Conflict is an essential element, probably the most important one, in creating societies where harm is important. In terms of our two basic categories, it is both a “means of obtaining income through harm” and an important way of “staying in power/struggling for control.” It is easy to see in the past: one group or nation conquered another and put those conquered in a subsidiary status, taking their land, taxing them and placing them in an inferior position through various means. (See the sections on harm in Understanding harm, especially conflict theory, some economic historians, and primitive accumulation in the exploitation in Marxism section.) These patterns continue into the present, in (usually) weakened, but still present, form. Conflict can also arise when people who are oppressed fight for their freedom.
Conflict, even narrowly defined, is an important activity. In 2019, there were 54 state-based armed and 67 non-state armed conflicts (Petterson and Öberg 2020) The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates world military expenditure at $1.8 trillion in 2019, or 2.2 percent of global gross domestic product (SIPRI 2020). It does use resources that can be devoted to productive activity. The drastic worsening of peoples’ lives is a second major source of harm from conflict. For example, at the end of 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations (UNHCR 2020). Approximately one of every 100 people worldwide have moved from normal lives to the bleakness and desperation of a refugee situation.