The Economic Case for Practical Pacifism

Originally published in Social Science Research Network

This paper develops the economic case for practical pacifism. Practical pacifism, in contrast to absolute pacifism, recognizes that while it is possible that state-led war may be justified in some cases, it is extremely difficult to determine if any single instance of war is in fact justified; this leads one to a default position of pacifism. Using the tools of economics, we detail the main ways that political institutions are likely to fail and cause harm through warmaking-related activities. Our focus is on the epistemic constraints and incentives facing government actors, as well as he diverse, and often overlooked, costs of warmaking. Together, taking these factors into account strengthen the case for practical pacifism. To date, economists have not engaged the literature on practical pacifism and scholars studying pacifism have not engaged the economic scholarship on political institutions and government failure. We fill this gap by making the connection between the two.

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