February 11, 2008


Graft Paper: The economics of assassination might surprise you as much as they did Harvard's Ben Olken (Michael Moynihan, January/February 2008, The American)

In his nondescript office on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, nestled in a far-off corner of Harvard Square, Ben Olken ruminates on the economic consequences of tyrannicide, the damaging effects of television on social cohesion, and the byzantine system of bribery in Indonesia. Olken, a 32-year-old with an undergraduate degree from Yale (in mathe­matics and “ethics, politics, and economics”) and an economics doctorate from Harvard, is a ris­ing star in the field of developmental economics. [...]

In “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” Olken and Jones looked at the effects of political assassination, using a strict empirical methodology that takes into account economic conditions at the time of the killing and what Olken calls a “novel data set” of assas­sination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, between 1875 and 2004.

Olken and Jones discovered that a country was “more likely to see democratization follow­ing the assassination of an autocratic leader,” but found no substantial “effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.” They concluded that “on average, successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy.” The researchers also found that assassinations have no effect on the inauguration of wars, a result that “suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of whether or not the attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had succeeded or failed.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 11, 2008 1:43 PM
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