Reuters posted a very strange article this morning entitled Marking the end of a 30-year peace dividend which opens with the notation that next week we’ll be marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This piqued my interest because I have very clear memories of the time before that wall came down and after. I came of age during the coordinated arms build-up of the Reagan years (which coincided with the only recently trashed anti-ballistic missile treaties that were signed at the time), the closing period of the various red scares and the successors to Duck-and-Cover. I was 22 when the Hungarians decided not to repair a fence on their border with Austria and a lot of central and east Europeans suddenly (or not so suddenly – these changes had been building up for at least a year) crossed over into western Europe and the West simply let them.

But I also remember that possibilities for negotiating peace around the world were effectively thwarted as often as possible. As the band Megadeth titled their 1986 LP, Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying? From a United States perspective, we started the 90s with the invasion of Panama, and 1991 with the invasion of Iraq. The defense budget did not drop and events like those and the implosion of Yugoslavia gave congress good reason to keep the money flowing to the arms manufacturers. Trade deals with China meant that we haven’t looked too deeply into their internal violence as long as the cheap electronics keep getting shipped over. (Yes, I’m writing this sat at my second iPad while reading the article in question on a Samsung phone. I’m aware of my hypocrisy.)

So what the hell is Reuters on about? The second paragraph talks about unfettered cross-border investment that ‘pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty’. This assertion is unsupported, and given that the world population has increased by about 45% from 5.2 billion to 7.6 billion in the intervening period, it wouldn’t take long to find out how many of those additional 2.4 billion live in poverty. (Reference: Wikipedia’s Global Population Estimates page.)

So we’re not actually talking about a peace dividend, but a period of increased prosperity, by certain measures. Do I need to count the ways in which these two things are different?

The article goes on to discuss how current waves of populism are wiping out the market gains made in the last 30 years, with reference to several market statistics, followed by South Africa’s credit rating, what’s going on with the Bank of England because of Brexit, and cancelled trade summits between China and the US.

None of these things addresses the possibilities of peace that were on the horizon as we entered the last decade of the 20th century and listened to the band Jesus Jones sing about watching ‘the world wake up from history‘. A peace dividend might have included many things including figuring out how to feed and house all of our hungry. If we’d had thirty years of that peace dividend, we wouldn’t be talking about children today going hungry because their parents can’t afford to pay for their school lunches. The term ‘school lunch debt’ wouldn’t be part of our vocabulary.

A peace dividend might have included something to rein in our internal arms merchants so that children wouldn’t be ducking and covering from their neighbors 68 years after their grandparents and great-grandparents gave us Bert the Turtle.

A peace dividend might have helped us work out the issues that dog countries at war around the globe. Of course, there’s another side to that equation. The wars that the powers that saw out the Cold War support (and that increasingly lead to waves of refugee migration – fodder for another blog entry and a history dissertation) are good for maintaining the poverty that give us cheap tropical fruit far north of the tropics. Oh yeah, that cheap tropical labor gave us the wars in Central America. The ones that are still driving refugees up to our new (very effective) border wall.

Three years ago, Next Big Future announced that the peace dividend was over a little more honestly, but discussing increased military budgets in Europe. The one thing, however, that a peace dividend is not is unfettered market growth.