Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Smear Campaigns Work Better Anyway

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A new study from Harvard’s Ben Olken argues that political assassinations tend to lead to democratization in autocracies but have “found no substantial ‘effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.'”

The researchers also found that assassinations have no effect on the inauguration of wars, a result that “suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of whether or not the attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had succeeded or failed.” Olken’s research on assassination suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

In “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II,” Olken and Jones explored whether “individual political leaders make a difference in economic growth.” This is tricky business for the researcher because, as Olken explains, a country’s economic situa­tion can affect the election of a leader: when the economic outlook is good, for instance, presi­dents are more likely to be reelected. So Olken and Jones looked at 57 leaders who died in office from accidents or natural causes and “found big changes in growth when autocratic leaders die in office—both positive and negative,” but no sub­stantial change when democratic leaders died in office. “The results suggest,” they write, “that individual leaders can play crucial roles in shap­ing the growth of nations,” provided they are ruling with minimal or nonexistent checks and balances to their power (think Augusto Pinochet or Robert Mugabe).

This and other results in a profile of Olken this month’s The American.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 26, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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