Can War Foster Cooperation?

There is a new NBER working paper on this question by Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilová, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel, Tamar Mitts:

In the past decade, nearly 20 studies have found a strong, persistent pattern in surveys and behavioral experiments from over 40 countries: individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social cooperation at the local level, including community participation and prosocial behavior. Thus while war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. We discuss, synthesize and reanalyze the emerging body of evidence, and weigh alternative explanations. There is some indication that war violence especially enhances in-group or “parochial” norms and preferences, a finding that, if true, suggests that the rising social cohesion we document need not promote broader peace.

That is an all-star line-up of authors, and no this doesn’t mean any of those individuals are in favor of war.  That would be the fallacy of mood affiliation, and we all know that MR readers never commit the fallacy of mood affiliation…


Hasn't everybody always known this?

Yeah, seems rather obvious.

I suppose empirical evidence confirming the obvious is useful, though, since our intuition may be wrong.

How many of Mr Cowen's posts are intended as crude satire? This one is, obviously, but what proportion of the rest?

Wikipedia tells me that this writer supported the Iraq war. When a supposedly high IQ person supports such a clearly irrational pointless venture, it tells me all I need to know. There is not much point in reading more.

When someone claims that one side of a complex issue is idiotic, that is a good sign that it's not worth reading further.

The war was good for Israel.

It was also good for Jordan and Kuwait. What's your point? Oh yes, jooos.

C.S. Lewis knew it in 1942, when he had the Devil complaining that war can actually hinder the course of Evil by focusing hatred on distant enemies. The Devil advised his protege to "direct the malice of his patient to his immediate neighbor whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know,"

Excellent point. This is a big problem today -- we love man in the abstract and hate him in the particular.

Well, we might love "human beings" in the abstract, but we kind of hate "man" even in the abstract today.

I think it was the Carnegie foundation for world peace that actually sent Woodrow Wilson a letter asking that the war not be ended so quickly as prevent their ability to use wartime solidarity as a pretext for social engineering.

Isn't this obvious? War was the handmaiden of the modern European state. Without war, there was no need for different states to coalesce together into nation states (well, "nation states"). That is why the EU makes Catalonian independence look attractive.

Suppose universal peace broke out. Why wouldn't Rhode Island be better off as an independent nation? Why wouldn't San Francisco be better off as an independent City State?

I would think that war and slavery caused a similar process in pre-colonial Africa as well.

Seems to be a particular example of the "violence against the out group leads to in-group cohesion." When the out group is other countries/nations I can see this inspiring particular devotion to home country values and their preservation. Shared adversity breeds cohesion, as every fraternity pledge or sports team member knows.

The difference between medicine and poison is in the dosage. War frequency? Every 10 years, 2 generations, or continuous war? Won and lost wars are the same?

Just finished reading the article:

"The increased local cooperation we document might help to explain why some post-conflict countries experience almost “miraculous” economic and social recoveries. Yet if people
become more parochial and less cooperative with out-group members, this behavioral response could also harden social divisions, contribute to conflict cycles, and help explain the well-known pattern that many post-conflict countries soon return to violence."

"Our reading is that the evidence favors the idea that war violence influences individual social preferences or adherence to existing social norms, and there is suggestive evidence that these changes may be parochial in nature."

It seems War is just a catalyst. It makes people more cooperative and follow the community rules. It's coin flip, the consensus can be let's live in peace or regroup, rebuild a prepare to exterminate the others in the next conflict.

This is right along the lines of one of my questions in response to the claim. What "social cooperation"? It's not really that a highly cooperative societie is the end goal or even a metric for ideentifying a good society on it's own. As for the basic conclusion, as others have questions, isn't that all already pretty well established from archeological and anthropological studies -- when man is faces with harsh, dangerous conditions the need of group operation is important. Sure, there are the (I suspect mostly myths) stories about the one man who kills the mamoth, tiger, lion, elephant, bear... but for the most part we did all that in packs.

What's really new here?

"Thus while war has many negative legacies for individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in terms of local cooperation and civic engagement" -- my inner Randian is not sure if that's a good thing.

Even Rand didn't deny the need for police and military to protect individual rights. She even thought they should be funded through voluntary contributions. High levels of local cooperation and civic engagement make for much more effective law enforcement and national defense and they would certainly help in their fundraising efforts. Rand's ideas were utopian anyway but take away any feelings of solidarity or civic pride and you lose the basis for even a minimalist state.

But the dark side of that enhanced 'local cooperation and civic engagement' is the strengthening of 'in-group or parochial norms and preferences' -- so, increased xenophobia, a reduced tolerance for dissent and 'deviance', etc. I'm reminded of this:

Sure, few things are good when taken to extremes. Too much local cooperation and civic engagement almost certainly does lead to xenophobia and intolerance. Too little can lead to the corruption, gangsterism and the sort of dysfunctional governance we see in parts of the developing world.

Cooperation is not unitary. Cooperation based on trust and mutually advantageous exchange is one thing (affection may be present or not -- it is not essential. I need to trust you, but I don't need to love or even like you to work with or trade with you). Group bonding in the face of a threat by an enemy is something else entirely. It is a kind of temporary hormone-driven mania. The fellow feeling is intense and euphoric and people who have experienced it often mourn its loss -- sort of the way people mourn the loss of the initial craziness of falling in love. The first kind of cooperation is great -- there's really no downside. But the second kind is what enables humans to brutalize and kill members of the out-group with gusto. We should distrust it intensely and not look for more ways to generate it.

"Mood affiliation" seems to be the new favorite term of TC. If you google it you can hardly find anything about it - except the definition by TC which is not that accurate. I'm pretty sure there's already an accurate definition of this fallacy out there - and that its common name is not mood affiliation.

Another self-recommending Straussian perspective.

"“Mood affiliation” seems to be the new favorite term of TC."

It's not new. He's been using it for years and, as far as I know, he created it (or at least popularized it on the web).

"– except the definition by TC which is not that accurate. "

Since he crafted the term, how can his definition be wrong?

Is TC beating the war drum again? A few years ago he said war is a stimulus for post-war development and a harbinger for technology change. Piketty also likes war as a great leveler for inequality. And a few decades ago, some DC area university official --was George Mason? George Washington? Georgetown? American?--got into hot water for suggesting basically the same thing this paper said. I forget whether he had to resign or just apologize.for what was interpreted as an ex cathedra pronouncement, though in fact it was just a personal opinion, and in view of this paper, largely correct.

Jews (esp. liberal ones) love war, in case you haven't noticed.

Yeah, right. Is this why 90% of them are Dem voters who abhor war.

Finally, there was no particular Jewish support for the 100 years war, the war of the Spanish succession, the Vietnam war with America (or China) nor for El Salvador's soccer war.

Wait, so Jews only support certain wars? Wow do you mean then that they are just like the most of us in that respect?

They support wars for Israel, which is the point of US interference in the ME. Jewish voters may express partisan dislike of particular Republican policies, but the Democratic Party is just as Zionist (60% of Democratic funds come from Jews).

Someone pointed out to me, a number of years back so the ratio may have changed but I've not been keep score, that the Democrats have actually started/declaired war much more often than Republicans. Not sure your position is consistent with general facts.

How could it be otherwise?

"and we all know that MR readers never commit the fallacy of mood affiliation…" -Or indeed the host... :)

After yesterdays post, I wonder if this is a tacit admission by Tyler that he might have got caught up in his own mood affiliation?

Drunk white men?

That was straight up Moody Affiliation.

A week or two ago I listened to an NPR interview of a woman who was from Sarajevo who lamented the loss of social cohesion and purpose she and other residents felt during the siege in the 1990s. Simply walking outside was an act of solidarity with fellow residents, the risk taken exceeded by the sense of social cohesion and purpose. Several weeks ago I listened to an NPR interview of a former soldier who works with middle east war veterans suffering from mental health issues. According to him, only a small fraction of veterans diagnosed with PTSD actually served in combat, that they suffer not from PTSD but from the loss of the cohesion and purpose and comradeship they experienced as soldiers, that unlike veterans of WWII who came home to many similarly situated veterans who shared the same or similar experiences (siblings, fellow workers, etc.), veterans of the middle east wars come home to no such support group. War is so horrible that there must be something to it for war to be so popular. Profit motive I can understand, liberation I can understand, but more often than not war is conducted for reasons that are irrational, with the victors gaining little if anything other than survival, survival for another war fought for the same irrational reasons. War (violence) is the last refuge of the incompetent. Maybe not.

So there you have it. Western intervention in Yugoslavia was irrational. Rayward says so. Oddly enough a lot of "peacekeepers" agreed with you about violence being the last refuge of the incompetent. That is why the city you mention - Sarajevo - underwent the longest siege in modern history. Because the West refused to get involved. That is why the UN peacekeepers stood aside as the men of Srebrenica were massacred:

You don't even need something as terrible as war. I've lived through a few low-level natural disasters, and the sharing, helpfulness, and camaraderie that was a natural outgrowth of those challenges are still a topic of nostalgia for me and my neighbours even decades away from the incidents.

"War is so horrible that there must be something to it for war to be so popular." While I'm sure things like profit motive in the form or takings and displacement of competetors might figure in I suspect the key "something" is that those who decide to wage wars are seldom those who have to fight it. In short the costs are not born by those who choose consume it.

The essay Why Men Love War is gripping reading. According to this essay -- written by a Vietnam veteran who seems to know what he is talking about -- the dirty secret is, for a certain subset of the male population, being in combat is simply the most amazing, transformative and sublime experience ever. If you survive without horrific injuries and without seeing your friends blown to bits, that is. Since it is rude to voice this opinion in public, maybe we aren't doing a very good job of understanding why war is so popular (as you say) and understanding combat veterans themselves.

And leftists enjoy revolution as well as general social turmoil. They've hardly stopped talking about '68.

"the loss of the cohesion and purpose and comradeship they experienced": that happened to some of us when we got too old to play rugby and cricket. There's no need to blub about it.

Yes. Next question . . .

Jonah Goldberg makes similar points in 'Liberal Fascism'. He documents extensively how early progressives wanted to create the moral imperative of war in order to induce cooperation, hence a bigger state which would be used to solve the ills of society as the progressives understood.

That's pretty much a core thesis of Orwell's 1984. So yes, this is hardly new. However, it's still good practice to confirm what we consider obvious truths.

People in my neighborhood were very cooperative after a bad ice storm. Folks met some neighbors for the first time. The guys with chainsaws helped clear limbs from other people's driveways. I think it is the same phenomenon as the war stuff. What's interesting is the flip side of this argument. Is peace, prosperity, and stability fostering indifference and social isolation?

But the storm did not make this people become good people (pro-social). A similar storm with other people ends in riots and plunder.

In ancient Greece and Rome cohesion and purpose and comradeship derived from the household to which one belonged (members of a household extended far beyond the familial for those who aren't familiar with the concept), a relationship upon which our own from of republicanism was built. The state is a substitute, a poor substitute, for the household. That helps explain why patriots like George Mason opposed the constitution (because it codified a national government), why Thomas Jefferson could at once be the voice of liberty and own slaves, why ordinary Southerners would fight and die for a cause that if anything made them poorer, why Southerners today continue to cherish the memory of a war fought for the worst of motives. Devoltion doesn't end with the state or even the municipality but the household. Of course, Cowen often expresses what I interpret as a fondness for ancient Greece and Rome, a fondness that must recognize the household (rather than the state) as the foundation for their cohesion. The household subsumes male dominance, as it is patriarchal, a feature that helps explain the ongoing appeal of the authoritarian male politician.

Bumper Sticker:

Make War!!!

Then LOVE.

Did I miss the party?

When are we entering the love phase?

Let's create some artificial wars instead.

War on Poverty

War on Climate Change

War on Tenure (slipped that one in to get attention)

War on Racism (this will get a bunch of crazy follow ons based on recent posts)

If we are successful, and even if we're not, so long as we are engaged,

There will be a lot of lovin' to do.

Somehow the above seem not to have had the unifying effect of a real war ....

Need to make them violent:

"individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social cooperation at the local level, including community participation and prosocial behavior"

Also explored by Ian Morris in War: What is it good for?: The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots.

Let's examine an alternative hypothesis based on current military technology which is often remote, and when there are our boots on the ground, well covered by the media.

There are two audiences for the love experiment: the US audience (remote watchers; relatively little participation in the war except for paying for it) and the target (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (who else have I missed). Based on the articles theory, only one audience will consolidate -- the foreign audience, and not the US, because the war is not here. In fact, our life goes on as it always did, while terror reigned in the target audience. Moreover, over time, dissension to war grows in the US, the war is not here, but there, the bill is big, and the body bags arrive.

Has it been your experience that foreign wars create love in the US? As for the targets, I suppose you could say Vietnam is more cohesive, but Iraq or Afghanistan? Will they ever be, or do they have to be in war longer before they get that good loving feeling.

Sigh, MR has transformed into a blog where a distressingly high percentage of discourse is people posting first how TC's ideas are facile and they can't believe how much his thinking has decayed, just before they spout "political philosophy" that is basically indistinguishable from chest-beating and chanting "scoreboard" over victories won by others in the past.

Let's make marginal revolution comments great again.

There have always been plenty of posters saying TC's ideas are facile. Generally, without much in the way of evidence.

That being said, TC has made at least two posts within the last month that were examples of his very own "fallacy of mood affiliation". Both of those included some rather contrived and poor examples to push his 'mood'. So, naturally there's been push back. I'd like to think that Tyler is the type of reflective individual that would rather see his ideas challenged and not just have a crowd of intellectual groupies.

I'd really like Tyler to be willing to come right out and admit when he falls prey to the various fallacies, particularly mood affiliation, that he readily points to in others.

I think it is a great achievement for a person to do so, and in my experience it is a fairly rare trait even among highly intelligent and intellectually curious people. I believe it would greatly benefit intellectual discourse if this became the norm. Though of course we'd also have to alter our willingness to use people's admissions against them in later argument. Typically, I think we tend to discredit someone more when they openly acknowledge that they were wrong, when really we should see it as a mitigating factor.

Arguably, having commenters who critique the blogger is much more interesting than having a comments section filled with syncophantic fellating, like Paul Krugman's blog.


If it's not too much to ask, would you mind going and fucking yourself? Thanks in advance.

This is a basic concept that showed up in my introductory level college history classes. Everyone knows that during WWI and WWII, employment discrimination against women and African-Americans went down dramatically...only to sadly increase again once the war was over, especially after WWI.

The way that war was fought during the early 20th century, the country with the most efficient industrial economy won. Racism and sexism are big economic inefficiencies and we had to get rid of those for the war.

There may also be a survivor bias here - the ones who don't cooperate are not around to be surveyed.

The possibility of having your group annihilated or assimilated was probably much more real in the thousands of years during which the cooperative tendency here would have been selected for than in the more modern wars that (I assume) are being examined. So there was likely a very literal survivor bias that produced this tendency over thousands of years, but little such bias in the examined wars.

Well, let's have a fake war! Social cooperation can go up, and we can so real stimulus spending fighting off the Martians.

Interesting findings on page 31. "Looking across many studies, however, systematic patterns emerge which were not readily apparent in any single article. For instance, despite early indications that political behavior might also be as positively affected as prosociality (Blattman 2009), this increase in political engagement is not borne out in several more recent studies (e.g., Voors et al. 2012; Cassar, Grosjean, and Whitt 2013; Bauer, Fiala, and Levely 2014). Another example comes from the lab experiments, which more often than not have shown that the pro-sociality that emerges is focused on in-group interactions but not on behavior towards out-groups. This evidence for parochial altruism,while
preliminary, matters because war might enhance intragroup cooperation and facilitate post-conflict reconstruction while
simultaneously raising the risk of future social divisions and renewed intergroup conflict."

The implication would seem to be that hope should not be gotten up that the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees coming this way will assimilate easily. Also suggests that Tyler's "brutes" who fight the US's wars are not necessarily interested in being puppets for the clerisy. Bottom line, "we, the people" is deader than a door-nail. There is no we in the US.

This is why people look back with such fondness on the 1950s and why economic growth was so fast during that period.

Of course. Which is why progressives have consistently sought the "moral equivalent of war" (ex. War on Cancer, War on Crime, War on Drugs, War on Poverty).

Also I would be interested to see how this is measured for time (i.e does the longer the war go, does it corrode unity in a society?)

The answer to every imaginable question concerning human behavior that starts with "Can ..." is "Yes."

Behold, the Kosher Pope! (He loves war himself, btw.)

Only in academia do we have studies for statements of the obvious....

Comments for this post are closed