Andrea Asoni, Andrea Gilli, Mauro Gilli, Tino Sanandaji, 19 September 2021

There is a common perception that the US military predominantly recruits individuals from the most disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds with limited other career options. This column argues that this is no longer the case. Skill-biased technological change has led the US military to recruit more higher-skilled personnel since the 1990s, and while in 1979 the probability of joining the military was clearly higher for those with lower-than-average family income, for the 1997 cohort the probability was much more evenly distributed.

Sabrina Howell, Jason Rathje, John Van Reenen, Jun Wong, 08 May 2021

In recent decades, US defence R&D seems to have lost its lustre. To combat the declining innovation, in 2018 the US Air Force reformed its contracting procedures to allow applicants more freedom to suggest projects with potential military benefits. This column uses data on applications and winners from such competitions to assess the effects of the reform. It finds that the ‘open’ programme attracts new and younger firms, increases future venture capital investment, and increases patenting. Government R&D could thus benefit from more bottom-up, decentralised approaches to promote innovation in the public sector. 

Maja Adena, Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, Hans-Joachim Voth, 19 November 2020

In conflicts, adversaries aim for victory by using both direct and indirect forces to break the enemy’s will to resist. During WWII, Allied forces used strategic bombing and radio propaganda to undermine German morale. This column compares German domestic resistance to the Nazi regime, based on treason trial records, with the monthly volume of bombing and the locations of BBC radio transmitters. Where radio reception was better and Allied air forces bombed more heavily, German domestic resistance was markedly more likely, despite the draconian punishments for even the mildest transgressions.

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.

Travers Barclay Child, 21 May 2017

The pervasive ‘hearts and minds’ theory guiding counterinsurgency doctrine contends that military-led reconstruction reduces violence in post-conflict settings. Using rare data from Afghanistan, this column questions the theoretical and empirical basis of that perspective. Military-led projects in the health sector are found to successfully alleviate violence, whereas those in the education sector actually provoke conflict. The destabilising effects of education projects are strongest in conservative areas, where public opinion polls suggest education projects breed antipathy towards international forces.

Daron Acemoğlu, Davide Ticchi , Andrea Vindigni, 16 June 2008

Encouraging democracy is one goal of most industrialised nations’ foreign economic policies. Formulating such policies requires an understanding of the political-economy logic governing democratic transitions. This column describes an important recent advance in theoretical thinking on the military’s role.

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