possibilities or difficult life-and-death decisions? The Human
Genome Project may ultimately mean both.
Oberlin Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian
Studies placed its first intern last summer. Read this firsthand
account of his experiences in Moscow.
new organ takes shape in Finney Chapel. Profile 6 Economist
Gregory Hess and his student research assistant ponder the
relationship between war, economics, and the election cycle.
at Oberlin? Most definitely. A three-hour marathon of student
film shorts last May was just the tip of the growing celluloid
Ann Marie Gilbert inspires teamwork on and off the basketball
Oberlin Orchestra performed at the Getty Center, L.A. under
the direction of guest conductor John Williams.
facts you might be interested in.
Economics, and War
Student Work to Understand the Relationship
by Michael Barthel '01
motivates U.S. political leaders to engage in war?
Gregory Hess, the Danforth-Lewis Professor of Economics, has been
pondering that question for several years.
With Athanasius Orphanides of the Federal Reserve Board, Hess developed
an economic theory of the political use of force that links the economy's
performance, the election cycle, and the decision to engage in conflict.
Then, with a grant from the World Bank Research Group, he and two
other colleagues -- S. Brock Blomberg of Wellesley College and Siddarth
Thacker '99 of McKinsey & Company -- extended the earlier studies.
Their major theoretical finding concludes that if voters' preferences
are influenced jointly by a leader's ability both to protect their
interests and competently handle the economy, an incumbent leader
with a poor economic record may initiate conflict.
"There are two reasons why politicians would do this," said Hess,
who is a consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the
International Monetary Fund Institute, as well as a member of the
Shadow Open Market Committee. "It could be diversionary, which is
when leaders try to change the topic of discourse by starting a war.
Or it could be appropriative."
Hess' work to date has been confined to international conflicts in
which the U.S. has engaged in the last 100 years. He was eager to
test his theory on conflicts between Native American tribes and U.S.
federal or state troops, but had been unable to do so "due to the
unavailability of data and my unfamiliarity with the history of the
American West," he said. He found a willing -- and knowledgeable --
research partner in Andrew Harrison '02, an economics and East Asian
studies double major from Tucson, Arizona.
"I was interested in learning about how economics is actually used,
and I'm also very interested in the history of the West, so it was
a great fit," Harrison said.
A McGregor-Oresman grant allowed Hess to hire Harrison as a research
assistant last summer. The pair focused on conflicts between 1866
and 1890 in the Plains and western states and territories.
Harrison researched and compiled a data set of annual economic indicators
for the initiation and escalation of conflicts during the period.
It was not easy work. Few official economic records were kept at that
time, and because the U.S. economy was less integrated across regions
then, much of the data had to be extrapolated from commodity prices,
agricultural prices and yields, and calculations of the gross domestic
product, among other sources.
Harrison also gathered political data -- such as election timeframes
and the status of the territories as they became states -- and tied
it to the economic and conflict data.
"The work was very frustrating," Harrison said. "I was having to piece
together historical accounts from various sources that were often
conflicting. Professor Hess kept encouraging me and was very positive.
From him I learned to see economics working in places I had never
even considered before. It's neat to see how the things I am learning
in class can be used to find interesting relationships people might
not ordinarily expect."
Hess agreed that it was an explorative process. "You just have to
jump in, start swimming, and hope to find the shore," he said. Hess
and Harrison hope to complete their study this year; they plan to
apply for a grant from the MacArthur Foundation's Program for Security
"Given the tremendous social and economic costs associated with conflict,
a better understanding of what drives leaders to engage in conflict
will allow researchers to design better institutions for limiting
such conflict," Hess said.