Thursday, December 30, 2010

WWI Caused By...Low IQ?

So says Arnold Kling over at Econlog.

My reaction isn't very dissimilar from that of Angus at KPC.

In the list of frustratingly popular but completely useless explanations for war, the stupidity of leaders ranks quite well.  Along with greed, war-mongering, and intolerance.

And how do we know which leaders are stupid, greedy, intolerant war-mongers, you ask?  Why, they're the ones who start wars, of course!

(Arnold cites the Flynn effect, which at least nominally gives us an observable variable (time) with which to explain variation in the occurrence of war.  So the above is a little unfair.  But seriously.  You don't need to point to low IQ to explain why war would occur, nor why wars tend not to go as well as expected.  And, as Angus points out, it's hard to take this interpretation of the Flynn effect seriously unless you're willing to make some rather strange claims about human history prior to WWI.)

Friday, December 24, 2010

(Why) Do Terrorists Favor the Holidays?

Do stories like this represent a trend?  I can think of other examples in the past, but I don't know if they constitute a real tendency.  (Yes, this would be easy enough to test empirically.  But the thing is...I'm afraid of data, at least if I'm not using it to test an implication of a formal model.)

Suppose for the moment that they do though.  Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but it seems to me that this is a little puzzling.  More below the fold.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Miscellaneous Links

Some updates on Iraq:

1.  (Most) of the sanctions on Iraq finally lifted (h/t Kindred).

2.  New government may be forming soon.

Some on Afpak:

3.  CIA spy chief flees after identity revealed; Pakistan denies responsibility.

4.  War not going well, won't until Pakistan gets serious about counterinsurgency: these stories pretty much write themselves.

And some other perennial favorites:

5.  AU forces making progress in the fight against Somalia's insurgency.

6.  India taking harder line with China.

7.  North Korean nuclear program is more advanced than previously thought.

8.  Tensions in US relationship with Yemen prove US and Yemen are besties, at least according to the White House.

9.  Plan to declare Palestinian statehood by August 2011 still on track.  Still wondering what this is all about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Suicide Terrorism, revisited

I previously, mistakenly, pointed to an attack in Turkey, an attack that was fully consistent with Pape's argument, by way of trying to highlight shortcomings in said argument.  Not my best moment.

But I think it's safe to say that this attack is more difficult to reconcile with Pape's claim to have identified necessary conditions for suicide terrorism.  Unless Iran counts as democratic these days...which I think would be news to a lot of Iranians.

Also note that the group claiming responsibility is a group that (supposedly) represents the interests of Baluch Sunnis (because if the media tells us a violent fringe group acts on behalf of the interests of a broader group, clearly it must be so, and clearly that population must approve of the tactics used by said group -- at least 10% of them anyway, right Glenn Beck?).  But "(t)he city of Chabahar, one of the largest in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, has a largely ethnic Baluch population who are Sunni...Chabahar has in recent years seen a growth in prosperity as a result of domestic tourism and a successful free-trade zone."

But wait, I thought that economic grievances were the other main cause of political violence?  Growth in prosperity, you say?  Due to the successes of free trade?  Clearly the NYTimes has dropped the ball on this one, because that just can't be true.

Next thing you know, some cranky jerk on the internet is going to suggest that political violence may not be best explained by focusing on whether people are unhappy with the way they are being treated by their government, that it's problematic to connect (what we assume to be) mass preferences to behavioral outcomes in a simplistic and romantic manner.  Crazy talk, I tell you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

EITM 2011

To be held at the Harris School at the University of Chicago.  More info here.

I've been to three EITM institutes (in a row).  I can't recommend it enough, both for participants and mentoring faculty-in-residence.  Always a great experience.

The Dangers of Inequality?

People say a lot of strange things about inequality.  With the increase in attention to it lately, both from scholars and pundits, I just wanted to lay this out there.

Almost every argument you hear about inequality is made in such a way as to implicitly betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic definition of the term.  There are some few notable exceptions, but they are few and far between.  Put simply, most people who talk about inequality aren't talking about inequality.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Objections to Randomized Trial Study of NYC Social Progam

Story here

Without randomization, drawing causal inferences is pretty close to impossible.  Yet even if we could convince social scientists of this (many refuse to accept it, though I've yet to see the argument for why we shouldn't be worried about this issue), there's the issue of actually implementing such studies without a public outcry.  Not that the objection to making "guinea pigs" out of the least well-off isn't understandable.  But it would be nice to know that our government programs actually do something for the people they're intended to help.

h/t Brendan Nyhan.

How Bargaining Theory May Continue to Add to Our Understanding of Conflict

I've argued here and here that bargaining theory has provided new insights into a general class of problems (of which armed conflict is just one example), identified precise causal mechanisms, and led to the identification of new empirical patterns without contradicting what little was already well established empirically.

To wrap up what has been an altogether too cursory discussion (yet longer, I'm sure, than is really appropriate for blog posts...), I'd like to briefly discuss some areas where bargaining theory is starting to be applied, areas where I believe there is great potential even though a strong consensus has yet to emerge.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Public Goods

In a continuing series of cranky rants about misuse of terms, Jeff over at Cheap Talk has this to say about a Spanish woman's attempt to claim sole ownership of the sun:

"First of all, The Sun is a public good...Even worse, its a non-excludable public good."


I refer you, of course, to the inerrant Wikipedia definition of public good.  (Because that's how we resolve disagreements on the internet, obviously.)

I should say, Jeff is clearly brilliant, and Cheap Talk is a wonderful blog.  I've said much more embarrassing things in public, and on the internet.  I only chose this as a striking (humorously so, in my view) example of a broader trend.

How Bargaining Theory Has Improved Our Understanding of Conflict, Part II

Following up on this post, I'd like to discuss the relationship between empirical findings and the implications that have been derived from bargaining models of war.  Tomorrow, I'll wrap up by considering how bargaining theory has raised new theoretical questions, many of which remain unanswered.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How Bargaining Theory Has Improved Our Understanding of Conflict, Part I

Lately, I've focused a lot on articulating why I think much of the work that purportedly contributes to our understanding of international conflict fails to do so.  Nonetheless, I see hope that we can do better, and believe that some parts of the literature are already doing so.  In particular, I think the application of bargaining theory to the study of armed conflict has been very fruitful.  This will be the first of a series of posts attempting to make that case.