Mehta, Vijay. The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels War and Poverty in the Developing World. 2012. Pluto Press, UK.

“…the military–industrial model can be replaced by adopting equitable policies for Disarmament, Demilitarization and working for sustainable development thus ending the cycle of violence and poverty.”

Mehta exposes the spiralling cycle of militarism that underlies the economic crisis that rocked the world in 2008. Mainstream economists ignore the burden and wastefulness of the military economy when they attempt to explain the economic crisis. Mehta makes it clear that we are trapped in a wasteful killing–based economy that deifies all logic, morality and common sense. The world´s resources are finite; more than one billion people live in abject poverty without sufficient food, clean water, decent housing, adequate medical care or education. Yet we continue at a frightening pace to produce more armaments from thriving military industries; the latter provided with government aid as only they are exempt from trade agreement regulations on industry receiving special benefits from host governments.

This book provides an extremely useful source for peace workers who cannot influence change based on morality or environmental sustainability and gives the hard facts about why war and war preparations are economic disaster that may convince where morality has no sway. He explains the economic effects of the USA´s dependence on high–tech and arms production and exports but USA has trade sanctions against China of these products while it imports consumer goods from China resulting in a major financial imbalance. While this policy may have caused the crisis of 2008, Mehta sees the greater danger being the USA’s “economic weight of the military–industrial complex”, an expression made famous in a speech by retiring USA President Eisenhower. Much of this book is devoted to specific details of how this complex flourishes and controls the governments of the USA and others, and how our societies are saturated with values based on the values of military security and defence; the meaning of defence totally warped into a concept of global rule based on aggression and might.

Corporate controlled media would have us believe small countries with corrupt leaders dependent on USA arms are their own worst problem for electing tyrants, blaming the victims while protecting complicit leaders who sell their country´s wealth for a song and a Swiss bank account. He writes, “The developing world does not need handouts from industrialized nation. All it needs is a level playing field and leaders who place their country´s interests over their own personal wealth. The military–industrial complex has worked to ensure that a level playing field never develops…”

His coverage of Asian conflicts and the unjust and military policies European and USA is excellent; his coverage of the Middle East shows some undocumented bias and that of Latin America is sketchy and has some errors in fact and judgement, but they do not diminish the overall importance of the book and its major theme.

In his epilogue Mehta explains that, “Neo–classical economics is founded on some core assumptions about human nature. It assumes that human wants are potentially unlimited…Economics is a discipline intended to solve these alleged problems in a world of limited resources.” He says if we continue on this path we will be following the lead of the USA, still the world´s major military—industrial power, and this direction can only lead to greater disparity between the powerful 1 per cent of the world´s population and the desperately poor while increasing conflict in a world armoured by dwindling resources. Seeing China as the major challenger to USA hegemony, he writes that USA can solve its financial crisis and trade imbalance with China by providing China with what it wants – USA´s technological and military knowledge, but this would only increase global instability and resource waste that lead to ´currency wars´ and more poverty and powerlessness for the poor. Inadequate aid is no substitute for justice. Mehta gives examples of  when the most powerful, on one hand who always condemn terrorism, and on the other hand support and supply terrorists when it suits them as in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan; the hypocrisy is obvious to those who turn to violence to fight violence. And for those who seek peaceful solutions, Mehta´s figures and analysis show that arms are always more important that health, education and a decent living for all.

The author has many detailed action suggestions for peace and justice activists from demanding accountability from our governments to reforming the UN to one which this reviewer considers of major importance; challenge the suffocating respect for the military. There is another way to go. It is the way that many are longing for; the direction that would end the depletion of resources and the accompanying environmental disaster and social degradation. Terrorist attacks on the powerful, increasing local discontent in countries whose leaders ignore the needs of citizens, violent insurgencies that play into military production are the results of our present power politics. Mehta makes a solid case for the only viable alternative, the path of cooperation; he says, “Millions are now realising that through collective action, unity and public awareness this [present] system can be torn down peacefully.” He credits the Fair Trade and micro–finance movements with improving the lives of millions and the internet with undermining corporate censorship and spreading truth and knowledge. NATO is an outdated military alliance, but we need a much reformed UN, which even now, in spite of built–in bias, does good work through its agencies. But it is the collective awareness, harnessing of hope and determined actions of citizens from the high Andes to the deserts of North Africa to the indigenous peoples of the Philippines and the Arctic to urban workers everywhere that will, if we persist in acting and informing, save the world from disaster.

Vijay Mehta writes with hope and inspiration, “Ever more the burden of discovery lies not with reporters but with citizens, who in the internet now have access to a research tool of unprecedented power. It will be up to citizens to evaluate and cross–check sources, to translate documents and to monitor social media in a way that gives them access to an accurate, unmediated version of events that does not reply on a journalist´s opaque quid pro quos with proprietors and politicians, officials and insiders. It is this shift in the balance of knowledge that offers the best hope of ending the destructive cycle of militarism and war… As the diffusion of knowledge devolves power from the elite to the masses, the grip of the military–industrial complex will finally end, not in a bang but in the peaceful murmur of prosperity.”

We need courageous independent media everywhere along with the so far unrestricted use of the internet; the call is for action, based on knowledge. As Rosalie Bertell said, “we must be our own media.” It comes down to us, dear readers. Are we ready to make this commitment? Does each of us believe and consciously live by the words of the German artist, Kathe Kollwitz, “I was put in this world to change the world.”

Filed under Book Reviews, Vijay Mehta