If we want to combat violence in the world, what’s the best way to go about it? Perhaps thinking of people like Pablo Escobar, Joseph Kony, and Osama Bin Laden as criminals is insufficient. What if we were to think of them instead as entrepreneurs? What if we assessed their actions and organization as a venture capitalist, rather than a politician or soldier?

These questions are at the heart of the work of Gary Shiffman, who EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed to talk about his book, The Economics of Violence, in this episode. Shiffman became an economist after a career in the military to understand conflict, violence, and coercion in the world. We’d like to hear what you took away from this week’s conversation. We’d love for you to share your thoughts- with us here or offline with others. Together we can keep the conversation going.




1- What’s wrong with thinking about terrorism as a religious issue, according to Shiffman?


2- What are “fictive kinships,” and how does this concept add to Shiffman’s entrepreneurship framework?


3- Consider Shiffman’s three “case studies” as entrepreneurs. Roberts reminds us all three died violent deaths at a young age. As Roberts asks, how is this rational??? To what extent are cases such as these really comparable to famous legitimate CEOs?


4- What does Roberts mean when he said, “The idea that you could make something illegal and therefore solve it is really important.” Consider the case of Escobar. Which government- the American or Colombian- had stronger incentives for the drug trade to be illegal?


5-Shiffman argues that understanding the incentives, institutions, norms, values that folks have can not only help us understand violence, but also fight it. To what extent has Shiffman convinced you?