The Oliver E. Williamson Best Conference Paper Award 2020

By Tore Ellingsen

As is customary, the winner of the Williamson Award is chosen by the President (Tore Ellingsen), the President Elect (Robert Gibbons), and the Vice President (Gillian Hadfield). We are most grateful to the members of the Program Committee for performing the first screening.

This year’s winner asks the following question: To what extent can our heroes change our values? For example, suppose a soldier happens to serve under a great general who goes on to become a war hero. Suppose moreover that, after a few decades, the general goes on to become Prime Minister and that the general exploits that role to turn the country from being a liberal democracy to becoming a fascist tyranny. Will the people who happened to serve under the general be more likely to become fascists too?

The paper answers the question by utilizing the fact that, for French soldiers during World War 1, the assignment of soldiers to the decisive battle of Verdun was as good as random. The heroic general of the battle was Philippe Pétain, who went on to become leader of France’s Vichy government in World War II. Exploiting detailed information concerning who became collaborators and who worked for the resistance, the authors establish that soldiers who served under Pétain are 5 percent more likely to become collaborators and more than 10 percent less likely to become members of the resistance. So, yes, it seems that if our heroes happen to have severe moral flaws, they can turn some of us into monsters as well.

The paper is called “Heroes and Villains: The Effects of Combat Heroism on Autocratic Values and Nazi Collaboration in France.” The authors are Julia Cagé (Sciences Po), Anna Dagorret (Stanford), Pauline Grosjean (UNSW), and Saumitra Jha (Stanford).