Opening Remarks: Leadership for Peace and Prosperity


This past weekend, I was asked to make the opening remarks for the second day of the Conference on Leadership for Peace & Prosperity, co-sponsored by the Center for Peace and Commerce and Ahlers Center for International Business at the University of San Diego, and the Institute for Economics and Peace. A few folks have asked me for a hard copy, so I thought I’d put this online.


Opening Remarks

Conference on Leadership for Peace and Prosperity

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Topher L. McDougal


Hello and thank you for joining us on this second day of conference presentations on Leadership for Peace and Prosperity.  My name is Topher McDougal; I am an economist and an Assistant Professor of Economic Development and Peacebuilding here at the Kroc School of Peace Studies. I am also a member of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, a joint-venture between the Schools of Business Administration and Peace Studies.

A couple of years ago, Johan Galtung, often credited as the founder or godfather of Peace Studies, visited the Kroc School of Peace Studies. Our faculty met with him and I was introduced as “the economist.” We had a pleasant talk and, when the meeting drew to a close, Galtung drew me aside with these words: “You know the best part of being an economist, Topher?” A few possible answers sprang to mind, but I said no, I had no idea. Galtung answered his own question: “You can always become an ex-economist!” And the twinkle in his eye playfully hinted that I had just wasted the last 12 or so years of my life.

And while as a rule one should avoid analyzing humor, I think that comment was funny because economists are routinely seen by many (including, apparently, the godfather of Peace Studies) as patently antithetical to peace and indeed maybe even to basic humanity more generally. I was chatting with Professor Brauer the other day about a Cost-Benefit Analysis of a mega-dam in India that indicated a huge net benefit to society partly because the 250,000 subsistence-level indigenous people it was to displace were not part of the market economy, and therefore represented no opportunity cost to construction. Indeed, the dam itself was used as a way of getting them to finally engage in the market economy and make themselves “useful.” And in the aftermath of a Great Recession unpredicted and largely unmitigated by most economists, it’s easy to see the reputation as being well-earned.  But I hope that the perception is starting to change, and this is one of the events and the places that is contributing to that change.

We had a very full day of interesting conversations and presentations yesterday. Today promises to be of an equally high calibre, though, for better or for worse, it will be shorter. Like yesterday afternoon, there will be some difficult decisions for conference attendees as they struggle with which of the concurrent sessions to attend. I don’t know if we are streaming these sessions live online today, but if so, you may wish to attend, say, session 3a in person while simultaneously watching session 3b on your iPhone or iPad or iPad mini. This is all just part of a brave, new, slightly offensive, multitasking future.


Ten or 12 years ago, Tony Addison talked encouragingly about how businesses in conflict zones were switching from a mentality of “working in” conflict to one of “working around” conflict. That is, they were no longer just blithely unaware of conflict dynamics in the societies in which they sourced materials and labor or found their customer base.  They were increasingly trying to follow the Hippocratic oath and “first do no harm.” But Addison also hoped for a day when businesses would move to “work on” conflict—that is, deliberately engage parties to those conflicts within and around their own operations to \ channel, transform, and resolve them. Many recent efforts—and most recently this conference and the inauguration of the journal of Business, Peace, & Sustainable Development—seem to have ushered in that age of working on conflict.

Beyond the problem of prepositions, this sub-field, if it is one—this intersection of Peace Studies, Economics, Business, Environmental Science, Law, Political Science, Conflict Analysis & Resolution—is under-empiricized (as David Stephens seemed to hint at yesterday with his comment on the “worm’s eye view,” which I loved), but it’s also under-theorized.  Being a relatively new intersection, many of our concepts, definitions, and basic causal assumptions are still quite mutable, multifarious, and not necessarily shared across the boundaries of the participating disciplines. We at the Kroc School of Peace Studies have been wrestling continuously with how to produce “Scholar-Practitioners”—students capable of retooling their theories by doing, and retooling their doing by theorizing.  For that reason, I have been very happy to see the mix of such thoughtful industry leaders and social entrepreneurs, and such problem-solving academics at this conference.

My own sub-field of Development Economics has witnessed a kind of crumbling of big ideas in recent years.  No longer do we subscribe to large theories of “Big Push,” “Dependency,” “Convergence,” “World Systems.” Rather, we increasingly look for solutions to development problems on a case-by-case basis, and thus the use of randomized control trials has become commonplace.

In Peace Studies (which has a bad reputation, especially in the States, for being “soft” and “kumbayah-ish”) we need to use rigorous methods to test our ideas. At the same time, though, it’s critical that we continue to “think big.” And so I was delighted to see papers in the upcoming sessions that do just that, tackling issues from the meaning of a ‘restorative economy’ to the relationship between violence and state-building.

Institutions for Peace

Most, if not all, of the papers in today’s sessions deal with what economists call “institutions.” As Douglas North would define them, these are human-devised constraints on human behavior. This definition differs, of course, from that found in the common vernacular, where “institutions” usually denotes “organizations,” be they for profit, non-profit, or governmental. In the economic definition, institutions may take the form of corporate incentive systems, land and property rights, trade and contract practices, transitional justice practices, disciplinary codes of conduct, and business norms. And these systems may themselves find some corporeal manifestation in organizations ranging from corporations to rebel groups to multilateral bodies. As a kind of subscriber myself to the New Institutionalist School of Economics, it may be unsurprising that I believe that the form, scale and, context of institutions largely determine whether a conflict can be channeled constructively or veer into violence.

One observation that I have continually found interesting (and which you may or may not) is that these two definitions of institution—one a tangible “thing,” the other a kind of shaping of our own collective energies—are maybe in in fact not so different from one another after all. Einstein’s theory of relativity is famous for, among other things, equating mass (tangible things) with energy (forces). The Newtonian system was shown to be overly Manichean, and that energy was essentially “invested” in certain more durable forms that we call matter. And the smaller the matter particle, the more wave-like, the more energy-like, it became. Likewise, the economy can be thought of as flows of human (and nonhuman) energies that we invest in the formation and re-formation of institutions and organizations. Oliver Williamson has described a hierarchy of institutions ranging from markets and market actors, to contracts, to private property systems, to constitutions, that get progressively slower in their rapidity of change—markets shift instantaneously, while constitutions are amended perhaps only every few decades. And maybe the faster those institutions change—or maybe the weaker institutions are—the more they behave like raw energy.

This kind of conceptualization may shed some light on a long-running debate we have in Peace Studies as to whether Peace is a function of structures (matter, organizations) or dynamics (energy).

On the one hand, Johan Galtung is famous for his double distinction between direct and structural violence on the one hand, and negative and positive peace on the other. He thereby paved the way for modern forward-looking organizations like our own conference co-sponsor, the Institute for Economics and Peace, to publish reports on the “Structures of Peace,” and the “Pillars of Peace”—structures that must be in place in order to build inclusive societies that allow people to flourish and make meaningful choices about their lives.

On the other hand, the economist Kenneth Boulding had a view of peace as a dynamic process. To his mind, each society, each context, each scale, presented unique and ever-mutating challenges and opportunities. You could not just apply the same “structures” or “pillars” and expect the same results in different historical or societal contexts.

The “structures of peace” approach treats the prerequisites of peace as matter, the second, dynamic approach treats them more as energy. In an Einsteinian way, perhaps both have their merits.

Where the analogy breaks down, though, is when we speak about “Peacebuilding.” Because unlike Physics, the field of Peace Studies is one with strong normative foundations.  We want not just to study how things operate, but to change them for what we believe and conceive to be the better.  Moreover, our conceptions of “peace” change over time. But in any case, we want to produce peace, not just understand why violence occurs.

And here, I think in closing, is where leadership comes to play an important role in Peace and Prosperity. As Jaime Alonso Gomez suggested in his anecdote of yesterday, leaders decide when and how much human energy gets converted into the flesh and blood of an organization. They decide how much they care about the passion, about the character and values, about the judgment, about the knowledge and skills of the people they hire. They choose to invest—or not—in conflict-resolution mechanisms, in collaborative frameworks, in participatory governance structures, in impact evaluation practices. They choose to invest—or not—in peace.

I hope you get to enjoy the city of San Diego later today or perhaps tomorrow.  And in the meantime, good luck choosing the sessions you will attend: I for one am stumped.


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