Tamar Mitts in The Journal of Economic Perspectives: "Can war foster cooperation?"

July 31, 2016

Can War Foster Cooperation?” Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilová, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel and Tamar Mitts pose this question in the summer 2016 volume of The Journal of Economic Perspectives.


Warfare leaves terrible legacies, from raw physical destruction to shattered lives and families. International development researchers and policymakers sometimes describe war as “development in reverse” (for example, Collier et al. 2003), causing persistent adverse effects on all factors relevant for development: physical, human, and social capital. Yet a long history of scholarship from diverse disciplines offers a different perspective on one of the legacies of war. Historians and anthropologists have noted how, in some instances, war fostered societal transitions from chiefdoms to states and further strengthened existing states (Carneiro 1970; Flannery and Marcus 2003; Tilly 1985; Choi and Bowles 2007; Morris 2014; Diamond 1999). Meanwhile, both economists and evolutionary biologists, in examining the long-run processes of institution-building, have also argued that war has spurred the emergence of more complex forms of social organization, potentially by altering people’s psychology (Bowles 2008; Turchin 2016). In this article we discuss and synthesize a rapidly growing body of research based on a wealth of new data from which a consistent finding has emerged: people exposed to war violence tend to behave more cooperatively after war…