NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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No Kin In The Game: Moral Hazard and War in the U.S. Congress

Eoin McGuirk, Nathaniel Hilger, Nicholas Miller

NBER Working Paper No. 23904
Issued in October 2017, Revised in November 2017
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Public Economics, Political Economy

Why do wars occur? We exploit a natural experiment to test the longstanding hypothesis that leaders declare war because they fail to internalize the associated costs. We test this moral hazard theory of conflict by compiling data on the 9,210 children of 3,693 US legislators who served in the U.S. Congress during the four conscription- era wars of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. We test for agency problems by comparing the voting behavior of congressmen with draft-age sons versus draft-age daughters. We estimate that (i) having a draft-age son reduces legislator support for pro-conscription bills by 10-17%; (ii) support increases by a quarter as a legislator's son crosses the upper age threshold; and (iii) legislators with draft-age sons are more likely to win reelection. These results are consistent with a political agency model in which voters punish politicians for choosing unpopular policies. Our findings provide new evidence that agency problems contribute to political violence, and that elected officials can be influenced by changing private incentives.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23904

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