We cherish the progress in civilisation since biblical times and long before. But there is a needed and, indeed, accepted qualification. The US and Britain are in the bitter aftermath of a war in Iraq. We are accepting programmed death for the young and random slaughter for men and women of all ages. So it was in the first and second world wars, and is still so in Iraq. Civilised life, as it is called, is a great white tower celebrating human achievements, but at the top there is permanently a large black cloud. Human progress dominated by unimaginable cruelty and death.
Civilisation has made great strides over the centuries in science, healthcare, the arts and most, if not all, economic well-being. But it has also given a privileged position to the development of weapons and the threat and reality of war. Mass slaughter has become the ultimate civilised achievement.
The facts of war are inescapable - death and random cruelty, suspension of civilised values, a disordered aftermath. Thus the human condition and prospect as now supremely evident. The economic and social problems here described can, with thought and action, be addressed. So they have already been. War remains the decisive human failure.
---This is an edited extract from The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time, by JK Galbraith, published by Allen Lane.
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