The Killing Fields

This issue features one of the most unusual roundtable discussions since we started them in 1985. “No Trumpets, No Drums” gathers 16 CEOs and presidents who served in the military during the war in Southeast Asia to share what the experience taught them about leadership. While the discussion remained centered on pragmatic lessons transferable to running a business today, politics hovered discreetly in the background. All participants have visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington-and one finds it “difficult to get close to it”-and feel in deeply personal terms the loss of the 56,146 people whose names are etched in the black granite. The morality of the conflict for most was not at issue—–several participants volunteered for a second tour. The futility of a conflict that ultimately lost the support of civilians at home is another matter. As for the future, Adm. “Zap” Zlatoper of Sanchez Computer pointed out that the fall of Soviet Communism greatly reduces the growth of wars since, “democracies tend not to go to war with one another.”

Yet war isn’t the primary cause of what has made the 20th Century so lethal. At least 170 million people and perhaps as many as 360 million have been murdered by their own governments-more than four times the 42 million deaths from civil and international wars this century, according to Gerald Scully, a public choice economist at the University of Texas at Dallas, who has studied the economic consequences of murder by nations either by demicide, which is mass killing without respect to race, religion, or ethnicity, or by genocide, which is. Scully, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, reckons that the “pace of killing by the state” has slowed in recent times for a surprising reason: “Dead people can’t work and produce and pay taxes.” He examined  31 “killer nations” (those with 10,000 or more civilian deaths) and found that the productivity of the average worker is a “major deterrent to killing.”

Slow recognition of the economic cost of liquidating productive citizens, he suggests, may be the real reason state murders in the Soviet Union and China declined after the deaths of Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung (see table). In an odd footnote, the statistics of state murder compiled by another academic, R.J. Rummel, show most 20th Century killings have been done by Communist regimes. In fact, if one takes the European figures, minus Turkey and the U.K., as a crude proxy for fascism’s total, Communist countries out-murdered their citizens by more than six to one. Remember, these are civilian, not military deaths, nor civilian casualties of war.

Considering on average that each 1 percent increase in output reduces killing by 1.4 percent, according to Scully, the richer a country becomes, the greater the incentive for even a Communist regime not to kill its people. By promoting international commerce through their present enterprises, it appears our CEO-Vietnam vets are indirectly furthering the cause of international peace once again.

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