No Kin In The Game: Moral Hazard and War in the U.S. Congress
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 family composition 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 having a draft-age son reduces legislator support for pro-conscription bills by 10-17%. Legislators with draft-age sons are also more likely to win reelection, suggesting that support for conscription is punished by voters. Our results 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