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A New Book Review of my 2008 Social Capital Book

Monday, October 3, 2016 9:44
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Carl F. Robinson has just posted a thoughtful review of my 2008 Heroes and Cowards book (joint with Dora Costa).   For reasons I don’t understand, when our book was published Princeton Press filed it under “Sociology” and the broader community of economists and demographers didn’t really engage with our book.

War time is high stakes.  One faces extreme death risk.  During a time when there was no “incentive pay” and little monitoring and accountability (there were no cell phones or proper information tracking systems) — how does an institution avoid free riding?

Social capital and bonds between “brothers” provides the glue to keep men working for the greater good.  This book directly ties into environmental economics via the “Tragedy of the Commons”.  When do people pursue their narrow self interest versus when are they willing to sacrifice and bear costs for others?

Due to the unique data that Robert Fogel created, we were able to examine these issues. Robinson never really delves into how the great data we could access allow us to play detective and learn about men who have now been dead for over 100 years.

Here is some good stuff from our Princeton University Press webpage.

When are people willing to sacrifice for the common good? What are the benefits of friendship? How do communities deal with betrayal? And what are the costs and benefits of being in a diverse community? Using the life histories of more than forty thousand Civil War soldiers, Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn answer these questions and uncover the vivid stories, social influences, and crucial networks that influenced soldiers’ lives both during and after the war.
Drawing information from government documents, soldiers’ journals, and one of the most extensive research projects about Union Army soldiers ever undertaken, Heroes and Cowards demonstrates the role that social capital plays in people’s decisions. The makeup of various companies–whether soldiers were of the same ethnicity, age, and occupation–influenced whether soldiers remained loyal or whether they deserted. Costa and Kahn discuss how the soldiers benefited from friendships, what social factors allowed some to survive the POW camps while others died, and how punishments meted out for breaking codes of conduct affected men after the war. The book also examines the experience of African-American soldiers and makes important observations about how their comrades shaped their lives.
Heroes and Cowards highlights the inherent tensions between the costs and benefits of community diversity, shedding light on how groups and societies behave and providing valuable lessons for the present day.
Heroes and Cowards is interesting to read. . . . It is a work of military sociology written with one eye on the debate about the social costs of diversity. . . . Ms. Costa and Mr. Kahn emphasize the advantages of trust and mutual sacrifice that come from social similarity. They understand full well the contemporary implications of their historical study. When we contemplate helping others, whether through volunteer organizations or welfare–state transfers, we are less likely to provide for–and more likely to abandon–those who are unlike ourselves.”–David Courtwright, Wall Street Journal
“This is brilliant social science, dealing with key themes by means of powerful methods used on a superb database. The authors are economic historians skilled in quantitative analysis who investigate social factors that caused Union soldiers to act as heroes or cowards during the Civil War.”Choice
“In their new book Heroes and Cowards, economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn use the Civil War as their laboratory to study what men will do in the name of friendship. They find that men serving in companies with tight social connections–like shared birthplace and occupation–were more likely to stand and fight than those in less tight-knit companies, where desertion rates were up to four times higher.”–Ray Fisman,
Heroes and Cowards highlights the inherent tensions between the costs and benefits of community diversity, shedding light on how groups and societies behave and providing valuable lessons for the present day.”Spartacus Educational


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