When do Leaders Free-Ride?

Event Date: 

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 3:00pm

Event Location: 

  • The Lane Room (Ellison 3824)
  • International Relations Speaker Series
  • PS 595 Event

Photo of Professor FurhmannThe free-rider problem is one of the most widely discussed social dilemmas in economic theory. According to the logic of free-riding, people will under-invest in public goods. However, people often behave in ways that are inconsistent with the free-riding hypothesis. Why do we see variation in free-riding behavior? This study seeks to understand when group-level decision-making produces socially sub-optimal outcomes by investigating free-riding in one particular context: military alliances. It argues that individual leaders – the actors who, in fact, make alliance-related decisions – are an important source of variation in free-riding.

I argue, in particular, that leaders with backgrounds in business are more likely to behave as self-interested utility maximizers and focus on material factors. People who select careers in business may be predisposed to think like economists, and they are socialized to value maximizing the bottom line. Former businesspersons therefore should be more likely to free- ride than non-businesspersons. This article presents the results from two studies designed to test this general theoretical claim. First, an analysis of defense expenditures among 14 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 1953 to 1991 shows that former businesspersons spend less on defense as a percentage of GDP than leaders without business experience. A second analysis yields some evidence that former businesspersons are less likely to honor multilateral alliance promises, based on an analysis of 158 opportunities to fulfill alliance commitments in war from 1914 to 2003, though this finding is less robust overall.

Matthew Fuhrmann is an associate professor of political science and Ray A. Rothrock `77 Fellow at Texas A&M University. He was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow in 2016 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. During the 2016-17 academic year, he will hold a visiting appointment at Stanford University.  

His research focuses on international relations, nuclear proliferation, and armed conflict. He is the author of Atomic Assistance: How “Atoms for Peace” Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity(Cornell University Press, 2012) and the coauthor of Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy(Cambridge University Press, 2016). His work has been published or is forthcoming in peer reviewed journals such as American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, International Organization, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, and Journal of Politics. He has also written opinion pieces for The Atlantic (online), The Christian Science Monitor, Slate, and USA Today.He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. You can follow him on Twitter @mcfuhrmann.

Presented by the Department of Political Science International Relations Speaker Series.

PS 595 Credit.