There is a fascinating and depressing positive correlation between the reputation of an American president and the number of people dying in wars while that president is in office. Political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU and co-author of The Spoils of War talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how presidents go to war. Bueno de Mesquita argues that the decision of how and when to go to war is made in self-interested ways rather than in consideration of what is best for the nation. The discussion includes a revisionist perspective on the presidencies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others as Bueno de Mesquita tries to make the case that the reputations of these men are over-inflated.
United States


00:00:04welcome to Aecon talk part of a library of economics and liberty I'm your host Russ Roberts at Stanford university's Hoover Institution our website is econ talked out or for you can subscribe comment on this podcast and find links and other information related to today's conversation but also find
00:00:22our archives we can listen to every episode we've ever done going back to two thousand and six or email addresses male econ talk dot org we'd love to hear from today is November eighth twenty sixteen my guest is New York University political scientist and Hoover Institution senior fellow
00:00:41Brits pointed to Miskito his latest book co authored with Alistair Smith and the topic of today's conversation is the spoils of war creed power in the complex that made our greatest presidents Bruce welcome back to econ talk it's a pleasure to be here your book argues that %HESITATION
00:01:00greatness is a little bit over rated %HESITATION the president's that we rate highly %HESITATION over rated %HESITATION and that we particularly over it presents to take us to war and then we in in addition we miss understand their motives are how do you see presidents making that fateful
00:01:15decision of committing %HESITATION the United States store well somewhere on their list of priorities well down on their list of priorities maybe things about what is good for the United States as they understand it or what is good for we the people if they understand that the top
00:01:33item on their list is what is good for them %HESITATION I'm sure they think that what is good for them is good for the country on and what is good for them tends to reduce to either %HESITATION economic gain or more often electoral game what will get them
00:01:50reelected president to go to war are vastly more likely to be reelected than presidents who produce peace and prosperity and they're vastly more likely to be rated highly by posterity which of course is one of the %HESITATION encourage inducements are incentives to go to war I would thank
00:02:11yeah absolutely %HESITATION if you look at the rankings by historians for example of how our presidents have done very highly correlated with how many American deaths in war they presided over on so typically historians %HESITATION rank Warren Harding %HESITATION last among presidents Warren Harding presided over zero deaths
00:02:35in war and an eight percent average annual increase in per capita income the top they rank for example Abraham Lincoln who presided over seven hundred fifty thousand American deaths in war and a gross rate of under two percent your little bit cynical Bruce us someone call your realist
00:02:58is there no room you said way down the list as what's good for the country good for the people you're suggesting is that the decisions that these man made %HESITATION were they fooled us you know after they made these bad decisions or at least self interested decisions and
00:03:15yet somehow they managed to avoid the verdict of history that they were %HESITATION self interested I'd explain them well it's a very difficult question %HESITATION for the average person of course the assessment of how presidents did is related to what they see is her role with things that
00:03:34they know about like war war is a very big deal it takes people's lives it takes money and so forth and so %HESITATION we treated as who wrote because who treated otherwise I would be very depressing because we do a lot of war fighting %HESITATION people say that
00:03:53they are in favor of peace and prosperity and presidents candidates for the presidency say they are in favor of peace and prosperity it just turns out that peace and prosperity doesn't get them reelected doesn't do them very much good and they I I am indeed cynical %HESITATION be
00:04:12first most important thing the president can do is please enough of his or her constituents that the president gets reelected and borders the tracks you talked in an earlier episode become talking you talk in this happened this book is well about the role of %HESITATION dictators versus %HESITATION
00:04:36democratically elected leaders in particular the the the dictators having to only please a smaller group tend to be less eager to %HESITATION and less likely to produce prosperity in fact opposite is often the case they run the economy to the ground but sock off enough goodies for them
00:04:56and their friends that they prefer that to a more general %HESITATION type of prosperity given that the political she's me not the political given that the personal and financial and human costs of war are so extensive %HESITATION and spread very widely in in the in the modern era
00:05:16in my mom on by the modern army last couple hundred years are you surprised at how often the United States has gone to war as a democracy with such a large base you know I understand Dickens can go to war a lot %HESITATION you know there have to
00:05:32respond to the electorate they just have to keep their bodies happy to keep them in power but in a democracy the people are in some dimension keep keep the leaders and power why his war been so common in the United States well as this book points out and
00:05:48the dictators handbook which you were referring to %HESITATION the earlier book also points out democracies are not less prone to wage war than autocracy they are more selective about the wars stay wage order cracks are willing to fight what I would describe this tough wars where their adversaries
00:06:09strong Democrat them with a small D. R. democracies tend to fight wars when going into the war the expectation is that there's a very high probability of victory and of course sometimes that turned out not to be true and then they have to try harder and they do
00:06:29%HESITATION but they're not reluctant to fight wars they like to fight very weak opponents hence colonial and imperial expansion wars %HESITATION they like to fight when they're comfortable winning ninety three percent of the wars initiated by democratic countries are won by then and only about sixty percent of
00:06:49the wars initiated by an autocrat so some first mover advantage or craps not fifty fifty is very careful selection by Democrats they fight wars that they are going to succeed in and success generally make from popular so for those who view a listing at home of knots us
00:07:10scene a Booker looked at it our going to proceed to destroy the reputations here early spurs well of %HESITATION George Washington Abraham Lincoln okay candidate Obama and if we have time we'll get testy are these are all all leaders that you are very critical of or at least
00:07:28take revisionist approach let's start let's start with George Washington %HESITATION certainly an iconic figure to most Americans despite his slave holdings is still widely respected he is in many ways the hero of the musical Hamilton after a Mister Hamilton himself I have to say I I shed a
00:07:49tear when he sings one last time when he steps down from the presidency doesn't %HESITATION run again shows it creates a a model for future leaders that puts us on the right path so he has a reputation for great honesty %HESITATION he's a great general and yet you're
00:08:10not quite so high on him so what sure %HESITATION view of Washington well let's take a step back to your list of wonderful things he did he did not set a norm to limit terms to two terms after Andrew Jackson until the constitution was amended every president who
00:08:32was alive at the end of the second term saw his party's nomination for a third term Ulysses S. grant it Grover Cleveland did sheared off Roosevelt did even Woodrow Wilson near death at the end of his second term tried to persuade the party to nominate him they fell
00:08:52it's true until Franklin Roosevelt but they all tried anyway %HESITATION George Washington I understand a little bit about %HESITATION George Washington was not the mythology but the real person George Washington was the sun %HESITATION not the first son not the second son down look down the list of
00:09:14of a father who owned five thousand acres of landing including what today we know was not Vernon he was a prosperous man not super wealthy the prosperous he died when George was just eleven Lawrence Georges older brother inherited Mount Vernon and a substantial part of the land and
00:09:38Lawrence to who's idolized by George became one of the top three investors in the Ohio valley company which was a land speculation company George of course was a land surveyor although we had very little education he was good with math %HESITATION and he could survey land so he
00:09:59was a great asset to the Ohio valley company because he could go out and figure out a little and a part of his job was to make sure the French didn't take any of that land he literally started the French and Indian war I repeat literally he led
00:10:18a set of troops when he was twenty one years old into the wilderness came across infringement %HESITATION slaughtered them the leader of the group prisoner one of his Confederates one of Washington's Confederates and assassinated leader the French with the French ambassador carrying papers to make peace with the
00:10:38English so great military leader is not clear either anyway he was doing all of this to secure land the king then in seventeen sixty three issued a proclamation the colonists couldn't settle in mobile then the find of the Ohio valley that included much of Pennsylvania Ohio %HESITATION West
00:11:01Virginia and so forth and so George senses agent Mister Crawford out into the Ohio valley to secure land on the fly and he he told Crawford if anybody stops you and asks what are you doing because it wasn't legal to secure land if someone out hunting because the
00:11:24king will be very upset if you knew what we were doing and so he secured huge amounts of land that was also land attached to his participation in the French and Indian war a land grant that was supposed to be shared with the soldiers he cheated his soldiers
00:11:41out of the barrel and took the best land from self %HESITATION some of them threatened to sue him he just squash them and he amassed a fortune on his last position just before becoming president was a president of the portal one make canal company of the Potomac canal
00:11:59as we know it from Potomac River what's that canal did hello bring make it possible to bring produce from the Shenandoah Valley which George owned up to the port now exam grill which had been built by Lawrence %HESITATION by the Ohio valley company on and which George had
00:12:23a direct interest and ship goods out so it was a very profitable undertaking or so we thought it would be %HESITATION in the long run hung up for him and that's what motivated him most people think of Washington as sites great hero which she certainly well as high
00:12:42as you know send a gentleman farmer %HESITATION economists have estimated the worse in real dollars adjusted for inflation not appreciated are of George Washington's a state in our contemporary terms and it's about twenty billion dollars is by far the wealthiest president is the fifty ninth wealthiest person in
00:13:09American history three of the American founding fathers are in the list of the top hundred wealthiest Americans in all of history Hancock who was wealthier than Washington made money smuggling Ben Franklin who was not quite as wealthy who made his money because he had a monopoly on the
00:13:31printing press these are the folks who led the revolution these are not the downtrodden these were not the oppressed these were people who stood to lose huge amount to wealth because of the kings policies survey for revolution which is by the way not very popular sixty percent of
00:13:52the colonists either were neutral or opposed to the revolution so in terms the land are you have a rough estimate of how much land %HESITATION washing held at the onset of the revolution the operator from my recollection it was around sixty thousand acres and how big is Stephanie
00:14:20and how big that is I've no idea I'm a city boy what a line %HESITATION he owned a lot of this and %HESITATION about dealing with a lot of West Virginia yeah and and mind you beyond a lot of %HESITATION what is now Pennsylvania and mine too much
00:14:38of this land so it's not just how much she owned it's where he owned it he owned almost all of his land was on the banks of rivers and particularly with over forks of two rivers these were the main trading places indeed %HESITATION after the French Indian war
00:14:58he use this land grant he violated a statute of Virginia statute of seventeen twelve by taking for himself much more riverfront land than any one individual was allowed to have because he knew that was where all the commerce would go that was where the money was and he
00:15:15also was very smart about his land we're as other people bought and sold land he bought and leased land so he held the land in the family and collected income from its use so turns out a quick Google search reveals that sixty thousand acres maybe about a hundred
00:15:32square miles which is not that much Lancey either your acreage count is off or it's the quality of the land that matters what I think is reliable is that he was worth a great deal of money and most of his of that wealth was certainly land base correct
00:15:48that is correct so odd the other well let's let's put it this way let's just be clear here for example Mount Vernon sex on the Potomac heading into Alexandria the value is the pork if the control over the shipment of goods how much land port doesn't take very
00:16:08much land valuable land so so had so the question then is %HESITATION had the revolution not occurred if if things had gone forward if there'd been some kind of compromise over %HESITATION taxation with some representation %HESITATION which was a real possibility could have happened right sure you have
00:16:29a lot of interesting what ifs in your book literally were chapters sections were you call the you got what if for you speculate about what if these decisions had been made differently in particular the key question seems to me is what if the the founders %HESITATION who many
00:16:46of us admire in for different reasons but %HESITATION what if they had said these aren't fighting words of the king's these are just we got a we should work this out it's not worth death and destruction of independence is unnecessary what would happen to those land holdings that
00:17:01would have been so catastrophic for Washington and others so had there been a head they negotiated a are a share of representation in parliament the colonists represented about twenty five percent of the total British population so they will have a legitimate claim to twenty five percent of the
00:17:24seats in parliament which of course a large amount so there would be many ways to form political coalitions to control the government that would include the colonists or some portion of them they weren't themselves United and that would mean creating policies that would have been more acceptable to
00:17:44the colonists indeed the British when the following terribly horrible policies they wanted to tax the colonists who costing them a fortune to defend %HESITATION this hardly seems outrageous it is true that %HESITATION in twelve ninety seven king %HESITATION and were the first signed a confirmation of the charter
00:18:05that said that so you couldn't tax without the people being represented but they could have easily been represented on and then they could change the policies if you read the declaration of independence carefully you'll discover that there's two things to be grievances that we're driving the revolution or
00:18:24%HESITATION that the king was imposing conditions on the colonists acquisition of land and even worse and this is a quotation he was turning our front cheer over to the Indian savages and the Indian savages of them described as knowing no other way of doing things except murder women
00:18:49and children %HESITATION surprising that this made the decoration so those considerations of what is the balance of the interests of the king between the Indian tribes and the colonists would look different if there were a door representation that they could have negotiated but they didn't because they didn't
00:19:09want that they they wanted to get rid of the English now they cues English of tyranny at the end of the chapter on Washington just a little graph that shows current best estimates available capita income each year in the colonies and in Canada Canada has some serious disadvantages
00:19:34much worse weather much less densely populated and so forth but the track very closely during the time that George the third is alive actually depart well after he dies in eighteen twenty so it doesn't look as if the colonists either did vastly better once they got rid of
00:19:55the English or the three Canadians and particularly badly when they kept the English because they didn't they didn't get their independence for eighteen sixty two somewhat much evidence for this claim of tyranny and they could have handled I would respond to that by saying that monetary well being
00:20:15is not the only thing that a person cares about but I will defend but we don't we don't we don't have much data on other things we in any event I don't have any evidence that the civil liberties of the colonists were any worse than the civil liberties
00:20:31of the Canadian colonists or that they were so bad in general and I have to concede your point in the following way that when we think about the revolution in its most %HESITATION Rosie you last saw venal and us self interested as you're suggesting that rosy view is
00:20:52all about %HESITATION taxation without representation the tax on tea the British soldiers staying in people's houses which I I can't imagine happened quartering of soldiers is that big a problem and we look upon those with with great admiration because it seems to suggest that the colonists were so
00:21:15passionate about liberty that they are willing to die just to avoid a crummy little tax on tea without representation and the quartering of soldiers it was not issue I think it forget the economics of financial side it was not an oppressive regime in in any sense of the
00:21:34the colonies rolled by control up to things does not the things the war was about %HESITATION the other part I thought was so informative as you do forget how when a nation is being %HESITATION sculpted early created out of %HESITATION border skirmishes with %HESITATION with Indians and and
00:21:57the opportunity for financial speculation is quite extraordinary and %HESITATION I salute you for reminding us of that it's really %HESITATION it's important and it's not to take away from many of the great things that George Washington did and as you put it sculpting a government he did lots
00:22:17of very good things in maybe at the top of the list Alexander Hamilton into the government to bring in a sensible political economy perspective to how to create a new state it's just what drove him was not liberty it was personal gain and that seems to be the
00:22:40characteristic of most of the founding fathers who were very wealthy people even the Adams is John and John Quincy is now worth is identical yeah is almost identical to George W. and George Herbert Walker bush's networks so yeah in in reading these discussions in the book of motivation
00:23:01I couldn't help but think about job sandals but legroom Baptist theory and the role that self deception plays so the bootlegger Baptist areas is that often the things that motivate policies or ourselves or so is an idealistic one then and not so idealistic one and they tend to
00:23:18we tend to forget about the not so idealistic one and as you pointed out or the beginning of the conversation George Washington's probably maybe kind of saw himself as a noble leader of this fight for liberty and maybe didn't think so much about his personal stake it please
00:23:34consciously what I wanted to ask you then if you're gonna push the view that he was conscious of it is %HESITATION in I didn't notice in the book any private correspondence or direct evidence where he bemoaned %HESITATION the situation with respect to his personal wealth or did I
00:23:51miss them well he's very critical of the people who criticize him for the fight in the Ohio valley that leads to the war on and earlier where they're accusing him of and and the Ohio company of going into the area for renewal purposes for their own gain rather
00:24:15than for the security concerns and he's deeply offended and his writings people would have thought that that he went from more than one reason and yet of course he he was surveying land the whole time and %HESITATION and and doing the things that would satisfy the king's order
00:24:34of the day to gain more land so yeah there it is there maybe you did miss it %HESITATION there's not a lot I see it I don't see it that part I noticed I don't see it on the eve of the revolution wells talking about these issues as
00:24:49a because it's embarrassing what you're arguing or go maybe we maybe Alistair and I were trying to be too kind %HESITATION so Washington war very fine clothing which she had made for him in England we have the finest furniture which he imported from England we have the most
00:25:10expensive carriage but she imported from England and how did he secure the credit for these purchases he collateral he provided was his step children's well not his not shy to take advantage of other people's money to make sure that his wasn't that risk he kept track of every
00:25:40penny that he spent no we didn't go into how he paid for all the goodies that he bought for himself %HESITATION but these are relatively well known fact our objective was you know not to be quite the harsh let's move on to Abraham Lincoln so %HESITATION Lincoln has
00:26:02I think he's in the top three of most people would rank him is that one of the top three if not the number one greatest present of all time %HESITATION a number of us have noticed as we've gotten older that seven hundred fifty thousand people did die and
00:26:16%HESITATION in the civil war it perhaps could have been avoided it could have been prosecuted differently %HESITATION and you make both of those criticisms of him it does take a purr and at someone write myself born in nineteen fifty four it does take awhile to learn that he
00:26:36didn't fight the war to end slavery %HESITATION so you can't really give him credit for that but first for teacher reasons during the war he did the end of slavery he did two things that led to the end of slavery so he is a complicated figure but your
00:26:54little but again as with Washington little bit harsher on emit certain on those first two counts of why he provoked of the war itself and how we prosecuted the war so make the case well let me start by saying that most people accept as common wisdom that the
00:27:11ends do not justify the means and yet we forgive Lincoln because his ends wound up being good he got rid of slavery now let's look at who Mister Lincoln was prior to the mid eighteen fifties in this course a very successful lawyer very wealthy lawyer who was reluctant
00:27:36he was opposed to slavery personally he he had grown up in an abolitionist oriented household but he was reluctant to do anything about slavery as he put it god will take care of it in god's good time on and he just went along them in eighteen fifty five
00:27:55he corresponded with the family lawyer I think the name was George Robertson %HESITATION who's also a friend and %HESITATION this this family lawyer had been very actively involved in passing the Missouri compromise %HESITATION and ate it in eighteen to twenty explain what the eyes are so the Missouri
00:28:17compromise was a deal that said that the country would remain balance every time there was a territory that came in as a free territory that would be a turquoise will come in as a state as a as a slave state to maintain the power balance between other late
00:28:34closely financially parts of the country so we can wrote a letter to this man bush at a letter I must have not seen quoted before in which he says the peaceful time for the extinction of slavery sorry the time for the peaceful extinction of slavery is itself extinct
00:28:58that is slavery can be gotten rid of by peaceful means then in eighteen fifty seven the Supreme Court hands down the Dred Scott decision which says that Mister Scott %HESITATION a an African American %HESITATION sleeve %HESITATION who had been taken into free territory and so sued on the
00:29:21grounds that he became free when he was taken into free territory lost and the court ruled that %HESITATION African Americans are not citizens cannot be citizens are incapable of being citizens and that their property and due process has to work if I take %HESITATION a bundle of flour
00:29:47into a terrorist free territory to move there I still own the flower nobody can take away from me on a five bring wagons with me nobody could take my wagons and if I bring slaves nobody can take my slaves and in response to Dred Scott Lincoln was fundamentally
00:30:01changed in my view %HESITATION so he he gives in eighteen fifty eight house divided speech in accepting the Republican nomination for the Illinois Senate seat that speech lines sorry that speech as the key lines a house divided against itself cannot stand and it has the key line that
00:30:26the country cannot survive half slave and half free so at this point we can understands that has to be all one or all the other night and he basically declares war on the south %HESITATION Stephen Douglas is opponent says as much she says Mr Lincoln is calling for
00:30:44the extermination of the south Lincoln standing in the audience when this is said he doesn't respond and he is now adopted the position that the way for him to become president is to divide the Democratic Party on the slavery issue and for him to be the advocate of
00:31:05abolition at this point which is the position of the Republican Party is basically what the Republican Party was founded for and so we poses a question to Douglas Douglas gives the answer that insurance is %HESITATION action to the Senate and insurers as Mr Lincoln had carefully calculated that
00:31:24it would divide the party in the eighteen sixty election Lincoln have been advised not to give the house divided speech because it would cost him the prospect of winning the Senate and his response was yes but it will make me president and he did so in eighteen sixty
00:31:41we have an election which the Democrats are divided between Stephen Douglas who is viewed at the time as a moderate on the slavery question John Breckinridge who is the sitting vice president of the United States James two cannons vice president and is very pro slavery and bell of
00:32:02senator from Tennessee who just wants the issue to go away when when he just wants the country to continue Lincoln wins the election with under forty percent of the popular vote she is then presented with numerous opportunities to avoid secession and avoid war through compromise he is presented
00:32:29for example was of the Crittenden amendments as a proposal to Crittenden amendments essentially said the Prescott decisions of the Missouri compromise was unconstitutional %HESITATION we can't tell territories that they have to be free or they have to be slave it's locked away it works I talked to them
00:32:52%HESITATION and more complicated than that the Crittenden Memon says well what we will do is we will freeze things in place those states that are now slave will remain slaves those that are free will remain free and so forth Lincoln likes the Crittenden amendments thinks it's pretty good
00:33:08idea he turns to the Republican Party leadership party operatives and says what do you think they say no this is what we got elected for so we would we have to stick by what our constituents want to reject the Crittenden amendments deeply divided over secession the votes are
00:33:29not straight forward they're not overwhelming %HESITATION but Lincoln simply refuses to to budge and this makes him president and of course at this point what is going back to the house divided speech he realizes that the only way the country can be all free as a post all
00:33:47slave to get rid of the south because then we can amend the constitutional have the votes with the south in the country he doesn't have the votes and this seems to have been his agenda after drugs got came down to eighteen fifty seven it was about what will
00:34:04work to make me president and what will get me reelected could you were interested so why can't I can turn printed as the Dred Scott case was so offensive to him that he became %HESITATION galvanized to rid the United States of this terrible scourge so one can make
00:34:28that argument against it we have to realize that link in when he was briefly in the house of representatives for one term introduced a bill are a fugitive slave law for the district of Columbia which had not had the fugitive slave law that is a law in which
00:34:51people could come in and if somebody the skate park them back to their owner out of DC now this is a complicated bill but there he was it was the spot he was a sponsor was deeply offensive to abolitionists and in this earlier period he took almost no
00:35:12legal cases to defend late although Illinois was a Free State because he didn't want to be seen as fighting the fugitive slave laws in other parts of the country which many which were given to us by George Washington %HESITATION so it's hard to make the case that it
00:35:35was the great got offended him so much as that dress caught open to him the opportunity he could see now a half to the presidency we should also note in eighteen forty eight when he was in the Congress commenting on the Mexican American war he gave a speech
00:35:55in which he described as a most sacred right the right of any people to revolutionize as he put it to revolutionize against their government in any place where they could form a majority against the government and overthrow their government status yet advocated secession he was doing what was
00:36:17convenient so one may believe that I don't say he didn't it doesn't really matter whether he believes that are not what matters is his actions were designed to make him president solving slavery was quite secondary let's say then that the card an amendment didn't pass compromises fail sows
00:36:38the seeds why did he not tolerate that what was it what was it in his interest to %HESITATION plunge the country into a civil war certainly there was a widespread belief that it would be short and easily won in you can and you argue that it should have
00:36:57been shorter and more easily one that was we'll get to that in a second but why didn't he just %HESITATION say okay arm is you're giving that speech we could say well set down a house divided anymore of the north's a new country this house in the country
00:37:12again you could but most people would argue well he he wanted to end slavery he didn't want to be too public about it wasn't widely popular of despite our romance about anti slavery so he didn't wanna take a chance but now with secession it gave him the opportunity
00:37:26to do that why was that self interested to provoke an in person with the war well it certainly was a mistake in my view he should have let the south go in and put an economic embargo on it and the individual slate for the come thinking back pleading
00:37:43to reenter the union and then he could dictated the terms bought %HESITATION tolerating secession was popular with a significant portion of the voters who elected him in eighteen sixty on almost all of them there with the the Republicans were were somewhat divided there was a group of elite
00:38:04Republican Horace Greeley for example who thought well good riddance to them %HESITATION but Lincoln was not among those people and more importantly to go back to the beginning of this conversation war hopes president get reelected and peace and prosperity unfortunately does not he would have known that by
00:38:22then because the country had been involved in the revolution of course in the war of eighteen twelve which medicine reelected would otherwise would have been unpopular and so on on the Indian wars were very popular so he probably had worked out this is the path to reelection we
00:38:40forget after Andrew Jackson until Lincoln no president had been reelected I can rattle off the names for you if you like there's a lot of them and none were reelected Lincoln was very keen to be in power and stay in power and war was a path to doing
00:39:02that successfully and who was he to get reelected he was very unpopular as late as September eighteen sixty four and then wanted land to sell the argument by McCollum's campaign were were dead in the water because McClellan's argument was we should make a deal with the south and
00:39:19was no longer need because victory without hand Colin biggest challenger in the eighteen sixty four election %HESITATION is that correct or was the primary the primary %HESITATION you it didn't didn't have primary %HESITATION wasn't Republican challengers Democrat challenger within them credit was all he was from New York
00:39:38and interestingly Lincoln invented the absentee ballot for the eighteen sixty four election so that soldiers could vote because they were overwhelmingly pro Lincoln but tragically the New York delegation of soldiers their ballots arrived late they were when we had postal %HESITATION yeah no doubt %HESITATION it is worth
00:39:59noting and I think often forgotten how many American presidents in the beginning of the Republic were either %HESITATION kids had served in war and a in a leadership capacity %HESITATION and and I and it reminded me of %HESITATION of Winston Churchill who was extremely eager to get into
00:40:22the war war as a young man because he knew that without some Perot X. %HESITATION that he was unlikely to be a %HESITATION a leader and he was very blunt about that he he yeah he wrote about it explicitly basically I have to respond life if I want
00:40:37to he would lease was honest about it %HESITATION he wasn't a coward I don't think but he certainly was willing to he was it a better way to say I think it's pretty excited there was a worker bee get into %HESITATION because he saw that is the road
00:40:52to a political %HESITATION greatness and job perhaps like and is well let's talk about the the war itself he certainly are two aspects of I wanna talk about one way I found extremely interesting which was your point about having rivals and Todd nine yes man maybe man no
00:41:12man in your %HESITATION cabinetry and he gets a lot of praise Lincoln does because he had such a diverse cabinet %HESITATION he gets a lot of sympathy because his generals were so I'm eager to %HESITATION tangle with the enemy as you point out Richmond was a hundred miles
00:41:30away IT couldn't take it for four years five years wiped out what did you do wrong in the prosecution of war and talk about his cabinet as part of the well you did almost everything wrong so %HESITATION in the book we we take a %HESITATION an academic study
00:41:50by Scott Bennett and Donald stem that looks after a bunch of variables and how they affect the duration of war they didn't include the civil war in their study we take their the bulls and apply them to the union and the confederacy are they're predicting how long war
00:42:11should last and so we applied there model two how long the civil war should've lasted and the answer that comes out from the statistics is approximately six months little bit less of a post for years what was the problem and why should a lesson for such a short
00:42:29time while the problem was that Lincoln didn't have a parade of generals coming through the oval office to discuss with them this is how I would approach the war this would be my strategy instead he did what was convenient at first he turned to Winfield Scott hero of
00:42:47the Mexican American war a former spelled %HESITATION candidate for the presidency and an old man who was out of touch with the military skills of the day but was popular so we picked somebody who was popular rather than competent then he turned to general McClelland are and McClelland
00:43:10was well known as a great parade general but not a fighter he could have brought in the sermons and the grants and so on and said how you gonna conduct this war how do we get to Richmond quickly up but he didn't know it was just incompetence on
00:43:30then we have to look as well %HESITATION and who was fighting what did they think the war was going to be like to reinforce the notion of incompetence the United States including the south had a population of thirty one million twenty one or twenty two million of that
00:43:50population lived in the north the remaining roughly nine million lives in the south and approximately half of those were slaves so they were a fifth column they were people who were going to be pro union so the south is fighting twenty one million people was about four and
00:44:11a half million people south grew very few our food crops they group cash crops often tobacco they didn't produce munitions they should have been easy to defeat then you look at somebody like Jefferson Davis president of the confederacy Jefferson Davis said Ben Franklin Pierce's minister of war he
00:44:36was a west point graduate he was a veteran of the Mexican war this is a man of great experience and education in military matters he was horrified when he was asked to become president of the confederacy because he thought the confederacy had no chance of winning John Breckinridge
00:44:56vice president of the United States the only member of the United States Senate which he later returned to %HESITATION who was convicted of treason he also thought the south has no chance to win we have to find a way out of this we can neither look for a
00:45:14way out nor look for a good way to conduct war he just one as people at the time so an incompetent then there's the question of capital so we are told that he had a cabinet of rifles and that he manage these opponents brilliantly we should know two
00:45:33things first from the perspective of rational decision making it is not prudent to fill cabinet or whatever with rivals what is prudent is yes man this call universal contrarian position ever was the opposite got a lovely result we should give credit Randall Calvert %HESITATION so what Calvert shows
00:46:01is that when somebody who always disagrees with you say George ball and Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War continues to disagree with you you don't learn anything from their disagreeing but when somebody who has always agreed with you say Clark Clifford in the Vietnam War chose to you
00:46:21you know this if you're making a mistake you're not doing this right they disagree with you now there's information on this is somebody who thinks the way I do and it's telling me I'm wrong maybe I need to re assess so there's a good reason to be surrounded
00:46:37with yes men now Lincoln understood that are against the current popular view %HESITATION I quote his two closest advisors John hay and John Nicolay comment on who %HESITATION Mister Lincoln wanted haven't and did have in his cabinet they say there are those who say that Mr Lincoln will
00:47:03have some southern gentleman in his cabinet first we must ask how would that work well the southern gentleman given to Mr Lincoln well Mister Lincoln given to the southern gentleman or will they fight all the time no it is his mature considered opinion official happened except in the
00:47:24cabinet his closest friends the best and the brightest quite the quotation because I haven't memorized it but it's very close his closest friends the best and the brightest so when we look at who is in the cabin William sort so sure this point two two as the exemplar
00:47:47of the rifle of course she was a rival in the sense that he ran against Lincoln for the party nomination and he felt on the third ballot itself corrupt but we'll put that aside %HESITATION but how did they differ well sewer was more abolitionist then we can word
00:48:11was Lincoln was pro immigrant Jordan was more pro immigrant these were not people who were rivals in the sense of their beliefs they were just in a political rival social requesting an oracle bomb will work and then they worked together in the government they have basically the same
00:48:31views there was not a cabinet of rivals it was a cabinet of yes men and that's fine look at Salman chase someone chase was secretary of the treasury why was he there so during the nominating convention in Chicago in a building called the week one I wish Lincoln
00:48:50packed with his supporters with counterfeit tickets %HESITATION linking the mayor of Chicago who is the campaign manager for Lincoln in Illinois turn to the campaign manager for some chase who was doing better than we can in the nominating contest I said to him my men will give your
00:49:13my boy will give your boy anything he wants if you give us your vote they gave link in their votes and salmon chase became secretary of the treasury this is just a political deal this one up rivals in the sense of people who are fundamentally different views those
00:49:30were not entering so that should help tomorrow according to the Calvert in your view of how yeah yeah the bacon okay currently didn't %HESITATION convinced him that free simply needed to have generals walking through none of these guys were military expert see anything destruction do you want to
00:49:49see anything on behalf of Jefferson Davis %HESITATION it he stands out in your book is kind of a %HESITATION a a somewhat job outra stick figure it's because that were not sympathetic to %HESITATION which is slavery in this or at least the autonomy of the south issue I
00:50:06think you quoted in the book saying how he helped I thinks something along the lines of a building is gone he'd been given a death sentence when he accepted the presidency of the confederacy was he self interested or was he a little more %HESITATION ideally the trusted these
00:50:22only one alpha with why did a job that expected to lose in six months so he yes he he thought the south would lose the war on the other hand he got to be the president of a country something that would have never happened otherwise I and if
00:50:41we look at his history he was imprisoned briefly after the war he was freed he made a fortune he did just fine %HESITATION could have known that advance but what he couldn't %HESITATION was that the south or to lose the war easily but they're going up against the
00:51:01incompetent Mister Lincoln maybe that will work out we have to realize is very hard to day for people to put themselves in the minds of people at the time Lincoln at the time was perceived by his contemporaries as a well intentioned nice guy humorous entertaining that's not experienced
00:51:25person rate storyteller and not competent a great storyteller so Jefferson Davis on opportunity and the same for Breckenridge's on opportunity to be a big wake %HESITATION you know the big fish in a little pond my same thing about Robert E. Lee a lot of people would say he's
00:51:41the reason it's not like it's incompetence just is one of the greatest considered babies not please consider one of the greatest generals of all time did he give any credit for the duration of the war not everyone is well and credits not the right word but maybe they
00:51:56are so you mean I take nothing away from Robert E. Lee a descendant of two signatories of the declaration of independence %HESITATION very incestuous government Lee was a a great general handed a very bad hand she understood he had a bad hand and so yes he certainly deserves
00:52:17credit if you know the length of the war is not determined by one person alone but the war statistically should have been a lot shorter so it might be that the six month estimate %HESITATION doesn't take into account the difference in quality of generalship although if it turns
00:52:35out that is a variable in the model %HESITATION maybe should have been a year but there was no way it should have been for years if it's a man is a terrible tragedy and any do issue to make it clear for listeners who are more the book certainly
00:52:52in terms of the outcome bring the outcome weather was intended or not offering this place is a wonderful thing and %HESITATION weather would have happened police Lee %HESITATION without seven fifty thousand people dying and whether under whatever circumstances it did occur would that have been worthwhile cursed with
00:53:11to give you the full scope the book you really should have had a what if chapter of all them make good decisions imp and been less self interested so we wouldn't rebelled against the British the British would've ended slavery for the United States in eighteen twenty one wonders
00:53:26yesterday AT twenty coverage in thirty around there by the misery of the American Civil War was a leader in the Americas for the British than it was in Britain and then eighteen sixty instead of being the onset of a of a bloodbath of %HESITATION epic proportions could have
00:53:42been something similar to the liberation Canada of so just on a train and without Jim crow yeah %HESITATION huge thank you know absolutely now we're skipping over eighteen twelve you have a chapter Madison were skipping over FD are %HESITATION chapter were were to and end up F. yours
00:54:03hesitance took to prosecute the war in in this case being his willingness to be reelected ever skipping over the chapter I found the most painful which is of the painting of LBJ as something of a %HESITATION of the tragic hero for willing to his willingness to pay for
00:54:18the war in Vietnam as as it went rather than pushing on to the future %HESITATION it's hard for me to read that I'm I have so little respect for LBJ but %HESITATION we'll put that to the side I want as well let me just comment if you disagree
00:54:33with some of the policies such as the Medicare policy no no no actually that's nothing to do with my distaste for the man it's it's his it's his endless ambition listen as which you us seem to have a soft pedaled in your treatment of him relative to the
00:54:52other characters in the in the drama because the big story for him is that when he becomes president on the first night in the White House he says he's made a lot of mistakes and I intend to use the time given to me to correct them and he
00:55:11does and it is true that he is ruthless in correcting them he is ruthless to %HESITATION colleagues in the Senate from the south I he is he's with us all the time he's he's he's not a nice man but he he is doing what he believes is right
00:55:31and what most of us also belief was right and that's the the virtual including the introduction of the lottery which to replace selective service which cost him the support of Democrats in the northeast whose sons at high risk lottery numbers as they were likely to be drafted and
00:55:52sent to Vietnam they stopped supporting him and he knew that would be the consequence but it was as he as the acronym for the system indicated it was a fair system he was ruthless will tonight well I'll be open minded about about his post press is president and
00:56:08here is a civil war right so %HESITATION obviously I'm right all the kero %HESITATION well Carol Burnett yet so it working you do %HESITATION let's move let's move to the last section of the book which is a comparison of two presidents who %HESITATION lines %HESITATION with respect to
00:56:28%HESITATION aggression on the part of of enemies in nine states and what motivated those lines and that would be JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis and Barack Obama in the chair keeping John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis and Barack Obama in the Middle East and the
00:56:46entanglement of Iraq Iran Syria and Russia I'd try to give us a quick sketch of what those two decisions were and how politics were decisive rather than something else they both faced major threats to security they both did what they believed what please there are constituents in JFK's
00:57:11case he believed he would be impeached and he would lose the Democrats in the house if he did not take a tough stance against the Soviets even row by his own estimate the risk of nuclear war was one third so being impeached was viewed by him as having
00:57:30a lower expected value than nuclear war he gambled on the country to secure himself in the presidency taking a tough stance he got the Soviets to back down what Obama came into the presidency having promised to withdraw the United States from Iraq and last week sent from Afghanistan
00:57:56that's what his constituents wanted it was completely foreseeable that withdrawal from Iraq would mean a Sunni Shia civil war it would mean that Iran would step in with military troops into Iraq to defend the Shia government and that Iran would become the preeminent political power in the region
00:58:20I say this is entirely foreseeable because and my two thousand nine book the production years game and the ultimate chapter called there to be embarrassed I predicted that before I knew who was elected as a matter of fact anyway Obama did what his constituents wanted and what that
00:58:41meant was that he Abbas Throwdown with partial Assad in Syria if you use chemical weapons at the game changer use chemical weapons the United Nations confirm the chemical weapons have been used and Obama desert are we don't know who maybe it was to make it was Kerry somebody
00:59:06came up with the idea that I thought should give up his chemical weapons which here tonight he had and that would solve the problem I'm not agree to such an arrangement the French president from Solon said great we should have a UN resolution in the security council now
00:59:25that authorizes the use of force later if he fails to follow the timeline that we pull including him that thought aside as agreed to the Russians say No Way Obama backs down takes a week a resolution what is the consequence now knows that anything costlier than pushing hard
00:59:48for resolution in the security council no would fail %HESITATION and pushing aside hard is a freebie that that the United States not to take any action and so he now knows that he can go somewhere and expand his interest of the goals of course into Crimea and does
01:00:03that the signals of weakness leased Obama's constituents he did what he told them he would do it that the single most important thing a president can do we got reelected and it didn't seem to have a great regard for the long term conditions that this would go going
01:00:24to create so would greatly destabilize the situation in Iraq which is spread elsewhere and so forth even the Egyptian overthrow Mubarak which we may see is a good thing the only had the wind up with another dictator what was the precipitating event is president Obama's Afghan speech in
01:00:49which he said that he's going to cut foreign aid to Egypt and half this was on the back pages of The New York Times the front page in Cairo and the generals and understood that Mubarak no longer was sufficiently important to the United States government hi to warrant
01:01:08the money which is course how they made their living and so they sat on their hands look for an alternative they eventually found it and I'll see see and so forth but in both cases JFK the Cuban Missile Crisis and Obama in the Middle East and Crimea he
01:01:25was doing what the people who elected him wanted him to do but he wasn't doing what he said he was gonna be the present of all Americans he was doing what was good for the country or we the people more broadly in the long run %HESITATION always good
01:01:40for his electoral prospects and work so let me disagree with that a little bit I I don't that is me easy for me to defend reservoir was not one of my favorite presidents doesn't make my top ten but you could argue that his mistake was was making that
01:01:57statement not what he did in response the reason I say that is that I don't really see in certain issues let's take the %HESITATION the pipeline %HESITATION that is still I think up in the air after whatever number years it's been I saw that decisions being very much
01:02:15catering to escort instead I'm gonna sit Wednesday's core constituency the people who are passionate about him there weren't many Americans passionate about intervening in Syria after series USAAC chemical weapons can stomach right or Republican I feel like there's a you talk about war fatigue or Middle East fatigue
01:02:34on the part of of democratic voters who supported Obama but I think there was a great deal on both parties and had he not made that statement about the red line which winter weather was good I do not but had he not made that statement I don't think
01:02:49things could've turned out any that much differently it they're just not a lot of public support for %HESITATION adventure in the Middle East these days after the failure or at least apparent failure of some ventures there so %HESITATION I think you misunderstand our again go ahead okay so
01:03:07our argument is conditional on his having made that statement the failure to be resolved about it as JFK had been it was also perhaps foolish for Dave Keita made this week the statement he made all come back to that so conditional on is having made the statement about
01:03:26the game changer he created a destabilization that was dangerous would it have been different had he not made the game changer statement would have been the smarter thing in my opinion you don't make game changer statements unless you are committed to carrying out the threat he was not
01:03:47so I don't disagree that it would be that the big mistake was to make a statement but we the chapter picks but it's been made in the same way with the Cuban Missile Crisis everybody who was an expert on the subject of the time understood that Soviet missiles
01:04:04in Cuba had not fundamentally changed the security or threat to the United States or use the term I don't like the balanced power had not shifted because the amount of time it took for missile to get from the Soviet Union to the United States was shorter than our
01:04:25response capability so the fact they ran this is a real nuclear war for political reasons and Obama maybe game changer statement not for not for through because it's not from these concessions would want it and then backed off of it to satisfy his constituents and that created havoc
01:04:45and they've a power vacuum in Middle East I happened with thought at the time I wrote about this at the time that it was very foolish to go into Libya where there was no prospect of creating the civil society if the United States since allies at that time
01:05:03in two thousand eleven we're going to intervene anywhere where there was a prospect of a civil society coming out of it it was Syria at that time it would not have taken very much there wasn't an ISIS threat etcetera etcetera etcetera but he he chose not to because
01:05:19that's not what opinion wanted and actually part of the theme of the book is the job of the president to be a politician who follows opinion or to be a leader who shapes opinion Obama didn't shape opinion he followed it and you make the same criticism about DR
01:05:40it in order to %HESITATION but let me let me let's let's step back now and let's turn to some recommendations for what might reduce %HESITATION the eagerness of of presents to a war but I do want to mention these are two cases F. E. R. in nineteen thirty
01:05:59nine skews me thirty eight and %HESITATION I get the no forty excuse me nineteen forty right lecture nineteen forty at about a rally against the genuinely on experience non politician Wendell Willkie media simple forgotten that sorry right up but but here's cases were were presence at least hasn't
01:06:21to go to war yes because America be born enthusiastic about it but that seems to be not a bad rule of thumb for for presidents it would be a kind of a if that were the future of American foreign policy that they would only go to war with
01:06:35the American people were were were solidly behind it I think would be in fewer wars maybe we'd be better off on average going forward I don't know her to know of course but not responded that in and talk about ways you suggest that we might make if I
01:06:50absolutely agree with that but with a copy up when public opinion is informed about the consequences of going to war and the consequences of not going to war they were not informed about that adequately by Franklin Roosevelt until we were attacked and went to the war the final
01:07:16chapter of the book address this problem how could we develop procedures not requiring legislation particularly procedures that would ensure that the public would better informed about three costs of war the job of the president to make the argument for war and the public's job is to evaluate whether
01:07:42the argument for war is worth the cost wars car cost in terms of lost lives lost opportunities and lost money and time of opportunity suppose we had the council of foreign policy advisers whose job it was not to pontificate about alternative policies but to use well developed here
01:08:12reviewed careful studies algorithm statistical analyses models what effect the costs of war in life will close the books across the war in our dollars worth affects the costs of war in terms of the foregone opportunities by losing productive population so forth and you previously agreed to set of
01:08:41procedures much of the weather bureau may have ten or fifteen different models and they look at the consensus in most models to predict whether we would have bunch of models predicting these costs the public would be told United States were to decide to defend the Philippines in Scarborough
01:09:02shoal the South China Sea these would be the expected cost then a president who believes that these are accurate estimates and is trying to persuade the public that the cost is lower we'll be in a difficult reelection position when the costs are much higher as these estimates would
01:09:26suggest and the loyal opposition well step up and say wait a minute these things are very costly the results for us to gain by disagreeing if these if if these costs as much greatly exceed what the president is saying we should ask ourselves to those because the president
01:09:47will lose votes when it turns out to be this costly and in anticipation of that the president will be more cautious about military adventures now it will become the case that falling inside the cost estimate is going to be a political boon for the president and falling outside
01:10:10them is going to suggest a lack of competence no that doesn't excite me much although before we started recording you mentioned this could be a private opportunity doesn't have to be through the government does tend to be a fair I don't need the government to be doing this
01:10:23on my reasoning idea I really like that a lot the but to suggest that that these people on this committee are going to be %HESITATION weighing in modeling in the abstract they're going to be proud of the same political incentives they're not going to be modeling they're not
01:10:41going to be reviewing they're going to be using previously published fine you're reviewed study on they'll they'll be able to say studies show in the Bible to film the blank I suspect this will be a government agency the idea is that this will be academics who are skilled
01:10:58at these things who simply are publicizing here's the case if the United States went into the South China Sea is the United States wanted to Saudi Arabia if the United States and saw what would be the cost I think that's a good idea of what would be the
01:11:14benefit I think it's a good idea and I do think that resplendent risk it would be one of the people on that committee secure warm perhaps self interested in your Sussman of this idea you want to come I am happy to not be on any of these committees
01:11:28I'm too old okay %HESITATION let of course is the party dress you'll you'll you'll suffer and got %HESITATION early seer work used to be happy I think either way %HESITATION let's let's finish with the financial side of this which I thought was extremely interesting and I'm thought enough
01:11:46about it tolerate your book I found for provocative a lot of economists I think would argue that wartime each is saw a time for debt financing a time to borrow money because it's a one time unusual events just like buying a house would be foolish to have to
01:12:03align current levels expenditure be foolish to have to lower consumption so dramatically it cetera etcetera %HESITATION and yet you suggest and I agree at least tentatively that having worst financed by current taxation released for transparently would reduce the likelihood of say spending a trillion dollars or more on
01:12:24a rack with the returns does not seem to be commensurate with that expenditure exactly with the difficulty I I have no problem with the reasoning of economists except that they are not political economist the costs of war should be thought of as a political factor more than an
01:12:45economic factor the consequence so for example if we look at as you mentioned the Iraq war cost approximately trillion dollars by the way the statistical estimates would have put the cost about four hundred billion way below what it actually cost about eight times what Donald Rumsfeld said it
01:13:04would cost %HESITATION people need to be able to assess what they are spending and what they are getting so I think of it more as purchase I am purchasing something if not a house and it has immediate consequences that need to be paid for because otherwise it changes
01:13:31the political economic but the political dynamics of the country in the future so George W. bush put the Iraq war on a credit card he didn't pay for it he cut taxes as it happens disproportionately for Republican voters and the payment off to the future Lyndon Johnson paid
01:13:57for the war in Vietnam as it went he raised taxes now a politically dangerous thing to raise taxes so when the people see that that's an opportunity for them to say wait a minute they did we don't like this war we don't want to pay more for it
01:14:15and get in touch with the president it's the politics not the economics that should become the dominant consideration and how you pay for war I guess the day has been prescribed into Miskito his book is the spoils of war thanks for being a guest on econ talk always
01:14:35a pleasure to talk this is econ talk part of the library economics and liberty for mori contacted econ talk dot org or you can also comment on today's podcast and find links in readings related to today's conversation sound engineer free Cantacuzino yet I'm your host Russ Roberts thanks
01:14:58for listening talk to you on Monday

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from EconTalk: Russ Roberts, Library of Economics and Liberty, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.


Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.