much (if any) trade between individual Russians and individuals from other countries. For how can you trade with a person who can’t own resources of any kind?

Even so, before we begin to fret unduly about the part to be played by the Russians in this vital process toward world peace, a prior step is needed. We’ve first got to agree among ourselves here at home that a free market for all goods and services among peaceful people is preferable to the controls we now have. I suspect that task will keep us busy for a few years yet to come.