Tag Archives: Warfare

Don’t Panic!! War, Money and Stability, 1914-45

Confidence, Fear and a Propensity to Gamble: The Puzzle of War and Economics in an Age of Catastrophe 1914-45

by Roger L. Ransom (roger.ransom@ucr.edu) (University of California at Riverside)

This paper uses the notion of animal spirits introduced by John Maynard Keynes in the General Theory and more recently employed by George Akerloff and Robert Shiller in their book Animal Spirits, to explain the speculative bubbles and decisions for war from 1914 to 1945. Animal spirits are “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction” that produces decisions which are not bounded by “rational” calculations. My analysis shows how confidence, fear, and a propensity to gamble can encourage aggressive behavior that leads to speculative “bubbles” in financial markets and military or political crises. Elements of prospect theory are added to demonstrate how the presence of risk in crises tend to produce a very strong bias towards taking gambles to avoid economic or military loses. A basic premise of the paper is that war and economics were inexorably joined together by 1914 to a point where economic strength was as important as military might in determining the outcome of a war. The final section of the paper deals with the problem of measuring military and economic strength by using the composite index of national capability [CINC] created by the Correlates of War Project to evaluate the riskiness of the Schlieffen Plan in 1914 and the changes in military capability of major powers between 1914-1919

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/ucrwpaper/201603.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2016-03-17

Reviewed by Mark J Crowley

This paper surveys the impact of war on economic stability, and the role that confidence and fear plays in the nature of the economy and economic development.   It provides an interesting addition to the historiography, especially since numerous similar studies have concentrated on the social ramifications of war, most notably the correlation between armed conflict and social change first identified by Arthur Marwick in the 1970s.


John Maynard Keynes is still regarded by many as the architect of modern economics in war and peace

Using the framework of ‘animal spirits’, first advanced by John Maynard Keynes in his classical General Theory study of 1936, Ransom shows how emotion and rationality have governed many of the economic cycles that ensued as a result of war and peace. He shows that decisions based on instinct were often the driver of many deep-rooted changes that would impact on long-term economic stability.  With the perception among policymakers that interwar years (i.e. the period after the First World War) would lead to a period of significant economic instability, he shows how major world leaders often took gambles – some of which paid off, but some of which had deep consequences that not only changed the course of war, but also affected long-term economic performance.

In identifying the limitations of economic history analyses in this area, Ransom argues that the uncertainties caused by war and the transition to a peacetime economy leads to several difficulties. For economists, no real models exist for the predictions of uncertainty or volatility, whereas outcomes can, to a certain degree of accuracy, be predicted. Furthermore, he claims that in countries where the economy was growing and the war effort was achieving positive aims, leaders were thus operating in a ‘confidence bubble.’ Yet while this progress could be regarded as positive for the nation, the implications for the economy were not always fruitful, especially since the impact of emotion on leaders’ psyche meant that despite these developments, leaders and planners did not always act rationally. In explaining this phenomenon, Ransom draws on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tverskey’s 1979 ‘Prospect theory’ in which they argue that many leaders have focused on the results they think are really possible while also seeking to avoid large losses. This, in turn, has served to cloud judgement with regard to the possibilities open to make significant gains.


Hoovervilles in the USA became a common sight of the Great Depression of the 1920s

In the final part of the paper, Ransom shows how historians have used the Composite Index of National Capability in order to assess a nation’s capability to wage a war.  The test, comprising six areas includes: military personnel; military expenditure; total population; urban population; primary energy consumption; and iron and steel consumption.  This approach looks at these aspects and divides each nation by the overall global variable.   While not totally reliable, it can offer possibilities to explain why leaders, in preparation for, and in prosecution of, war have changed strategies according to national needs.  Using the Battle of the Marne during the First World War as an example, Ransom shows how this acted as a ‘tipping point’ in the German prosecution of the war effort – the failure of which saw confidence turn into fear and the widely-regarded failure of General Schlieffen to discharge Germany’s military capability in the most effective way. Thus the idea that economics formed the foundation a nation’s military capability after the First World War has now received greater attention.


General Schlieffen’s economic decisions during the First World War have now been seen as a possible reason for German’s failures.


This paper is fascinating for the way that it shows the impact of emotion and human rationality on economics.  In terms of economic policymaking, little attention has been dedicated to the role of emotion and human behaviour on the economic decisions taken that, in turn, had a fundamental impact on the trajectory of war.

The interesting aspect of this paper lies in the way that Ransom uses case studies to show how wars, and the pressures placed on leaders, could have influenced their state of mind concerning their economic decisions.  The approach is geo-political.  This is particularly useful, since the importance of international relations would have impacted severely on a nation’s economic capability.  However, what could also be of interest is a consideration of the response on the home front to the challenges brought about by war and peace, and how the opinions of ordinary citizens may or may not have influenced those in positions of power.  For example, in the British case, the Ministry of Information during the Second World War commissioned surveys of the home front to ascertain people’s opinions on a wide range of topics, of which the condition of the economy featured heavily.  The social research organisation, Mass Observation, also conducted similar surveys so as to inform the government of the home front’s condition, and how it could be maintained to ensure solidarity for the war effort.  At the core of many citizens’ grievances was the nature of the economy, especially rising food prices.  While ascertaining this information in a transnational study such as this may not be easy, perhaps a little more focus on citizens’ opinions of economy and the prosecution of the war effort would provide a wider framework in which to understand the influences on world leaders when making decisions controlling the trajectory of their nation’s economies in war and peace.



Jefferys, Kevin (ed.), War and Reform: British Politics during the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994).

Marwick, Arthur, War and social change in the twentieth century: a comparative study of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States (London: Macmillan, 1974).

Milward, Alan S., War, Economy and Society, 1939-45 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987).

Minns, Raynes, Bombers and Mash: The Domestic Front, 1939-45 (London: Virago, 1980).


A Farewell to Arms? The Consequences of Warfare in Sub-Sahara Africa

Is Africa Different? Historical Conflict and State Development


Mark Dincecco (University of Michigan dincecco@umich.edu)

James Fenske (University of Oxford james.fenske@economics.ox.ac.uk)

Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato (IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca massimiliano.onorato@imtlucca.it)

ABSTRACT: We show that the consequences of historical warfare for state development differ for Sub-Saharan Africa. We identify the locations of more than 1,500 conflicts in Africa, Asia, and Europe from 1400 to 1799. We find that historical warfare predicts common-interest states defined by high fiscal capacity and low civil conflict across much of the Old World. For Sub-Saharan Africa, historical warfare predicts special-interest states defined by high fiscal capacity and high civil conflict. Our results offer new evidence about where and when war makes states.

URL:  http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:ial:wpaper:8/2015&r=all

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2015-09-05

Review by Anna Missiaia

The consequences of war on the development of nations have been gaining increasing attention in both Economics and Economic History alike. This paper by Dincecco, Frenske and Onorato, distributed on NEP-HIS on 2015-09-05 studies the consequences of wars on state development for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The paper refers to a rather large body of research developed within the field of Political Economics. The standard account, mostly focused on the European experience, predicts that the rise of warfare will lead, after the end of a conflict, to greater fiscal capacity and less civil conflict. The mechanism was first studied for Europe in the period 1500-1800 by Tilly (1993). Rulers generally had little political consequences from defeats, at least until the early 1800s, when Napoleon started replacing monarchs who had lost wars. Before then, wars were a quite regular phenomenon. Wars led to the expansion of the sources of taxations which was easily maintained in peace time. This enabled European states to enforce internal security more effectively, lowering civil conflict. The major implication of this perspective is that countries that experienced more wars in the past, today show greater fiscal capacity and less civil conflict (Fearon and Laiting, 2014; Besley and Persson, 2015).

As noted existing research focuses on Europe, so it is interesting to see that Dincecco, Frenske and Onorato (DFO) find different results when applying the same premises to Sub-Saharan Africa.  The paper by DFO begins by presenting two opposing views. On the one hand, there is evidence that the standard account of more wars in the past lead to greater fiscal capacity and less conflict today also applies to Sub-Sahara Africa. Specifically Michalopoulos and Papaioannou (2013) document evidence suggesting that more conflicts lead to more state centralization. Meanwhile that of Bates (2014) suggests that more centralized states are the most developed in the African continent. On the other hand, the opposing view focuses on a series of characteristics of the Sub-Saharan region (such as slave trade and colonization) that are responsible for the failure by the standard account to explain the trajectory of African states.


The Battle of Rocroi, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.

The paper by DFO takes a comparative approach, testing the relationship between historical warfare and state development in several continents. The empirical strategy is rather intuitive, taking four measure of fiscal capacity of states today and regressing them on the number of conflicts that affected each region. They include a set of standard controls (latitude, population density, arable land and so on) and also continental fixed effects.  The same procedure is then repeated for three measure of civil conflict today.

The first result is that fiscal capacity today does increase in all continents for countries that experienced more wars in the past. Sub-Sahara Africa makes no exception here. The second result deals with civil conflict and this is different. Here, unlike the other continents, Sub-Sahara Africa shows a positive correlation between historical warfare and civil conflict today.

DFO are well aware of the possible shortcomings of their strategy, which are shared with virtually all works trying to address outcomes today caused by institutional arrangements from the past (one above all, Acemoglu et al. 2005). Dincecco and coauthors provide a comprehensive list of robustness checks by adding further observable controls. They also acknowledge that in spite of these controls, unobservable characteristics related to both historical warfare and present state development might still bias their results. They apply a quite interesting methodology to give an idea of the potential bias: they provide a measure, used by authors like Nunn and Wantchekon (2011), that estimates how much greater the impact of unobservable variables should be, relative to the observable, to explain the variation in the data. The result is that unobservable variables would need to have a nearly 20 times stronger impact to explain the variation in the sample. This result of course does not rule out that some of these variables have a role, but it ensure us that a fair amount of the explanatory power lies in the observable variables. Another remarkable feature of the paper by DFO is that it addresses the issue of the time span between the dependent and the explanatory variables. This is in a way a structural issue of all this branch of research, but it is always reassuring to see authors taking it into account. They do so by running the model with intermediate outcomes (around the beginning of the 20th century) and showing that these two showed a similar pattern to today’s.


Somalia’s 1991 civil war

DFO also provide a tentative explanation to why states in Sub-Sahara Africa might behave differently than Europeans. DFO do so by including measures of democratization, ethnic fractionalization and social trust as controls in the regression. They add these one by one, looking at the effect of these controls on the magnitude of the coefficients of interest. The only control here that seems to have an effect on the coefficients is social trust. However, the authors interpret the result with caution because of the small sample size (here only Sub-Sahara Africa is included, lowering the number of observations to only 47).

Regarding the use of measure of social trust to explain the relationship between warfare and fiscal capacity/civil conflict today, I would also be worried about two other points: firstly, the measure of social trust is based on a survey from relatively recent times (1980s onward) while the relationship tested is between historical warfare and fiscal capacity/civil conflict today; secondly, this measure could be highly collinear with the variables considered (of course, the usual caveats on reverse causality that are typical in this line of research also apply here).

To conclude, the paper by DFO contributes to both the debate within Political Economics by quantitatively testing a well-established narrative on a region of the world that is very different from the standard one used in the past (meaning empirical studies based on Europe). By doing so, it does find that Sub-Sahara Africa experienced a different dynamic that led to a different outcome today. It also shows a very careful work on the data used and it addresses several sources of criticism. A possible next step could be to take further the analysis of the mechanism behind through which war impacts state development.


Acemoglu, D., , S. Johnson and J. Robinson (2001). “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review, 91: 1369-1401.

Bates, R. (2014). “The Imperial Peace,” in E. Akyeampong, R. Bates, N. Nunn, and J. Robinson, eds., Africa’s Development in Historical Perspective, pp. 424-46, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Besley, T. and T. Persson (2015). “State Capacity, Institutions, and Development.” The Political Economist Newsletter.

Fearon, J. and D. Laitin (2014). “Does Contemporary Armed Conflict Have Deep Historical Roots?” Working paper, Stanford University.

Michalopoulos, S. and E. Papaioannou (2011). “The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa.” NBER Working Paper 17620.

Nunn, N. and L. Wantchekon (2011). “The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa.” American Economic Review, 101: 3221-52.

Tilly, C. (1992). Coercion, Capital, and European States, 990-1992. Cambridge: Blackwell