Distributive justice and development

“Peacebuilding” is a strange concept. It’s loose. As I mentioned in my first post, it seems that our program’s focus on this loose concept is deliberate, and rightly so – in conflict-ridden, violence-struck areas, the only way for policymakers to achieve true long-lasting peace is to think holistically; to balance the different conditions that each “branch” of peacemaking requires. On the ground and on the policy-level, environmental, economic, legal and political aspects must be incorporated into the peacebuilding process. In other words, all kinds of violence must be eliminated for any peacebuilding process to be considered successful.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, though, I would say that in certain cases, a particular form of violence needs to be addressed first; that sometimes certain kinds of violence urgently need our attention as peacebuilders, practitioners, policymakers, etc. To me, this week highlighted the harsh structural violence inflicted upon disenfranchised communities by the neoliberal state.

As we discussed in Dr. Arrocha’s session on Wednesday, the state is primarily concerned with protecting private property rights in a neoliberal world. Marxist thinker David Harvey defines the role of the state in a neoliberal economy quite nicely: “[The state must] set up those military, defence, police and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets”.



Throughout our visit to the Salinas Police Department, Chief Kelly McMillin was preemptively defending the Police against accusations of excessive violence, racism, and militarization. I think I can speak for everyone in the group and say that Chief McMillin made a great impression on us. He seemed perfectly competent, knowledgeable, responsible, and friendly. The perfect policeman. But the problem is not the police. The real violence is inflicted by the system they represent, by the laws that protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the disenfranchised. As discussed in Dr. Arrocha’s class, Salinas’ residents are not poor by accident, and they’re not arrested by accident. They are arrested because they have no public space to protest on, because they are denied access to proper banking, because they can not keep up with a system that demands from them more than what they have.




This theme was not confined to our Salinas P.D visit. Globally and locally, the need for development is a direct consequence of the neoliberal free market economy, which is a reality – not merely an ideology – in the vast majority of countries. Poverty is a global reality not because of a lack of free market economies.

Once more, I don’t think that the structural violence that is carried out in the name of neoliberalism should be our sole focus. There are other motivations for both personal and structural violence, of course. But, from a purely utilitarian perspective, the enormous scale of structural violence brought about by the neoliberal state ought to tell us something, as possible future policymakers. Where power is concentrated and kept at the hands of the few, we should also expect to find systematic violence. We must reconsider development if we wish to make a real, sustainable impact because, surprise surprise, “free market + democracy” is not a good enough recipe.