Tag Archives: violence

The Nation State as an Agent of War

29 May
Tyler Cowen has a recent post consisting of the abstract to a working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, “Nation-Building, Nationalism and Wars”. Here’s that abstract:
The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.
Here’s a link to an ungated version of the paper.

Does this imply that as long as the nation-state is the focal-point of political organization we will be fighting wars? Is that why that United States has managed to engage itself in useless and immoral wars since the end of World War II? Perhaps it’s time we create other ways to organize our political life.

Here’s several opening paragraphs from the paper:

The interplay between war and the fiscal capacity of the state is well known. However, guns are not enough to win wars; one also needs motivated soldiers. In modern times, the need for large armies led to a bargain between the rulers and the population. The elite had to make concessions to induce citizens to comply with war related demands. Rulers promoted nationalism to motivate citizens and extract “ever-expanding means of war – money, men, materiel, and much more – from reluctant subject populations” (Tilly, 1994; see also Levi, 1997).

The “ancient regimes” in Europe used to fight wars with relatively small armies of mercenaries, sometimes foreigners, paid out with the loots of war. As a consequence of the evolution of warfare, countries changed the conduct of war, switching from mercenaries to mass armies recruited or conscripted almost entirely from the national population. Roberts (1956) explained how warfare underwent a “military revolution” starting between 1560 and 1660 and reaching a completion with the “industrialization of war” (McNeill, 1982) that occurred in the nineteenth century. The source of this revolution was due to changes in tactics and weapons, such as, the use of gunpowder technology and the invention of new styles of artillery fortification, higher population growth, changes in communications and transport technology which allowed states to put a large army in the field, and the adoption of techniques of mass weapon production. The electromagnetic telegraph, developed in the 1840s, allowed the deployment and the control of the army at distance. Steamships and railroads moved weapons, men and supplies on an entirely unprecedented scale (Onorato et al., 2014). In the middle of the 19th century, the adoption of semiautomatic machinery to manufacture rifled muskets made it possible, and relatively affordable, to equip a large number of soldiers (McNeill, 1982, p. 253). As a result, the size of armies increased and, as Clausewitz (1832) put it, “war became the business of the people”.

This paper examines nation-building in times of war. Mass warfare favored the transformation from the ancient regimes (based purely on rent extraction) to modern nation states in two ways. First, the state became a provider of mass public goods in order to buy the support of the population. Second, the state developed policies geared towards increasing national identity and nationalism. In particular the states had to hold in distant provinces to avoid the breakdown of the country, which would have interfered with war effort, and to motivate soldiers and civilians located far away from the core of the country. In addition, nation-building in times of war also included aggressive negative propaganda against the enemy and supremacy theories.

When the armies had to increase in size, the elites needed to build tax capacity. This is a well studied point as we argued above, and we return to it at the end to close our argument. We focus here on a different issue, the selection on how to spend fiscal revenues to motivate the population to endure wars. The composition of spending is quite relevant. For instance Aidt et al. (2006) argue that total spending as a fraction of GDP did not increase that much in the 19th century up until WW2. What mostly changed was the composition of the budget: in the 19th century and early 20th century, spending on defense and policing was partly substituted by spending on public services (transport, communication, construction) and later on public provision of public goods (education and health).

Continue reading

Breaking Bad: Breaking Men from the Inside

15 Aug

By now zillions of atoms have be scattered on the internet to the end of explicating Breaking Bad. I’ve read some of that, but not much. Breaking Bad‘s Moral Lesson to Civilians, by Alex Horton, is the best that I’ve read.

While I’ve found the show compelling, sometimes more, sometimes less, I couldn’t make sense of it. Yeah, it’s one of those new-fangled high-quality TV series, like The Sopranos, that’s, you know, dark. The other “dark” shows that I’ve seen (say, Deadwood or The Wire) nonetheless managed to make sense to me. Breaking Bad, compelling, but why?

Horton offers a compelling reason:

Walter, along with several of the Breaking Bad characters, exhibits a term many of us in the military and veterans community have come to understand as a moral injury, and the show profoundly explores the concept in a way previously unseen in film and television. Of course, virtually no troops or veterans have much in common with the criminals in the show, but the reaction to traumatic events is universal, be it in war or a fictional universe.

To be clear, a moral injury is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it’s an existential disintegration of how the world should or is expected to work—a compromise of the conscience when one is butted against an action (or inaction) that violates an internalized moral code. It’s different from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which occur as a result of traumatic events. When a soldier at a checkpoint shoots at a car that doesn’t stop and kills innocents, or when Walter White allows Jesse’s troublesome addict girlfriend to die of an overdose to win him back as a partner, longstanding moral beliefs are disrupted, and an injury on the conscience occurs.

As he chokes the life from Krazy-8 with a bike lock [early in the first season], Walter enters a distorted moral universe where killing and death become the currency of his trade.

That I can understand. It makes sense. Continue reading

The Newtown Tragedy and the Emperor’s New Clothes

18 Dec

We’ll get to that fairly tale in a minute, for it embodies a deep truth about living in society. But let’s first think about guns. That gun ownership has been such a controversial issue in American politics suggests that it speaks to our sense of who and what we are.

What kind of phenomenon is gun ownership? Obviously, it’s a fact about human beings. Some own guns and some do not. The question becomes: Is gunownership related to other characteristics of a person or not? It might be the case, for example, that gun owners are more likely to have blue eyes than non-gun owners. It that’s the case–and there’s no reason it is, this is just a hypothetical example–what’s that about? Is there a common causal factor behind blue eyes and gun ownership?

Polling data indicates that there IS a relationship between reported political affiliation and gun ownership: Republicans are more likely to own guns than Democrats. This has changed over time: Gun ownership has diminished considerably over that last 40 years among Democrats but NOT Republicans. What’s THAT about and is it correlated with anything else.

Nate Silver reports:

In 1973, about 55 percent of Republicans reported having a gun in their household against 45 percent of Democrats, according to the General Social Survey, a biennial poll of American adults.

Gun ownership has declined over the past 40 years — but almost all the decrease has come from Democrats. By 2010, according to the General Social Survey, the gun ownership rate among adults that identified as Democratic had fallen to 22 percent. But it remained at about 50 percent among Republican adults.


The poll makes clear that gun ownership is deeply embedded in political identity, and vice versa. Some other variables, such as whether a voter lives in an urban area, also strongly predict gun ownership. But the differences between the parties remain even after accounting for these characteristics.


But the differences are most apparent in suburban areas. There, 58 percent of Republican voters said there was a gun in their household, against just 27 percent of Democrats.

It seems, further more, that “gun ownership rates are inversely correlated with educational attainment.” That is, the more education one has, the less likely one is to own a gun. Why? Continue reading

The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable

16 Dec

is this the kind of mental illness that leads to murder?

This post is by a woman whose son is kind, sweet, and brilliant most of the time. But when he loses control, he’s scary violent. And she can’t get adequate help for him.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

via The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable.

Inside the bully economy – Bullying – Salon.com

5 Mar

According to Jessie Klein, the author of the new book “The Bully Society,” it’s a problem that’s only getting worse. In her excellent examination of the school bullying epidemic, Klein, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Adelphi University, takes a broad approach to the subject. She first lays out the scope of the problem, before explaining how kids’ changing attitudes towards masculinity, the birth of child-targeted consumerism and the erosion of our compassionate society have all helped to create a culture in which children are increasingly feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and, in some cases, prone to violence. Most provocatively, she ties the rise of bullying behavior to America’s economic move to the right.

Hmmm… In the interview, Klein says that shootings are on the rise:

Between 1979 and 1988 there were 27 school shootings. From 1989 to 1998 there were 55 and then they continued to increase from 1999 to 2008 to 66, so there were 148 shootings in the three decades from 1979 to 2008. What’s most disturbing is that in the three years since 2008 there have been 43 shootings, and that’s almost two-thirds of the number of shootings that occurred in the preceding decade.

via Inside the bully economy – Bullying – Salon.com.