Seeds of Peace

How Parashat Re'eh illuminates the necessity of peace for growth of a nation.

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How Internal Conflict Affects Stability and Growth

In his lucid book, The Bottom Billion, economist Paul Collier identifies violent conflict among the several "development traps" that keep those in the world's poorest countries--"the bottom billion"--from thriving. Specifically focusing on internal conflicts--civil wars and coups--Collier details how such instability stalks and then dismantles progress in the world's poorest regions, effecting "development in reverse."  Collier reports that 73% of people in the world's poorest countries are currently in, or have recently been through, a civil war, and that the experience of these persistent conflicts plays a significant role in "trapping" countries in poverty.

Civil wars, in Collier's estimation, reduce growth by 2.3% per year. And critically, economic decline persists well after fighting has ceased. Lasting about seven years, a typical civil war thus leaves a country about 15% poorer than it would have been at peace. The war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, will require about 50 years of continuous peace at its current growth rate to simply return to its income levels of 1960.

Avoiding Conflict

With such debilitating consequences, violent conflicts are thus a formidable barrier to poor countries' development--much less to achieving the sort of serene society depicted in our parashah. But here Collier's analysis provides some hope and circles back to the symbiosis between peace and societal flourishing articulated in Parashat Re'eh.

The strongest predictors for conflict, Collier argues, are not a country's political, historical, or ethnic configurations, but their economies. More than any other factors, low income and slow growth make it likely that a country will become mired in war. That is, while conflict impedes growth and reduces income, the relationship simultaneously holds the other way too: poverty breeds conflict.

To build societies in our parashah's image, it may thus be wisest to heed its own admonishment: "Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy brother. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs" (Deuteronomy 15: 7-8). When we do so, we invite the possibility that from our open hands will not only fall seeds of prosperity--but also of peace.

For further discussion of The Bottom Billion, part of AJWS's Global Justice Book and Film Forum, please click here.

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Rachel Farbiarz

Rachel Farbiarz is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law. Rachel worked as a clerk for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after which she practiced law focusing on the civil rights and humane treatment of prisoners.