Let me start this post with stating the (maybe) obvious: The free market economy in EVE and the concept of War between players are in a schizophrenic relationship. It is the true underlying reason why the EVE community is discussing things like the (non)consensual PvP debate. Why is there no such debate (known to me) in the Dust514 community, for example? Well, there is minimal economy in Dust, yet. People play it because they want PvP fights. They know they are going to loose stuff and there (so far) is a simple mechanism to reacquire equipment.
In EVE, which is a lot more about the building your empire idea and about leaving a footprint in the fabric of the universe, the value of PvP combat is often not so obvious anymore. This is especially true in highsec where PvP combat is limited by game rules. But it also applies to large parts of Nullsec. Alliances are protecting their space to create a safe sphere for people to make money. At least inside this sphere there are no incentives for fights. Certainly the current rule system for sovereignty makes this style of play easier. Some say the sov rules are even the reason why it is hard to find fights in nullsec. Indeed, many consider the NPC nullsec regions the most rewarding ones when it comes to small-medium scale warfare. Interestingly these are regions where the sandbox has been curtailed, compared to sovnull. One should be careful worshipping the sandbox as the highest principle of all! “The sandbox” alone is a much to vague concept to be of any use. But I digress.
EVE is fundamentally build on a free market economy. The market is free in the sense that it is one of the few places where players can not be excluded by other players. Even in enemy sov null sec, there are ways to take part in the market. I know somebody who is doing nothing else but sitting in an enemy station playing market games. An important ingredient here is that transfer of goods from one hangar to another can not be disrupted. A station warehouse cannot be simply robbed or burned down.
Free market economy is often believed to lead to peace and prosperity in the real world. While I don’t think this can be proven in general and free markets are indeed a quite brutal system, they seem to reduce the need for traditional combat (aka exploding stuff). A market needs a regulated environment. On the other hand it also thrives in a regulated, secure environment. Large investments need security to manage the risk. In a secure environment new business opportunities become possible. These factors are mutually reinforcing and create astonishingly stable structures such as the European Union in real life, or the blue donuts of New Eden. The effect of many nullsec players having a mining alt in highsec is exactly this. It is more effective to use the market itself to overcome your opponents than to shoot them. If it is more effective to do, we do it. And peace will guarantee effectiveness. It’s the peace dividend.
It is important to realize the central role the free market plays in all this. Imagine if players in a nullsec alliance would only be able to trade within their empire. Or if there were huge tolls on importing stuff. Imagine if ISK could not flow freely from the highsec alt to the nullsec PvP character. Imagine if the four NPC empires had a different currency each.
Locally concentrated resources are one driver of conflict. It is a pretty shallow one. Once resources are secured, market mechanisms will ensure that it is extremely hard to remove the owner of the resource against his will. The system is driven towards the peaceful equilibrium.
In EVE the relationship between the economy and war is indeed schizophrenic because on the flip side war is the only activity that truly constitutes consumption. In a real economy the basic good of consumption is food. All real economies started as agricultural ones. In EVE nobody needs to eat (although some like to drink insane amounts of a certain softdrink). In real life huge amounts of consumption go into energy, just to run things like the agricultural system. In EVE we have weird reactors that free us of these basic chores. In a real economy infrastructure must constantly be renewed. In EVE indeed you have to at least pay upkeep if you own a POS or outpost (in the form of fuel and isk). But once your are in an NPC station this does not concern you. Taxes might be thought of paying for the infrastructure in empire space but the system is shortcut at this point and there would be no consequences if nobody would pay taxes to NPC corps anymore.
So exploding ships, POSes and POCOs are the things that are consumed in New Eden. How weird. The economy lives off the very same actions which it tries to suppress. No wonder that we get the feeling something is wrong. Ultimately consumption in a modern real world economy is driven by culture. The pure joy of obtaining knowledge through science. Listening to an opera. Admiring architectural milestones. Such are the high level goals of a society. Little of this is present in EVE, except maybe the recent emergence of more and more e-sports events. Symptoms of a satiated, essentially peaceful society?
Now, what does that mean for the game?
With all the talk going on about fixing nullsec, buffing highsec or whatever, I think people need to keep the peace dividend in mind. If you really want to change the game to be more dynamic. If the archetype of a “dark and gritty universe” appeals to you, you might need to have a critical look at the free market economy. What kinds of gameplay would emerge, would players be given more control over how the market is realized?