We certainly know that violence has a long history. Chris Blattman, well known to econtalk fans for his work on poverty, was struck by how the post-conflict situation looked remarkably like other poor places. In seeking answers to how to end poverty, Blattman’s work led him to ask why people struggle. Who participates? Why do people fight? why is the person Violent? And, then more and more, he asked: why group Violent?
In this episode, host Russ Roberts welcomes Blattman to talk about his new book, Why we fight. Roberts introduced the conversation by noting, “This book is in a tradition that I both love and doubt, which is using the toolkit of economists to understand different forms of human behavior.”
The conversation centers around the five factors Blattman identified that lead people to go to war. Both Roberts and Blattman agree that peace is preferable, so any kind of incentive would lead to the most costly alternative to war. As Blattman says, “If we always assume everyone is crazy, we won’t be very good at preventing future wars.” Let’s hear what you Think about Blattman’s reasons. Use the prompts below to start a conversation, either here in the comments or offline.
1- The first reason Blattmann mentions is what he describes as the problem of incomplete information or miscalculation. What does this mean and what example does he use to explain this case?
2- The second reason for going to war is described by Blattman as a commitment problem. Again, what does this mean, and what illustrative examples does he use? What does he mean when he claims “no emotion” in these first two cases? Both Roberts and Blatman point out that there are further contradictions no will happen rather than do. So why do we not study or pay attention to these issues?
3. The third factor is related to uncontrolled leaders- when a leader does not bear the costs of war or has their own personal incentives to go to war. Why do leaders of democracies tend to be more responsible and perhaps less likely to choose war? What are some examples you can add to the discussion in this episode?
4. Blattman emphasizes reasons 4 and 5 that they are both overlooked and neglected by game theorists and economists. Why does this seem to be the case? What does Blattmann mean by “different stable choice” (reason four)?
5. The final reason Blattman suggests for going to war is misunderstandings and misperceptions, or persistent false beliefs about the other side. Why is it so difficult for the parties involved to assess the relative strength of their perceived adversaries and the costs of war? How much do you agree that this is the most common error that leads to war? Explained.
Bonus: Which of Blattman’s five reasons for going to war has the greatest potential to preserve peace? Why do you think so?