If people feel alienated when they are denied access to decent economic opportunities, then it must be the case that an inclusive economy would have the opposite effect. Fewer people would be inclined to indulge in antisocial behaviour or wanton acts of violence, or to express themselves through the destruction of other people’s property, if they were able to create some meaning and purpose in their lives. The one essential prerequisite to a meaningful life is work, even if that meaning is not derived directly from the particular job you do. Whether it’s rioting on the streets of one of the world’s richest cities, or hatching terrorist plots in marginal lands, it’s a universal truth that virtually all modern-day social violence is driven by economic exclusion.
If we could create a more inclusive global society, much of that violence would disappear. If you doubt this, look at the evidence of history. More people enjoy greater economic security today than ever before, and, as Steven Pinker points out, fewer people, as a proportion of the population, engage in social violence. Most of those that do have little to lose by putting their lives or liberty on the line. Give people the opportunity to better their lot and take control of their destinies, and the terrorist breeding grounds will fall fallow. And the recruiting offices for the armed services in western nations will also begin to close their doors.
Ultimately, all conflict is about power, and power is inextricably connected to the economy. The immediate causes of violence and terrorism may be deeply embedded in culture and history, but there can be no solution without first addressing the problems of economic injustice and exclusion. Professor of Social Epidemiology Richard Wilkinson describes how, compared with other animals, we humans have a choice: “In any species, in almost any animal there is always the potential for huge conflict because within any species all members have the same needs. So they might fight each other for food, shelter, for nest sites and territory and sexual partners. But human beings have always had the other possibility. We have the possibility to be the best source of support and love and assistance and cooperation, much more so than any other animal.” Progress is dependent on growing numbers of people being able to make that choice, and understanding what kind of society and economy is required for it to be extended to all members of the species Homo Sapiens.
Excerpt from Four Horsemen: The Survival Manual.