Archives for December 2008

The Dawn of the Color Photograph, Mongolia

I was determined to bring you back something from Mongolia, and despite the difficulties of travelling in a country without roads, I was lucky enough to encounter five Mongol villages where I found these really interesting nomads…. I was received in each village… by the chief who invited me into his tent. I had to sit on the ground, legs folded beneath me, and drink “koumis” – a horribly bitter, sickly liquor made of fermented mare’s milk. I managed to overcome my disgust and so thankfully was able to take pictures of tents, men and women. The women didn’t want their picture taken, but they were ordered to by the chief, who did everything he could to make me happy. These Mongols have a fierce pride not found among the Chinese – it was impossible to offer them anything in return, and it would have angered them to insist.

An excerpt from a letter to Albert Kahn from Stéphane Passet, dated 24 July 1912.

Image and text from The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna.

The Dawn of the Color Photograph, Moreuil, France

“Throughout the conflict, Kahn’s cameras would return to hospitals all over France. Nurses figure prominently in a number of autochromes; in his pictures, as in the newspapers of the day, they were often represented as archetypal ‘invasion heroines,’ working selflessly, often in the danger zone, to save the lives of those who were so valiantly fighting the Boche. One picture, taken with characteristic panache by Stéphane Passet at a hospital near the Somme in July 1916, was composed with special care. In it, the nurse has a lambent patina – almost an aura – that reinforces the near-mythic lustre of her profession.”

Moreuil, France | 30 July 1916
Sunlight kisses the uniform of a nurse tending to casualties at a chateau that has been converted into a hospital at Moreuil, around 10 miles southeast of Amiens. In this autochrome, Passet’s chiaroscuro lighting gives his heroine an angelic radiance.
A7795 Stéphane Passet

Image and text from The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna.

Dora Costa Discusses New Book HEROES & COWARDS

Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War

When are men willing to sacrifice for the common good? What are the benefits to men of friendship? How do communities deal with betrayal? And what are the costs and benefits of being in a diverse community? Matthew Kahn and I answer these questions in an interdisciplinary book, Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War (Pub Date: January 21, 2009). We weave a single narrative from the life histories of 41,000 Union Army soldiers, diaries and letters, and government documents.

One summer we both read Robert Putnam’s thought-provoking book Bowling Alone (2000). We were fascinated by Putnam’s account of the decline in American civic engagement over time. Putnam emphasized the growing popularity of television as a pivotal cause of the decline in community participation, but we wondered whether an unintended consequence of the rise of women working in the paid labor market was that PTAs and neighborhood associations lost their “volunteer army.” We started to write a paper testing whether the rise in women’s labor force participation explained the decline in residential community participation.  To our surprise, we found little evidence supporting this claim. Instead, our analysis of long-run trends in volunteering, joining groups, and trust suggested that, all else equal, people who live in cities with more income inequality were less likely to be civically engaged. These results contributed to a growing literature in economics documenting the disturbing fact that people are less likely to be “good citizens” when they live in more diverse communities.

Our early work on community participation attracted academic and popular media attention. Although we were flattered, we were aware that our measures of “civic engagement” bordered on “small potatoes.” We were examining low stakes outcome measures such as entertaining in the household, joining neighborhood associations, and volunteering for local clubs.

In the summer of 2001, we realized that the American Civil War, 1861 to 1865, provided the ideal “laboratory.” The setting was high stakes – roughly one out of every six Union Army soldiers died during the war. Unlike people in civilian life today, Union Army soldiers could not pick and choose their communities. Even when they signed up with friends, some men ended up in homogenous units and others in heterogenous units and they could not leave their units unless they deserted. Their “communities” were the roughly 100 men in their units – men they lived with 24 hours a day.

We answer the question of when men are willing to sacrifice for the common good by examining why men fought in the Civil War.  During this war most soldiers stood by their comrades even though a rational soldier would have deserted. Punishments were too rare and insufficiently severe to deter men from deserting. What then motivated these men to stand their ground? Was it their commitment to the cause, having the “right stuff,” high morale, officers, or comrades? We examine all of these explanations and find that loyalty to comrades trumped cause, morale, and leadership. But loyalty to comrades extended only to men like themselves – in ethnicity, social status, and age.

Sacrifices for the common good are costly. Standing by their comrades raised men’s chances of dying. What then are the benefits to men of friendship? We can reply by looking at who survived the extreme conditions of Civil War POW camps. We can see the effects of age, social status, rank, camp population, and the presence of own officers on survival. We can also see that the fellowship of their comrades helped soldiers survive POW camps and, the deeper the strength of ties between men, the higher their probability of survival. Ties between kin and ties between comrades of the same ethnicity were stronger than ties between other men from the same company.

If loyalty toward your own kind is admirable, how do communities deal with betrayal? In the Civil War companies were raised locally and hometowns were well aware of who was a “coward” and who was a “hero” during the war. Some towns were pro-war and others anti-war. Men who betrayed their pro-war neighbors by deserting moved away, driven out by shame and ostracism. Community codes of conduct are re-enforced not just by loyalty but also by punishments.

By examining men’s lives during the war we saw that more diverse communities are less cohesive. Their members are less willing to sacrifice and derive fewer benefits from being part of the community. Are there then any benefits to being in a diverse community? When we look at the lives of black soldiers after the Civil War we can understand the tensions between the short-run costs of diversity and its long-run benefits. Men did not like to serve with those who were different from them, so much so that they were more likely to desert, but in the long-run the ex-slaves who joined the Union Army learned the most from being in units with men who were different from themselves.

Whether diversity fosters understanding or distrust is a long standing question in the social sciences that has become particularly timely with rising immigration and growing income inequality. We find that the same types of social network variables that determined who deserted from the Union Army and who survived POW camps predict commitment to organizations in civilian life today. Organizational membership is lower in metropolitan areas with greater racial and ethnic diversity and higher income inequality; support for income redistribution is higher when the aid recipients are from the same racial and ethnic group; and laboratory games show that trust is higher when the players look like each other.

Our work emphasized the importance of ethnicity, state of birth, occupation, age, and kinship for the formation of social ties in the past. We are not claiming these were the only factors that influenced the formation of social ties among Union Army soldiers. Nor are we claiming that these factors are as important now as they were in the past. Race and ethnicity no longer predetermine friendships and marriages. Although racial and ethnic diversity still affect community participation, they have become less important relative to income.7

Although people want to be friends with others they can relate to, they may learn the most from those who are different. In recent Supreme Court cases a brief filed by eight universities emphasized that students educate each other, that cross-racial learning takes place, and that this learning is valued by students and by the labor market. Nevertheless, few large-scale studies actually measure the benefits of diversity in either a university or an employment setting and campus newspaper accounts suggest large amounts of racial self-segregation.

Like college students, Civil War soldiers preferred to interact with others who looked like them. For white Union Army soldiers, similar men were those of the same ethnicity, occupation, and age group. For black soldiers, similar men were those from the same state or even plantation and from the same slave or free background. But, in the long run (and studies of college roommates have never been able to examine the long run), Union Army soldiers benefited from their interactions with men who were different. Freemen taught the former slaves to write and helped them forge a freeman’s identity. Both slaves and freemen first learned of new cities and states from their comrades who had come from those places.

There is increasing interest in building “good” communities today. The World Bank, on its social capital Web site, writes “Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion – social capital – is critical for poverty alleviation and sustainable human and economic development” (http://web.worldbank.org). This social capital has both positive and negative consequences. Union Army deserters were never re-integrated into their communities, not because of legal punishments, but because of shame and ostracism.

We have highlighted the tensions between cohesion and diversity. A community of similar people is likely to be cohesive and its members are likely to sacrifice time, effort, and even their lives for each other. But in a diverse community members can learn from one another.

PUP author Steve Teles and Glenn Loury discuss Public Intellectuals in the Age of Obama

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on Integrated Churches

Lucky Severson at Religion and Ethics Newsweekly examines the phenomenon of interracial churches in the U.S. Among his interviewees is Michael Emerson, author of People of the Dream. There is also an extended transcript of their interview available on the Web site that answers among other questions:

Lucky Severson: Will the election of Barack Obama have an impact on interracial churches? Will we see more of them?

Michael Emerson: Oh, yeah. I think with President Obama there’s going to be a discussion, because he himself is multiracial, because we have for the first time a non-white president. There’s going to be talk about what does this mean? What is it? Are we in a new era? And I think it’s going to open up a wider place for a discussion about we ought to come together in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our work places, in our clubs and our networks. I think it’ll be more acceptable to talk about it. We’ll see what happens. It’ll take some time. But I think it will.

From the Press of Big Ideas…about the Economy

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We congratulate four of our authors for their mention in The New York Times Magazine’s 8th Annual Year in Ideas issue along with the best and brightest economic minds of our time:

University of Chicago’s Raghuram Rajan, coauthor of SAVING CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS: Unleashing the Power of Financial Markets to Create Wealth and Spread Opportunity, gets a nod for his new work on “Capital Insurance.”

Princeton political scientist Larry M. Bartels earned a mention for findings from his book UNEQUAL DEMOCRACY: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age about the surprising relationship between policy decisions and income inequality in the entry on the “Federal Reserve Vote.”

New School economist Teresa Ghilarducci is lauded as the face of the “Guaranteed Retirement Account” discussed at length in WHEN I’M SIXTY-FOUR: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them.

And, last but not least, Yale economist Robert J. Shiller is cited for his work on the “Rising-Tide Tax System” proposal also documented in his 2004 award-winning THE NEW FINANCIAL ORDER: Risk in the 21st Century.

The Dawn of the Color Photograph, Young Weaver in Algiers

“Among the very first entries in the Musée Albert-Kahn’s registers is a plate numbered A6. Shot by the photographer Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863–1931) during his 1909 visit to Algeria, it is a simple image of a humdrum event: it shows nothing more thrilling than a young woman weaving a carpet. Although she is pictured from behind, we can see her fingers drawing threads between the cords stretched vertically over the loom. It is reasonable to assume that she is making it for the tourist market, because the word “souvenir” is woven into its design.

Superficially, at least, the scene is unremarkable: a straightforward depiction of a quotidian event in an unexceptional North African setting. Yet the interplay of color is an opera of visual delights. The rich crimson of the girl’s headscarf is a shrill counterpoint to the yellow vibrato in her carpet, the gold coloratura of her blouse and the blue baritones of the rug below.”

Photographed in color in 1909, the young weaver at this loom in Algiers was probably working from home. For many families, rug-making was a cottage industry.
A6 [detail] Jules Gervais-Courtellemont.

Image and text from The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna.

John and Carol Garrard on the Legacy of the Patriarch, Aleksy II

John Garrard is professor of Russian studies at the University of Arizona. Carol Garrard is an independent scholar. Together they are the authors of three books including Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent.


Whoever will occupy the “throne” that Aleksy II’s death has vacated will set his personal stamp upon the Patriarchate, but there is little doubt that the union of Russian Orthodoxy and Russian patriotism which Aleksy initiated will continue.  This relationship has been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  Consider but one small example of Aleksy’s remarkable achievements vís a vís the Russian military and its need to staff isolated listening posts in the Far North.

Russia still has universal conscription for young men, all of whom are eligible—including those who wish to become monks.  The Russian military also had a problem staffing the isolated and forbidding radar listening posts in the Far North.  These posts are located within what used to be monasteries, but had over time been outfitted with the infrastructure of the Soviet military.  No one in the Russian military has spoken on the record about the problem of morale at these posts, but it is easy to imagine that young men, without anything else to do but listen for up to ten hours a day in the frozen north would turn to making home made vodka on their off hours.

Faced with the dual problem of conscripted novices and staffing issues at these listening posts, the Patriarch orchestrated an innovative, and mutually beneficial, solution with the military. The program which was made public for the first time on August 19, 2005 allows young men looking to become monks to simultaneously fulfill their duties to the Fatherland.

Aleksy celebrated the Orthodox “Feast of the Transfiguration,” one of twelve great feasts of the religious calendar, at the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga.  Channel One TV covered the celebration because this was also the occasion of the re-opening of the Valaam Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration of the Saviour after a full fifteen years of restoration.

After that celebration of pomp and circumstance, Aleksy went to the other side of the island, and here he laid the foundation stone of what would be a brand new chapel—the chapel of St. George the Triumphant, patron saint of all warriors.  It would be the chapel for a unique unit in the Russian army, the 66th Separate Radar Company.  As the Channel One presenter said, “It is the only one of its type in the country.  It has just 18 servicemen, comprising five officers and 13 novices from the monastery on conscript service.”

To mark just how satisfactory a solution this was to both the Russian defense establishment and the Russian Orthodox Church, no less a person than Sergy Ivanov, then Minister of Defense, accompanied the Patriarch at the ceremony.  Afterwards, Minister Ivanov spoke approvingly, “Conditions of service here have been designed, firstly, not to detract from the purpose of this military unit.  And secondly, to combine it with spiritual needs.  I think this is entirely proper and natural.  And it brings the main result, in that all is in good order with both service and discipline and law and order.  Splendid.”

Aleksy congratulated the soldier novices on the Feast of the Transfiguration, blessed the officers’ wives and children, and wished for clear skies to always be, “like today, over the company as it defends our airspace.”  Thus, the army and the church worked together to solve the problem of how a young man could fulfill his spiritual longing to become a monk without shirking his duty as a conscript.  To the Russian army, used to well nigh perpetual drunkenness at these isolated posts, the solution must have seemed miraculous.  The presenter on Channel One mentioned in passing that the agreement between the monastery and the Ministry of Defense has been in place since 1995, so for ten years the monastery has sent its 18 year old novices over to the other side of the island to fulfill their military obligations.

Given that it took ten years for the military to publicize this entirely successful operation, we can be sure that other agreements between the Russian Orthodox Church and the military are also in place. No doubt, the impact of The Patriarch’s vision for the Church will continue to be felt for many decades.

Obama official plugs Heather Gerken’s THE DEMOCRACY INDEX

Robert F. Bauer, general consul to the Obama campaign, cited Heather Gerken’s forthcoming book THE DEMOCRACY INDEX: Why Our Election System is Failing and How to Fix It (May 2009) as the primer for on how to improve the election process. You can read more about this here

You may also want to check out Heather’s piece in the most recent issue of The American Prospect, which delves a bit more into THE DEMOCRACY INDEX and election reform in general.

Gene Epstein’s Holiday Shopping List

What to get for that special economist in your life this holiday season? Gene Epstein at Barron’s Magazine has a few suggestions and happily, three of them are Princeton University Press titles: The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan (which is now available in a reasonably–if not downright stocking-stuffer worthy–priced paperback), The Venturesome Economy by Amar Bhidé (which was also listed to The Economist‘s Pick of the Pile for 2008), and The Price of Everything by Russell Roberts.

Seeing the World in a New Way – The Dawn of the Color Photograph

The Dawn of the Color Photograph by David Okuefuna gives us a rare opportunity to see the world anew–even if it is the world of close to 100 years ago. While most of the photographs taken at the turn of the 20th century were black-and-white, here the reader finds a collection of colorful autochromes.

We are now witness to the blood-red aftermath of a murder scene in Rhineland, the garish pink and orange dresses worn by human chess pieces in Indochina, and the vivid red.green.yellow stripes of skittles against the backdrop of World War I’s destruction in Reims. Whether documenting momentous occasions or the mundane details of everyday life–these photographs invite us to see history in a completely new way.

How did this collection come to be? French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn dispatched photographers to the far corners of the world and supplied them with new autochrome cameras. Kahn’s goal was to create a complete photographic record of life on earth as an attempt to bring peace and understanding to the world. His monumental project was brought to an inauspicious end by his financial ruin in the Great Depression but not before he amassed close to 14,000 images from Europe, Asia, the Americas.

In a series of postings, we’ll share photographs from the  book–Enjoy!

The Dawn of the Color Photograph, Taj Mahal

The English are savages, and the first impression I had in Bombay has now been confirmed here. I was thought to be a spy or a criminal – I provoked nothing but suspicion. Anyone else who comes here is allowed to visit the Khyber Pass, but I wasn’t allowed anywhere near. I was kept some 15 kilometres [10 miles] away. I asked the authorities why this was, having presented them with my papers, emphasising the fact that I wanted to go to Afghanistan to see certain villages. All my requests were immediately declined. I had taken two railway trips in 24 hours with all my equipment, only to be sent back empty-handed.

Vendors selling horses or renting cars refused to sell or rent to me, so that I could leave this English town, and the Governor let me know that if I tried, I would be expelled and escorted back to the military base. This is charming…. These people haven’t even gone to the trouble of properly reading the letters that I have given them; they remain as frosty and stiff as their starched collars. They are imbeciles, ridiculous and uncultured. I apologise for the tone of my letter, but this expresses only a fraction of my thoughts.

An excerpt from a letter to Jean Brunhes from Stéphane Passet, dated 19 January 1914.

In spite of this reception, Passet managed to take a series of remarkable photographs of India including the autochrome below which may be to be the earliest color photograph of the Taj Mahal.

Agra, India | 25-27 December 1913
Constructed between 1632 and 1648, the Taj Mahal was Shah Jahan’s mausoleum for his beloved wife Mumtaz, who had died in childbirth in 1631. Over the years it fell into disrepair, but in 1908 builders completed the restoration project ordered by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. Stéphane Passet’s autochrome is among the earliest-known color photographs of India’s most famous monument.

Text and image taken from The Dawn of the Color Photograph: Albert Kahn’s Archives of the Planet by David Okuefuna.