Mark Harrison, 14 November 2019

Economic warfare was widely used in WWII. When one country blockaded another’s supply of essential goods or bombed the industries producing them, why did the adversary’s economy fail to collapse? This column, part of the Vox debate on the economics of WWII, reviews Mançur Olson’s insights, which arose from the elementary economic concept of substitution. He concluded that there are no essential goods; there are only essential uses, which can generally be supplied in many ways.

Walter Scheidel, 02 September 2019

World War II sharply reduced income and wealth inequality in many countries. This column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes how various factors converged to produce this outcome. Mass mobilisation raised demand for labour and reduced skill premiums, extremely high marginal tax rates cut into elite incomes and fortunes, aggressive government intervention curtailed corporate and investment profits and sought to protect workers, consumers, and renters. Returns of capital fell as international markets suffered interruptions and physical assets risked confiscation or destruction. Communist regimes expanded their reach. In market economies, the war experience promoted reforms regarding social welfare, unionisation and taxation that sustained several decades of greater equality.

Phillips Payson O’Brien, 03 September 2019

Allied victory in WWII is usually viewed through the lens of large land battles, from Stalingrad to Kursk to D-Day. However, battlefield losses of equipment in these ‘great’ land battles were relatively small and easily replaceable. This column demonstrates that the real effort of the major powers was put into the construction of air and sea weapons. The Allies used their air and sea power to destroy the Axis’s in a multi-layered campaign. This was the true battlefield of WWII: a massive air-sea super battlefield that stretched for thousands of miles. Victory in this super-battlefield led to victory in the war.

Alan Bollard, 05 September 2019

The World Wars precipitated unprecedented economic problems in all countries. This column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes how economists played a larger role in WWII than in any previous conflict. They advanced the methods of public finance and influenced the directions of the war effort. By the end of the war, economists were widely embedded in government and policymaking.

Cormac Ó Gráda, 02 September 2019

Of WWII’s warring powers only the Soviet Union suffered mass starvation, but as this column, part of a Vox debate on the economics of WWII, describes, it is a measure of the war’s global reach that 20 to 25 million civilians died of hunger or hunger-related diseases outside Europe. In Britain effective rationing ensured a ‘fair’ distribution of food supplies throughout the war and in Germany the famine conditions experienced in 1918-19 were not replicated, but Japan was facing semi-starvation at war’s end. In Europe, apart from Greece and the Soviet Union, famine mortality was modest, but 3-5% of the populations of faraway Bengal, Henan, and Java perished. 

Roberto Bonfatti, Kevin O'Rourke, 26 May 2017

Classical models suggest that shifts in the balance of power can lead to conflict, where the established power has the incentive to trigger war to deter the threat to its dominance. This column argues that this changes if international trade is taken into account. Industrialisation requires the import of natural resources, potentially leading a smaller nation to trigger war either against a resource-rich country or the incumbent nation. The model can help explain the US-Japanese conflict of 1941 and Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and has implications for US-Chinese relations today.

Melissa Dell, Pablo Querubin, 16 August 2016

The nature of US military interventions has become relevant in the face of new growing threats, particularly from so-called Islamic State. While top-down strategies that rely on overwhelming firepower are sometimes favoured by politicians, longer-term strategies use a bottom-up approach, gaining citizens’ support through civic engagement. This column introduces evidence from US actions during the Vietnam War to show that bottom-up approaches are more successful in countering insurgencies than violent, top-down interventions.

Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilová, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel, Tamar Mitts, 02 July 2016

The past decade has seen rapid growth in an interdisciplinary body of research examining the legacy of war on social and political behaviour. This column presents a meta-analysis and synthesis of this research. Evidence from surveys and experiments from over 40 countries reveals a stylised fact: individual exposure to war-related violence tends to increase social cooperation, community participation, and pro-social behaviour. However, these changes are mainly directed towards people from the same community.

Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 24 December 2015

The carving up of Africa by colonial powers is often a touch-stone for those concerned with African development and underdevelopment. This column looks into the effect imposed borders had on splitting ethnicities across countries. It finds that colonial border designs have spurred political violence and that ethnic partitioning is systematically linked to civil conflict, discrimination by the national government, and instability.

Avner Offer, 19 September 2014

Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.

George Hall, Thomas Sargent, 19 May 2013

Can we learn from previous instances of fiscal prioritisation? This column surveys the US Treasury’s response to three wars – the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812 and the Civil War. Contemporary advocates of engaging in fiscal discrimination might ponder the actions of previous US Presidents Madison and Grant, who honoured all existing federal obligations despite challenging fiscal conditions.

Santiago Sanchez-Pages, 24 September 2010

Are conflicts worth it? This column argues that they can be. While wars are extremely damaging, they can be in the interests of one party if they help reveal the true balance of power and thereby change the stakes in eventual negotiations. This explains why small countries take on superpowers with no chance of winning and why unions go on strike against laws already passed.

Philippe Martin, Thierry Mayer, Mathias Thoenig, 09 April 2010

What role can free trade agreements play in an increasingly globalised world? This column argues that both economics and politics matter. Because they involve trade gains, trade agreements reduce the risk of dispute by increasing the opportunity cost of war. But with globalisation, this cost decreases, making such agreements more, not less, important to keep the peace.

Philippe Martin, 01 August 2008

Philippe Martin talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his research with Thierry Mayer and Mathias Thoenig on the ambiguous relationship between globalisation and war – both civil war and war between states. They find that trade deters severe civil conflicts but fosters less severe ones. And trade created by regional trade agreements is pacifying in terms of wars between states, but greater overall openness has the opposite effect.

Benjamin Jones, Benjamin Olken, 13 May 2007

Assassinations, and attempted assassinations, have occurred throughout history and are a persistent feature of the political landscape. In fact, a national leader has been assassinated in nearly two out of every three years since 1950.

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