Make money, not war Fight for world power moves from battle zone to corporate boardroom

November 30, 1997|By THOMAS H. NAYLOR

The sun will soon set on the bloodiest century in history, a century in which nearly 40 million people, including 600,000 Americans, lost their lives in international or civil wars. To defend ourselves against the Soviet Union, we spent nearly $13 trillion and continue to spend more than $250 billion annually on military defense.

Notwithstanding our periodic need to put Saddam Hussein in his place, is it possible that conventional warfare might soon become obsolete?

War is about the use of military force to acquire or preserve wealth, power, influence, territory, freedom and control. But there are countless examples of the nonviolent use of money, markets, technology and politics to obtain power, influence and control over nations, states, cities and multinational corporations, without military action.

Within the space of a few weeks in 1989, six Eastern European countries replaced their iron-fisted Communist regimes with more democratic governments and split with the Soviet Union. With the bloody exception of Romania, these changes took place nonviolently.

Two years later, the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated. Czechoslovakia followed suit by dividing itself into the Czech and Slovak republics.

On a recent trip to Prague, a former high-ranking Communist Party official said, "Without firing a single shot, Germany has managed to achieve what Hitler never accomplished - the complete colonization of the Czech Republic."

German investors might occupy parts of Poland that they lost in World War II. No force will be necessary. They will simply buy those parcels of Poland that they choose. And more than 50 years after they bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese control much of the real estate in Hawaii.

The geopolitical warlords of the 21st century will be neither heads of states nor generals but rather the CEOs of multinational corporations and international money managers. To achieve their ambitious personal, financial and political goals, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Louis Gerstner Jr., George Soros, Donald Trump and Ted Turner need not ever engage in violence, bloodshed or conventional warfare. They have no need whatsoever for tanks, submarines, nuclear weapons, stealth bombers or sophisticated anti-ballistic missile systems. Their tools are markets, politics, technology and a populace with an insatiable appetite for consumer goods. In terms of the economic and political power that they wield, they make John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford look like neophytes.

In a New York Times Magazine article that depicted Microsoft as an 800-pound gorilla, James Gleik said, "If the software giant has its way, it will soon be in a position to collect a charge from every airline ticket you buy, every credit card purchase you make, every fax you send, every picture you download, every Web site you visit."

It's unlikely that the Justice Department has the ability to prevent any of this from coming to pass. Few politicians have the guts to stand up to a company whose CEO is worth nearly $40 billion. But if Microsoft is an 800-pound gorilla, what does that make IBM, which is eight times the size of Microsoft and operates in 153 countries?

Through high-tech media manipulation, the high priests of Corporate America tell us what to buy, when to buy it, how much to pay for it and when to replace it. More importantly, they tell our kids what's "cool."

So clever and so powerful is global money manager George Soros that he can single-handedly bring down the Finnish stock market, cause a precipitous decline in the value of the English pound and force the Malaysian government to devalue its currency. Who needs guns with financial muscle like that?

In our decentralized, deregulated, "anything goes" global economy, International Paper Company proudly proclaims, "We answer to the world," a euphemism for, "We're accountable to no one." Large multinationals such as AT&T, IBM and General Motors have virtually free rein to operate with little or no interference from government or labor as they play one country against the other in pursuit of low-wage, tax-free, regulation-free, manufacturing environments.

If trade officials quietly negotiating the Multilateral Agreement on Investments behind closed doors in Paris get their wish, multinational corporations might have even more political power. Some see the MAI as a not-so-subtle attempt to replace nation-states with corporate-states.

Only a handful of nations continue to employ the barbaric practices of conventional warfare and terrorism. Bosnia, Croatia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Rwanda, Somalia and, occasionally, the United States are among them. They have not learned that there are less bloody, more humane, less messy, less costly ways to get what they want than engaging in military conflicts.

Thomas H. Naylor is professor emeritus of economics at Duke University and co-author of "Downsizing the U.S.A." (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing)

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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