February 26, 2008

The Economics of Assassination

Many of you didn't like what Yossi Melman had to say yesterday with respect to targeted killings. Abu Muqawama didn't actually think what he was arguing was all that controversial: sometimes targeted killings work, sometimes they don't. It all depends on the dynamics of the group, and you better understand and think hard about those dynamics before you knock off the group's leader. That just sounds like common sense, really.

Economist Ben Olken offers a completely different take on assassination, though:

In “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” Olken and Jones looked at the effects of political assassination, using a strict empirical methodology that takes into account economic conditions at the time of the killing and what Olken calls a “novel data set” of assas­sination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, between 1875 and 2004.

Olken and Jones discovered that a country was “more likely to see democratization follow­ing the assassination of an autocratic leader,” but found no substantial “effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.” They concluded that “on average, successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy.” 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.”

Abu Muqawama would like to see a version of this study that focused on the effects of assassination on non-state actors and insurgent groups.