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violence, growth and liberalism

Paul Collier argues in War, Guns and Votes that when a country has a per capita income per year of $2,700 or less ($7 per person per day), democracy actually increases the odds of internal violence compared to autocracy. Once above that threshold, democracy stabilizes a society as you’d expect.

While compelling in its own right, I am interested in how this finding may further our historical understanding of societies.  For instance, since virtually all societies before the 1600-1800s (pick a date) were beneath this threshold, would this imply that democracy was the wrong answer at the time? The fact that there were only a few fleeting instances of democracy – marked by internal violence and instability – appears to support this admittedly speculative hypothesis. (Rome is the exception, though not a clear-cut counter-example.) Read the rest of this entry »


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want safer streets? ditch the signs.

In an effort to increase the number (and the originality) of my posts, for the foreseeable future I’ll be focusing posts on snippets from books I have read recently which I found interesting. This post looks at the safety paradox: we are often most safe when we feel less safe. While counterintuitive, I think most recognize the logic. But how far are you willing to let it take you?

Tom Vanderbilt, from Traffic:

One study that looked at twenty-four intersections that had been converted from signals and stop signs to roundabouts found that total crashes dropped nearly 40 percent, while injury crashes dropped 76 percent and fatal crashes by about 90 percent. There is a paradox here: The system that many of us would feel is more dangerous is actually safer, while the system we think is safer is actually more dangerous. This points to a second, more subtle factor in why roundabouts are safer. Intersections of any kind are complex environments for the driver, requiring high amounts of mental workload to process things like signs, other cars, and turning movements. Drivers approaching an intersection with a green light may feel there is little left for them to do; they have the green light. Read the rest of this entry »

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