Spend more on the needy

The Nation - Wednesday, December 08, 2004

If governments spent less money on the military and more on those who need assistance, they would attain peace and justice, according to Clive W Granger, the 2003 winner of the Nobel prize for economics.

Granger, speaking yesterday at Siam University, said a shift from war-based economics by big military powers like the United States could be achieved without affecting their economies if they instead focused on alternative spending opportunities like fighting poverty, improving healthcare for the elderly and cleaning up pollution. According to 2002 figures, said Granger, the US spends 3.1 per cent of its gross domestic product on military expenditures a year – or 60 times the US$4.6 billion (Bt180 billion) Sweden spends on its military.

 “Rich countries should give money to help solve poor countries’ [problems] and spend less on the military,” said Granger, who is in Bangkok as part of seminar on the economics of peace organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation. He said economists, politicians, economic policymakers and the media had not been paying enough attention to fostering peace, income distribution and justice.

 “It’s embarrassing for people who earn a lot,” Granger told The Nation prior to the lecture titled “Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace”.

 “What worries me is that we don’t discuss the other end of the society. [But] why will newspapers talk about poor people when there are these rich people who are interesting?” he said, referring to people like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corp.

A long-time professor at University of Nottingham and later at the University of California at San Diego, Granger said the growing population of the elderly, new technology and new sources of energy – such as solar energy – would change the outlook of the world’s economy. “There will be further evolution but I don’t know how it will be.” One economic issue that needs addressing is the issue of “free trade”. Although many western powers espouse free trade, they do not really practise it when they carry on with their protectionist ways through the unabated use of farm subsidies. “The US subsidises its farmers. That’s not really free trade and Europe protects all kind of things. It has to be brought out in the open. Everyone has to admit what they are doing and the consequences of what they’re doing,” he added.

Granger also suggested that society should adopt alternative measures of well-being to help reduce the current belief among economists that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of wealth.

 He cited Jewish tradition of stressing educational achievement. That way, the amount of time or money spent by a community on education would be a measure of success. The Nobel laureate also cited alms-giving among Muslims, called “Zakah”.

“Such giving is a non-compulsory offering to a charity organised by a mosque. Perhaps the total amount given to charity per capita would be a possible measure of well-being.”

Pravit Rojanaphruk The Nation