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Watch any cheesy Hollywood action flick from the 90s or early 2000s and the villain is likely some mega-billionaire who’s about to destroy half a nation and all the baby seals along with it because it’ll add a few more percentage points to his bottom line.
Peruse any conspiracy theory forum or YouTube channel (note: please don’t actually do this) and you’ll come across dozens of half-baked theories about how governments are secretly controlled by the Big Evil Corporation and all these people are being killed on purpose so that Bill Gates can like, add a third wing to his mansion… or something.
(Sidenote: If I ever start another business, I’m totally going to call it “Big Evil Corporation.”)
But what if I told you these same too-big-to-fail companies might be the best thing happening for global peace? The idea is not as crazy as you think.
Some version of this idea was first proposed in 1995 by the economist Thomas Friedman in what he initially called “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict.” The theory was simple: two countries with McDonald’s restaurants had, until then, never gone to war with one another, and Friedman argued that they would rarely, if ever, go to war in the future.
His reasoning was that two countries that enjoy the fruits of globalized, American-exported schlop would never jeopardize such luxuries by opting to kill each other instead.
Unfortunately for Friedman, it only took a few years for two ethnic groups to discover that they hated each other way more than they liked Big Macs, as the Bosnia and Serbia war quickly put an end to that theory.
But like any good human, Friedman learned from his mistakes and updated his theory in 2005 to the new and improved “Dell Theory of Conflict.” The Dell Theory says that any two countries who share supply chains for major industries with one another would never go to war, as the economic disruption would make any conflict too costly to pursue.
Unlike its cheap McDonald’s cousin, The Dell Theory of Conflict seems to have some legs to it. It explains why India and Pakistan keep backing down from each other, why China always says it’s going to invade Taiwan but never does, and why the US really has only seemed interested in invading countries that don’t have anything interesting to sell them.
People rarely believe this, but we live in the most peaceful period of human history. The world has not experienced a large-scale war between two major powers in over 50 years. Wars have been declining for so long and have become so rare that foreign policy experts have come to refer to the last fifty years as “The Long Peace.”
Last year, I wrote that a company like Apple is likely more responsible for peace between the US and China than any US president. Neither country wants to fuck with a $2 trillion dollar cash cow in both their backyards.
We’ve more recently seen this with the pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies who were once at each other’s throats came together and shared research and manufacturing capacity because they all realized that a world in enforced lockdowns isn’t good for anybody.
Hell, you want to get into conspiracies? Blackrock, the largest financial asset management in the world, with over $8 trillion dollars in assets, and tentacles in every industry and almost every country, has allegedly picked up the phone before and politely asked various groups and countries to knock it off and start selling to each other. And, well, I guess there’s something to that?
Economic self-interest may be soulless. But perhaps by removing people’s group affinities and emotional biases from the equation, at scale, it does make for a better, safer world.