ABSTRACT | Comment

No skin in the game

Controversial United States and war concept image showing viewpoint that war hurts the US. Camouflage background, distressed brick map, trees and tank grouped separately for easy editing.   | Photo Credit: iStock

Wars are destructive, especially for the ordinary soldiers on the battlefront. Millions of soldiers have died in wars over centuries, yet countries don’t seem to shy away from going to war almost on a regular basis. One of the theories that hopes to explain this anomaly states that the problem lies in the fact that the people who order wars are not the same people who fight them. When people directly suffer the huge costs imposed by war, they are more likely to think twice before engaging in it. Leaders who don’t directly fight the war, however, have fewer reasons to be bothered about the costs of war. In other words, leaders who order wars at the stroke of a pen usually have very little skin in the game of war.

“No kin in the game: Moral hazard and war in the U.S. Congress”, a 2017 paper by Eoin McGuirk, Nathaniel Hilger, and Nicholas Miller circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found evidence to support this particular theory of human conflict. The authors studied the voting behaviour of 3,693 legislators who served in the U.S. Congress during the two World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, when young men, but not women, were conscripted to fight the wars. In particular, they looked to find if there is any difference in the voting behaviour of Congressmen with young sons compared to those with young daughters. Any difference in voting behaviour between the two groups would, at the least, suggest the possibility of war decisions being affected by legislators’ personal stake in wars fought in any particular instance.

Congressmen with young sons who could possibly be conscripted for the war, the authors found, were less likely to vote for conscripting young people to fight deadly wars. To be precise, they found that Congressmen with young sons instead of daughters were about 10-17% less likely to vote in favour of conscription in the event of a major war.

In addition, it was found that the chances of a legislator supporting conscription increased by as much as 26% when their sons passed the upper-age cut-off prescribed for conscription, which would make them ineligible to fight any war. If so, there is good enough reason to believe that the personal cost of war does have a significant impact on the decisions of legislators whether to go to war or foster peace.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 11:36:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/no-skin-in-the-game/article19907364.ece

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