Applying economics to international relations?

I’m not an economist. But both my father and cousin are economists, so from my conversations with them I have picked up a respect for the power of economics to improve the world.

Economics has penetrated into law and political science. However, one particular branch of politics – international relations – continues to make decisions based on hidden assumptions. The military-industrial complex in the US, for example, has persuaded politicians that a war half-way across the world is somehow a threat to American “national interests”. Benjamin Friedman wrote a brilliant article about the problems with such an anti-empirical approach here.

Could the application of economics in the area of foreign policy be useful in finding causal relationships between American involvement overseas, and incidents of terrorism against American citizens? While it has long been believed by experts in the field that American involvement overseas leads to “blowback” against American interests, I wonder if it would be possible to do a regression analysis to support this claim?

Ivan Eland wrote a superb paper investigating this question. Eland’s paper, while good at setting out the qualititative evidence, doesn’t use economic techniques.  

So here’s my question: is it possible to study the link between US intervention overseas and terrorism against Americans using statistical techniques? What if someone wanted to investigate the extent of US involvement in the Post WWII World (as measured by various proxy measures, e.g. number of countries occupied, defence spending) and then compare that to the number of terrorist attacks on US citizens or property from 1945-2008?

What kind of data would they need? A book by University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape uses a data-set of sucide terrorism incidents from 1980 through 2003.

9 thoughts on “Applying economics to international relations?

  1. I took an International Relations degree, minoring in International Economics (before grad school in Philosophy),and found the entire discipline of IR to be hopelessly inconsequential, epecially when compared to the intellectual rigor demanded by international economics. The IR discipline is best known for its conspiratorial theorists in academia and inept practioners if they were ever actually in government. The four major schools of thought in IR are completely subjective and ideological, making any pronouncement by any IR scholar highly suspect. No other discipline–except perhaps religion–accepts so much emotionally sloppy thinking as International Relations.

    For verification of these critical views of IR, just phone in to the nearest “military industrial complex” and check in with the ‘Conspiracy Theorist in Charge of Spreading Determinism as an Alternative to Reason.’

    A quote: “A libertarian is a liberal who is actually well-read in economics, or a conservative who is actually well-read in psychology, or otherwise is someone who recognizes that human freedom is a philosophy, not an ideology.” Emotional conspiratorial determinists need not apply; best of luck doing the research.

  2. So Duoist is one of THEM. Always good to identify THEM if you can!
    For what it is worth, I think that any philosophy not grounded in the laws of nature is fantasy. Justice is derived from observation of the world around us. Even before Newton told us about Action sparking an Equal and Opposite reaction, we had already sensed that to be the case (an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth- how old are those rules?)
    International Relations should be linked to justice. If it isn’t, ignore it.

  3. The military-industrial complex in the US, for example, has persuaded politicians that a war half-way across the world is somehow a threat to American “national interests”.

    Sukrit, will you please stop it with this shit or go post this crap on a Truther’s site.

    Look dude, don’t you think you’re stretching the imagination a little when you’re implying through suggestion that say the defense division of Boeing is actively engaged in perusing wars around the world in order to sell more F18’s.

    Where the fuck are you getting this shit from, Sukrit.

    Seriously, you ought to start posting on Truther’s sites as it’s more appropriate and down your alley it seems.

    What happened to you sukrit, did some lousy US customs official have you deported from LAX or something?

    grow up.

  4. Mr. Gray, you are exactly correct: philosophy–to be good philosophy–has to be grounded in the laws of nature. You’ll recall, Leo Strauss grounds his philosophy of freedom in nature, and libertarian philosopher Tibor Machan’s entire freedom philosophy is grounded upon secular natural law.

    ‘Determinism’ is an ubiquitous part of nature; however, so is human agency (freewill). But the avid conspiracy theorist worried about the nefarious influence of the military industrial complex is, perhaps, speaking more to psychology (paranoia) in nature, than to philosophy.

    ‘Be free,’ Mr. Gray.

  5. “moderation in all things is always good.”

    Including moderation! 🙂

    “don’t you think you’re stretching the imagination a little ”

    JC, are you saying that the US is immune to interest group capture, or rent-seeking, or moral hazard?

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