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Chris Blattman

Chris Blattman

Political economist studying conflict, crime, and poverty, and @UChicago Professor @HarrisPolicy and @PearsonInst. I blog at http://chrisblattman.com

Articles by Chris Blattman

The work habits of highly successful mathematicians, mostly to make you feel bad about your day today

26 days ago

On any given day, Huh does about three hours of focused work. He might think about a math problem, or prepare to lecture a classroom of students, or schedule doctor’s appointments for his two sons. “Then I’m exhausted,” he said. “Doing something that’s valuable, meaningful, creative” — or a task that he doesn’t particularly want to do, like scheduling those appointments — “takes away a lot of your energy.”
To hear him tell it, he doesn’t usually have much control over what he decides to focus on in those three hours. For a few months in the spring of 2019, all he did was read. He felt an urge to revisit books he’d first encountered when he was younger — including Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and several novels by the German author Hermann Hesse — so that’s what he did.

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Russian soldier gangsterism, cricket scams, optical illusions, and other links I liked

27 days ago

1. Scam of the day (Indian cricket edition): “I have never seen a scam like this. These guys just cleared a patch of land deep inside a village and began playing a match and beaming it on YouTube to make money through gambling. …We know very little about the Russians who were putting bets on this”
2. A good story on Russian repression and Ukrainian resistance inside occupied areas of Ukraine. Some Russian actions look an awful lot like how gangs and militias try to foster civilian collaboration through speedy justice for hire:
at the same time, the Russians also try to ingratiate themselves. Key to their efforts is the concept of what they call “swift justice”. The principle is simple: justice through the courts can take forever, so why not let them deliver it instead? Of course, it’s

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America’s path to war with Russia

29 days ago

That’s the title of my feature with RealClearDefense, published this weekend. Full text follows here.
The Biden administration has worked hard to keep Russia from treating America as a co-combatant in Ukraine. But that doesn’t mean NATO isn’t deeply embroiled in the fight. The level of support is extraordinary and increasing, including sanctions, intelligence sharing, weapons transfers, and money. Add to that the ever-heightening political rhetoric: “The United States is in this to win it,” one US Congressman tweeted from Kyiv.
But nothing in international law stops Russia from changing its mind and treating the United States as an active party to the conflict. Instead of providing bright red lines, the conventions are fuzzy and subjective. The fact that Vladimir Putin hasn’t deemed

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Acht Wochen Verhaltenstherapie und 200 Dollar verändern das Leben gewalttätiger Männer in Liberia nachhaltig

29 days ago

Erstmals haben Forscher gezeigt, dass Verhaltenstherapie bei Erwachsenen mit krimineller Vergangenheit auch 10 Jahre später noch wirkt: Im Durchschnitt konnten so 338 Straftaten verhindert werden – pro Person. Strassenverkäufer in Liberia, Juni 2021. Zohra Bensemra / ReutersWer in einem Umfeld von Gewalt aufgewachsen ist, ändert sein eigenes kriminelles Verhalten selten. So lautet die gängige Meinung. Auch Forscher sagen, antisozialem Verhalten sei im Erwachsenenalter schwer beizukommen. Doch seit kurzem gibt es ein beeindruckendes Gegenbeispiel aus Monrovia, der Hauptstadt von Liberia an der Westküste Afrikas. Dieses Gegenbeispiel wurde von Forschern der Harvard Medical School und des Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) geliefert. Das am MIT angesiedelte Poverty Action

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Two articles on Russia and Ukraine

July 9, 2022

Between 1998 and 2003, Ksenia Yudaeva and Konstantin Sonin were colleagues, first at the Russian-European Center for Economic Policy and then at the Center for Economic and Financial Research and Development. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Sonin (now a professor at the University of Chicago) reached out to Yudaeva (who today serves as the first deputy governor of the Central Bank). Fearing data insecurity on Facebook and Telegram, she asked him to install Signal.
When they finally connected using the encrypted instant messenger, Sonin warned Yudaeva that staying with Russia’s Central Bank is tantamount to supporting the invasion of Ukraine. The bank’s currency-transaction controls (later softened gradually but not lifted entirely) and other wartime interventions

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The United States is not headed for civil war

July 5, 2022

Now, those prophesizing war have a point. If you take civil conflict from recent history, you find a chillingly familiar list of initial conditions: politics hardening along identity lines; a surge of armed groups; an erosion of institutions. Ethnic polarization and democratic backsliding are especially persistent predictors of state collapse.
But apply this to the United States with care. The data driving these results comes from predicting massive acts of violence – genocide or revolutionary wars – almost all from low- and middle-income countries. It’s dubious to use these models to predict a different phenomenon – low-scale insurgency – in America or other rich, advanced democracies.
America’s democracy numbers also don’t add up. In 2015, raters like the Polity Project gave the United

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Intelligence Squared podcast

July 4, 2022

59 min

PLAY

Christopher Blattman is an economist, political scientist and Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at The University of Chicago. His new book is Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace, which explores why societies turn to violence and how poverty and oppression often go hand in hand with conflict. Chris’s work has taken him from studying poverty in Uganda to street gangs in Medellin, investigating the likes of dictators, monarchs, mobs and football hooligans along the way. Joining him to discuss the book is our host,

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Behavioral Scientist: Summer Book List 2022

July 4, 2022

Welcome to the 2022 Summer Book List. As in years past, the summer book list is a chance to peruse a collection of the most compelling behavioral science books published so far in the year. 

There are 26 titles for you to wander and explore. You’ll find books that illuminate new research and those that investigate complex social issues. Others offer a chance to look into the past or imagine a distant future. There are practical titles that might help you “get it done” in your personal life or engineer a breakthrough at work. The list features books published January through August of 2022.

While you wander, we hope it’s a chance to bump into a voice or view you wouldn’t otherwise come across—to read something out of your comfort zone; an antidote to the intellectual atrophy

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Review of Why We Fight in Das Milieu

July 4, 2022

It’s hard to come to peace with the idea that your society won’t overcome its struggles in your lifetime. But collective delusion won’t speed anyone along the path to peace. (S. 293 aus dem u. a. besprochenen Buch) Christopher Blattman, Professor für Konfliktstudien an der Universität Chicago hat sich mit dem Thema seines neuen Buches ein ehrgeiziges Ziel gesetzt. Denn die Kriegsursachenforschung, allgemein und auf Details bezogen, hat seit ihrem Beginn mit Quincy Wright und Lewis Richardson (als zwei Beispiele für ihre Pioniere) mittlerweile eine nicht mehr überschaubare Anzahl von Publikation hervorgebracht. Blattman positioniert sich in seiner hervorragend gegliederten Abhandlung mit einem Doppelfocus: Der erste Teil behandelt “Die Ursachen von Kriegen”, der zweite Teil “Wege zum

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Is America on brink of civil war? Such predictions are overblown and dangerous.

July 3, 2022

In 2016, democracy rating organizations began downgrading the United States, some scoring American institutions below that of El Salvador, then Nigeria, then Iraq. Then, following the Jan. 6 insurrection last year, articles and books began predicting something scarier: another civil war.The most sensational accounts foretold a national breakup, neighbor killing neighbor. The more level-headed ones warned of something still dire: a far-right insurgency waging a long campaign of bombings and attacks. The disturbing evidence emerging from the Jan. 6 congressional hearings merely underscores such concerns.These worries are understandable but flawed. After a career studying civil wars small and large, organized violence in the United States strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely. Worse,

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Some upcoming book events

June 21, 2022

By the way, this is not just a rule of thumb for the rare violent and threatening tweets, but rather for the far greater number of tweets where a member of your own group is enraging you about the actions of an adversary. This could be events in Ukraine, identity politics, etc

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Financial Times: A best summer book for 2022

June 20, 2022

By the way, this is not just a rule of thumb for the rare violent and threatening tweets, but rather for the far greater number of tweets where a member of your own group is enraging you about the actions of an adversary. This could be events in Ukraine, identity politics, etc

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Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs

June 15, 2022

Join Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Professor Christopher Blattman, to explore the dynamics of war and peace as they discuss Blattman’s, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace.  In his newest book, Blattman argues that violence is not the norm; that there are five reasons why wars break out; and how peacemakers can draw on these reasons to prevent and stop wars. Together, they explore the dynamics of war and peace: how communities resolve conflicts, and why such efforts sometimes fail, leading to war. As conflict rages in Ukraine, listen in on this timely and vital conversation to learn more about “Why We Fight" and how we can end wars. The Book Club with Jeffrey Sachs is brought to you by the SDG Academy, the flagship education initiative of the UN

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Book Bite from The Next Big Idea Club

June 3, 2022

Chris Blattman is a professor in the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago. His 20 years of researching war has taken him from a war in northern Uganda, to violent mining camps and urban slums in postwar Liberia, to meet leaders of drug cartels in Medellín, and even work with street gangs in Chicago. His new book argues that fighting is hard, and finding peace is easier than you think.
Below, Chris shares 5 key insights from his new book, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace. Listen to the audio version—read by Chris himself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. Enemies prefer to loathe in peace.
Most people think war is easy and peace is hard, but it’s the other way around. That seems like a

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Eight weeks of therapy, plus some cash, can change the lives of violent men

June 3, 2022

Placeholder while article actions loadI work with violent young men, from Africa to the Americas — guys so far into lives of crime that a natural reaction is hopelessness. If, 10 years ago, you told me that eight weeks of therapy plus a little cash could turn a significant proportion of them away from that life, I’d have scoffed. But it’s true — as three colleagues and I demonstrated in a new working paper. What we learned in Monrovia, Liberia, holds the potential to change the way America handles its own epidemics of crime and murder.Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a set of simple techniques for recognizing your problematic, “automatic” behaviors and training yourself to act differently. For instance, when an emotion like anger swells, CBT helps you recognize how it can distort

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Interview with Christianity Today on Why We Fight

June 1, 2022

Here on the Better Samaritan we’re learning how to “do good better.” Using Jesus’ story as a guiding metaphor, this involves getting better at (like the Good Samaritan did) helping the person left by the side of the Jericho road who was robbed and beaten up. It also involves learning how to make the metaphorical road safer. Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace, by Chris Blattman, helped me to better understand why the road is dangerous at times–and also how we can make it safer. Full disclosure: the author, who is professor of global conflict studies at The University of Chicago, is also my brother-in-law. I highly value Chris, not just for marrying my sister, but also for important insights from his research and experience. Whether you work at a national or neighborhood

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A study gave cash and therapy to men at risk of criminal behavior. 10 years later, the results are in.

May 31, 2022

What if someone told you that you could dramatically reduce the crime rate without resorting to coercive policing or incarceration? In fact, what if they said you could avert a serious crime — a robbery, say, or maybe even a murder — just by shelling out $1.50?
That’s such an incredibly good deal that it sounds too good to be true. But it’s been borne out by the research of Chris Blattman, Margaret Sheridan, Julian Jamison, and Sebastian Chaskel. Their new study provides experimental evidence that offering at-risk men a few weeks of behavioral therapy plus a bit of cash reduces the future risk of crime and violence, even 10 years after the intervention.
Blattman, an economist at the University of Chicago, never intended to conduct this study. But in 2009, he was hanging out with an

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The Washington Post

May 31, 2022

Placeholder while article actions loadWhen he wrote “Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace,” economist Christopher Blattman could not have known that Russian President Vladimir Putin would soon invade Ukraine, setting off the deadliest war in Europe since 1945. Putin’s war also created exactly the kind of natural experiment that social scientists like Blattman seek. We therefore have an opportunity to test whether Blattman’s thesis helps us to understand why Putin started such a reckless war and whether the thesis suggests routes toward a lasting peace.Blattman is interested in more than large interstate wars. He wants to understand why any group of humans engages in sustained, organized violence when the costs are so high. He argues that most groups settle their

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Will China invade Taiwan, and what (if anything) can the United States do about it?

May 31, 2022

Last week I wrote a long thread about whether and why China would invade Taiwan:

Will China invade Taiwan? Did Biden’s remarks today make war more or less likely?
I’ve been reading up on this a lot lately. Here’s a summary of the best things I read, and what could lead to a war. Mostly I’m reassured. But not entirely.
A 🧵, obviously. pic.twitter.com/ooLwXItxgB
— Chris Blattman (@cblatts) May 23, 2022

I’ll write up what the analysts and the theory say as a longer post this summer. For now, check out the thread.
I focused mainly on the usual military and foreign policy tools, and whether it made sense for Biden to move “from strategic ambiguity” to a more certain commitment to Taiwan (including concrete political and military investments in the region). Arguably the answer is

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Review of Why We Fight in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

May 29, 2022

Der Ökonom Chris Blattman: „Eine demokratische Ukraine ist eine Bedrohung für Putin, wenn er glaubt, dass sie ein Vorbild für russische Dissidenten werden könnte.“
dpa

BEITRAG TEILEN

Bis die ersten Raketen auf Kiew fielen, war es für viele Beobachter unvorstellbar, dass mitten in Europa ein Land ein anderes angreift. Auch Russland hatte vom alten Status quo schließlich über Jahrzehnte profitiert. „Wandel durch Handel“ sollte allen Seiten Frieden und Wohlstand bringen. Wie konnte es also sein, dass dieses Versprechen plötzlich nicht mehr galt?
Wer das verstehen will, der muss Chris

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Why I think the west should support Ukraine big time, but also why we shouldn’t ignore the risks

May 27, 2022

That is my op-ed today in the L.A. Times. I really do think the ruin of war is a useful lens to look at conflict. It also helps us see how this conflict might end, why it might end faster if NATO is unconditional in its support for Ukraine, and why I think that stance is worth the great risks it entails. First, the rest of the op-ed:Even Vladimir Putin, author of the world-changing conflict in Ukraine, tried to avoid war in his own insidious way. For two decades, he employed every underhanded means possible to co-opt Ukraine: dark money, propaganda, political stooges, poisonings and separatist support. He did all of that because, as vicious and costly as these things were, not one was as reckless as war.
I’m not pointing all this out to downplay the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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When will the costs of war force peace in Ukraine?

May 27, 2022

It’s easy to see the war in Ukraine as a sign of an inescapably violent world. But if the future looks bleak, perhaps that’s because we focus on the conflicts that happen and overlook the gravitational pull of peace.An example came on March 9, two weeks into the Russian invasion. Shortly after sundown, India accidentally launched a cruise missile at Pakistan. Predictably, calm ensued. Both sides strove to avoid escalation — as they have for decades.Focusing on the times peace fails is a kind of selection bias, one that makes us think that war is more common than it really is. The India incident is a good reminder of a simple fact: War is so ruinous that enemies prefer to loathe each other in peace.Even Vladimir Putin, author of the world-changing conflict in Ukraine, tried to avoid war in

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Join an online event with USIP, or get a discounted copy of the book

May 27, 2022

One June 2, 11am-12pm EDT, the U.S. Institute of Peace is hosting an online conversation between me and Raj Kumar, head of DevEx about Why We Fight. Register at that link to join.
Those in the US may also order a 20% discounted copy of the book here. It will ship shortly after the event.
The next few weeks I’ll be doing live and hybrid events with the World Bank, IRC, USAID, and others. The fall I’ll be speaking at universities again. If your organization or school is interested in an event, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Related

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The Mission podcast

May 20, 2022

In this series, Nesta Chief Executive Ravi Gurumurthy is joined by a range of thought leaders as he explores the innovations and ideas that can be applied to tackling some of society’s greatest challenges

Why we fight with Chris Blattman

In this special live episode, Nesta’s Chief Executive, Ravi Gurumurthy speaks to Chris Blattman, Professor of Global Conflict Studies at The University of Chicago’s Pearson Institute. They discuss Chris’s new book, Why We Fight, and how social science can help us understand conflict.

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Interview with Atlantico (France)

May 19, 2022

La police arrête un homme en marge des manifestations contre l’aggravation de la crise économique, à Monrovia, au Libéria, le 6 janvier 2020.©Carielle Doe / AFPSolutions optimalesLa thérapie cognitivo-comportementale (TCC) peut contribuer à réduire les comportements délinquants chez les jeunes à risque et chez les hommes ayant déjà commis des actes répréhensibles. Cette méthode a permis de lutter efficacement contre la violence au Libéria, selon une nouvelle étude de professeurs et de chercheurs de l’Université de Chicago, de l’Université d’Exeter et de l’Université de Caroline du Nord. Atlantico : Avec vos trois co-auteurs, Sebastian Chaskel, Julian C. Jamison et Margaret Sheridan, vous avez étudié comment la thérapie cognitivo-comportementale – qui vise à la remise en question et au

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Probable Causation podcast

May 18, 2022

[unable to retrieve full-text content]For listeners who want the more advanced discussion of the book and research, this is the go-to podcast
The post Probable Causation podcast appeared first on Chris Blattman.

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Atlantico (France)

May 17, 2022

Des femmes apprennent le maniement des armes en Ukraine. Atlantico : Vous avez récemment publié un livre intitulé "Why we fight" (Pourquoi nous nous battons) et, à l’occasion de la fête des mères aux États-Unis, vous avez décidé d’examiner la question sur un fil : Y aurait-il moins de guerre dans le monde si les mamans étaient aux commandes ? L’argument commun est qu’elles sont par nature plus pacifiques, en raison de leur nature ou de leur culture. Mais vous avez tendance à rejeter cette approche. Pourquoi cet argument ne tient-il pas selon vous ?Christopher Blattman : Les femmes sont un peu plus favorables à la paix que les hommes, du moins lorsqu’elles sont interrogées. La plupart de ces preuves proviennent de quelques démocraties avancées (principalement les États-Unis). Pourtant, les

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The terrible trade-off: Why less violent cities often means more powerful and organized crime

May 11, 2022

[unable to retrieve full-text content]More than half the world lives in cities, and a lot of those cities (especially those in the Americas) are plagued with homicides and crime. Americans often think this violence is an individual problem: greed, passions, feuds, and hot reactive thinking drive killers. That’s true to an extent. But this view overlooks something important: that, […]
The post The terrible trade-off: Why less violent cities often means more powerful and organized crime appeared first on Chris Blattman.

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