It’s easy to overlook the underlying strategic forces of war, to see it solely as a series of errors, accidents, and emotions gone awry. It’s also easy to forget that war shouldn’t happen—and most of the time it doesn’t. Around the world, there are millions of hostile rivalries, yet only a fraction erupt into violence, a fact too many accounts overlook. Christopher Blattman is the Ramalee E. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies at the University of Chicago. He is co-lead the university’s Development Economics Center and the Obama Foundation Scholars Program. In his new book, Why We Fight, Christopher Blattman reminds us that most rivals loathe one another in peace. War is too costly to fight, so enemies almost always find it better to split the pie than spoil it for everyone or struggle over thin slices. In those rare instances when fighting ensues, we should ask: What kept rivals from compromise? He combines decades of economics, political science, psychology, and real-world interventions to lay out the root causes and remedies for war, showing that violence is not the norm; that there are only five reasons why conflict wins over compromise; and how peacemakers turn the tides through tinkering, not transformation. In this interview, I speak to Professor Christopher Blattman about why we fight, the root causes of war, and how we can effectively move to peace. We talk about how to build resilient societies, how best to detect fragility, and the remedies that shift incentives away from violence and get parties back to dealmaking.

Thought Economics

In late 2022 or 2023, the 8th billionth person will be born on Earth. Yet as history has shown, the thinning of valuable resources necessary for sustaining not only life, but a good life, continues to drive wars, disease, and poverty. How can we use the 8 billion people we have on the planet today to shape the world we want tomorrow? In her provocative and penetrating new book 8 BILLION AND COUNTING, political demographer Dr. Jennifer Sciubba mines a long academic career, including a stint as a Department of Defense demographer, to show how a deeper understanding of fertility, mortality, and migration trends point us toward the investments we need to make today to shape the future we want tomorrow. The challenges that besiege our interdependent, interconnected world easily touch us all: disease, climate change, economic crisis—but so do the good fortunes for all 8 billion of us. In this interview, I speak to Dr. Jennifer Sciubba about how demographic trends (age, structure and ethnic composition) can signal crucial signposts for future violence and peace, repression and democracy, poverty and prosperity.

Thought Economics

Does power corrupt, or are corrupt people drawn to power? Are entrepreneurs who embezzle and cops who kill the result of poorly designed systems or are they just bad people? Are tyrants made or born? If you were suddenly thrust into a position of power, would you be able to resist the temptation to line your pockets or seek revenge against your enemies? To answer these questions, I spoke to Dr. Brian Klaas, who is Associate Professor in Global Politics at University College London, a columnist for The Washington Post, and who has advised governments, US political campaigns, NATO, the European Union and multi-billion dollar NGOs. In his latest book, Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How it Changes Us, Brian combined decades of research with over 500 interviews with leaders including presidents, philanthropists, cult-leaders, dictators and entrepreneurs. In this interview, I speak to Dr. Brian Klaas about why our societies concentrate power into hierarchies and why our power systems attract certain types of leaders. We also talk about how we can design systems that can prevent corruption and abuses of power together with how we can attract, and empower, a better class of leader.

Thought Economics

Joe Zammit-Lucia is an entrepreneur, investor, leadership advisor and commentator. He is an investor and Non-Executive Director in entrepreneurial ventures and advises senior business and institutional leaders on leadership in contemporary culture and writes for many of the world’s most prestigious newspapers. In this interview, I speak to Joe Zammit-Lucia about whether business can ever be apolitical. We discuss how modern businesses must be the visible reflection of social values and cultural trends (which shape the environment in which businesses operate), and how an increasingly politicised stakeholder group (from customers to investors) are expecting companies to have perspective on political issues. Markets themselves are politically constructed, and investors increasingly focus on corporations’ political positions – be they environmental or societal.

Thought Economics

Glenn Hubbard is the Dean Emeritus of Columbia Business School and former Chairman of the US Council of Economic Advisers. In The Wall and the Bridge, Hubbard proves that walls never lead to prosperity and almost always portend collapse. While change can be extremely difficult, it is inevitable. Ultimately, the only way to propel ourselves towards tremendous technological, cultural, and economic progress is to build bridges—accessible to and created by all. Bridges level the playing field by preparing those needing the skills for the new economy while providing the infrastructure for them to reconnect with today’s workplace. It is because walls delay needed adaptations to the ever-changing world, they are essentially backward-looking and ultimately destined to fail. In this interview, I speak to Glenn Hubbard about our economic model, why we need to build bridges instead of walls, and how we can create an inclusive economy that allows everyone to flourish and grow.

Thought Economics

Today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding – and appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that doubled its lifespan, sequenced its genome, and developed vaccines for Covid-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, quack cures, conspiracy theories, and “post-truth” rhetoric? In this interview, I speak to Professor Steven Pinker about rationality. We discuss how he rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions (after all, we discovered the laws of nature, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself). We discuss how we (as a species) think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others
. Steven also takes time to discuss how the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology can add up to crippling irrationality in a society.

Thought Economics

Dr. Maya Shankar is Senior Director of Behavioural Economics at Google and is the Creator, Host and Executive Producer of her brilliant new podcast A Slight Change of Plans which explores the question: What exactly happens when we find ourselves on the brink of change? Using her skills as a cognitive scientist, she delves into the incredible stories of a number of guests. She speaks to Tiffany Haddish on her transformation from foster care kid to Emmy-winning comedian; a former member of the extremist Westboro Baptist Church on her experience walking away from a cult; Kacey Musgraves on how psychedelics changed her perspective on art; a young cancer researcher who gets a diagnosis that changes everything; a Black jazz musician who convinced hundreds of KKK members to leave the Klan; and Hillary Rodham Clinton who was never willing to change in the way people wanted her to. In this interview, I speak to Maya Shankar about her transformation from being a musician to leading the White House Behavioural Science Team, and what she’s learned about change and transformation through her podcast, “A Slight Change of Plans.”

Thought Economics

Ingrid Betancourt‘s story, her exemplary courage, spirit and resilience, has captured the world’s imagination. She is a politician (former Colombian presidential candidate) who is celebrated for her determination to combat the corruption and climate of fear which was endemic in her nation. In 2002 she was taken hostage by FARC, a terrorist guerrilla organisation. Ingrid was held captive in the depths of the jungle for six and a half years, chained day and night for much of that time, constantly on the move and enduring gruelling conditions. She was freed and reunited with her children and relatives in 2008. Ingrid Betancourt has become a global symbol of the freedom and the resistance of the human beings in the face of the most serious adversities. His struggle for democracy, freedom and peace has been a shining example of dignity and courage for the whole world. In this exclusive interview, I speak to Ingrid Betancourt about fighting corruption, her six and a half years in captivity, and what it takes to create change.

Thought Economics

In 2020 protest movements across the world revealed the inequalities sewn into the fabric of society. The wildfires that ravaged Australia and California made it clear we are in the middle of a climate catastrophe. The pandemic showed us all just how precarious our economies really are, and the conspiracy theories surrounding the US election proved the same of our democracies. So, what do we do? In Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now, award-winning political commentator Ece Temelkuran puts forward a compelling new narrative for our current moment, not for some idealised future but for right now, and asks us to make a choice. To choose determination over hope and to embrace fear rather the cold comfort of ignorance. This remarkable and timely book asks you to choose to have faith in the other human beings we share this planet with. In this exclusive interview, I speak to Ece Temelkuran about why we feel like civilisation is being torn apart, and how we can regain our dignity, our hope and our togetherness.

Thought Economics

In her new book THE LONELY CENTURY: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart, renowned thinker and economist Noreena Hertz investigates how radical changes to the workplace, mass migration to cities, technology’s ever greater dominance of our lives, and decades of neoliberal policies that placed self-interest above the collective good have coalesced to  create a society in which loneliness, atomisation and isolation prevail – which COVID has only amplified. Hertz provides an empowering and inspiring vision for how to mitigate this, reconnect with each other and come together again. Hertz combines a decade of research with first-hand reporting that takes her from ‘renting a friend’ in New York to family-friendly Belgian far-right festivals, from elderly women knitting bonnets for their robot caregivers in Japan to Ivy League colleges running ‘How to Read a Face in Real Life’ remedial classes. What she uncovers is a global population feeling more and more alienated and isolated. In this exclusive interview, I speak to Noreena Hertz about the causes of our loneliness epidemic, the consequences for each and every one of us, and what we can do to restore human connection in a world that’s pulling us apart.

Thought Economics

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