Feb 16, 2024

Generational Talent

Alexei Navalny is dead, murdered by the man whose corruption and brutality he dared to contest. ✧✧✧ How is it, I sometimes hear from friends or relatives here, that in a country of 300 million we cannot find some more talented person to run for p...

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Apr 27, 2022

What I Learned from Working with Deceased Soviet Historians

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. Broadstreet readers may know that Jeff and Jared are editing an Oxford Handbook of Historical Political Economy. Tracy and I have committed to writing a chapter on “HPE in ...

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Mar 17, 2022

Censorship, Propaganda, and Repression During Putin’s War on Ukraine

My remarks (slightly edited) last night at Ukrainathon, a 24-hour educational marathon benefiting displaced students and scholars from Ukraine. Thanks to the PONARS leadership for this great initiative. For my fifteen minutes, I would like to talk ab...

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Feb 21, 2022

What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Mean for Russia?

My Chicago colleague Zhaotian Luo and I weigh in over at the Monkey Cage blog: Putin is Gambling His Future—and Russia’s.

Jan 14, 2022

A Good Workshop

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. A few years ago, in reflecting on the annual meeting of the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics, I wrote: What makes for a good conference? The opport...

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Dec 6, 2021

Taking Stock of Russian Economic History

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. The following remarks were prepared for a roundtable discussion at the annual meeting of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. I am a co-editor o...

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Sep 22, 2021

A Bit More about Theory in Historical Political Economy

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. As Volha mentioned in her post on Monday, she, Eugene Finkel, and I are working on something—a review of the field of historical political economy for an audience of politi...

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Jun 2, 2021

State Power and the Power Law

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. Pavi had a great post recently on the different ways that historical political economists have conceptualized and measured state capacity. I want to follow up with a small ...

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Mar 22, 2021

What Did Stalinist Industrialization Accomplish?

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. The spring quarter at Chicago starts in a week. I will be teaching a course on the political economy of communism and the postcommunist transition. I love this class, which...

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Feb 10, 2021

What Joe Biden Could Learn About Reform from Tsar Alexander II

Joint with Eugene (Evgeny) Finkel. Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a blog devoted to historical political economy. Climate change, racial equity, immigration, healthcare: Joe Biden has a lot on his plate beyond bringing the pandemic to an end. In posse...

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Jan 1, 2021

Novyi god

What is the New Year's holiday? For many Americans, it is an opportunity to stay up late, to take a day off work, to watch some football, to resolve to do better. And that's in a good year. It is no surprise that a 2011 poll found that few ranked New Y...

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Nov 20, 2020

The (Limited) Power of Persuasion

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a new blog devoted to historical political economy. Among the numerous consequences of COVID for everyday life, there is this: Many Americans will not venture beyond their own dining rooms for Thanksgiving this year, and...

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Oct 23, 2020

Life and Death During the Transition Depression

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a new blog devoted to historical political economy. The New York Times published an interesting pair of reports on Tuesday. The first related a recent study in Health Affairs that documents a staggering, and unexpected, ...

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Sep 23, 2020

Navigating the Frontier between History and Social Science

Cross-posted from Broadstreet, a new blog devoted to historical political economy. The hottest debate in academia the past week has concerned the appropriateness of a new article on "Frontier Culture" by Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, and Mesay Gebres...

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Sep 5, 2020

An Interdisciplinary Conversation

A conversation with Tracy Dennison, cross-posted from Broadstreet, a new blog devoted to historical political economy. Scott: Tracy, this is the first post at Broadstreet for both of us. Welcome! Tracy: And welcome to you! It feels a bit like cheatin...

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Aug 2, 2020

Leaving Paris

On a warm summer day in late August 2019, we moved into a third-floor apartment in Paris’s residential 15th arrondissement. Standing on our balcony and looking to the left, we could see the district’s mairie—its town hall—and behind it the Eiffel Tower...

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Jun 14, 2020

Nondemocracy (Second Edition)

When I wrote the first edition of my textbook on Formal Models of Domestic Politics, I made a conscious decision not to include models of autocracy. The literature was too new, the big picture insufficiently clear. There was enough to cover on more est...

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May 24, 2020

Reform and Rebellion in Weak States

Sometime during my first year as a junior faculty member, I was wandering the stacks in Wisconsin's Memorial Library. I can't remember what I was looking for, but I remember what I found: a multi-volume chronicle of the peasant movement in Imperial Rus...

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May 17, 2020

Political Agency (Second Edition)

One of the pleasures of revising my textbook on Formal Models of Domestic Politics has been discovering work that speaks to our current politics. I began a series of posts on forthcoming changes to the text with a discussion of Wiola Dziuda and Antoine...

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May 10, 2020

Delegation (Second Edition)

I consider the chapter on delegation in Formal Models of Domestic Politics to be unusually coherent. This is not patting myself on the back. Rather, the literature that this chapter summarizes, with its origins in the seminal work of Holmström, is of a...

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Apr 25, 2020

Coalitions (Second Edition)

Halfway through my posts on the second edition of Formal Models of Domestic Politics, I am reaching the finish line for the manuscript itself. If all goes as planned, Cambridge will have the draft by next weekend. If you are reading this post, you migh...

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Apr 19, 2020

Electoral Competition (Second Edition)

I have been describing the changes in store for my textbook on Formal Models of Domestic Politics. Let me now turn to the three opening chapters: electoral competition under certainty, electoral competition under uncertainty, and special interest polit...

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Apr 5, 2020

Regime Change (Second Edition)

In previous posts, I began to describe the changes to my textbook on Formal Models of Domestic Politics, with a second edition planned for next year. Most of those changes involve new material: additional models and exercises, a new chapter on nondemoc...

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Mar 11, 2020

Veto Players (Second Edition)

In my last post, I discussed in broad terms work on a second edition of my textbook, Formal Models of Domestic Politics. Beginning with this post, I will lay out the specific changes I have made to the text. For the existing chapters, most changes fal...

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Feb 28, 2020

Second Edition

In my second year at Wisconsin, in the fall of 2004, I taught for the first time the second course of a new sequence in formal theory. Leaning on my own graduate training, I organized the syllabus around Persson and Tabellini's Political Economics—the ...

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Nov 9, 2019


November 9, the day the Berlin Wall came down. I was watching CNN with my friends in Ann Arbor. It must have been early evening, as there was live video of young people on the wall--singing, crying, drinking champagne. I remember thinking at the time t...

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Sep 23, 2019

American Values

A number of years ago, one of Russia's premier investigative journalists related to me a trick of the trade. In the run-up to publication of a big story, reporters are hidden outside of Moscow. It is the days before a paper hits the newsstands that are...

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Aug 16, 2019

Book Club

One of a series of lasts in Madison: the final meeting of the book club I co-organized with my colleague and friend Yoi Herrera. This time we read A Time of Gifts, the first book in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s superlative (and incompletely finished) account...

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Jun 16, 2019

History, Variously Defined

If you read my last post, you know that I've been busy moving. That, at least, is my excuse for not writing up some thoughts earlier on the first annual Summer Workshop in the Economic History and Historical Political Economy of Russia, held in Madison...

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May 12, 2019

I'm Moving

For every one of the sixteen years I have held a Ph.D., I have been a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Beginning with my seventeenth year, I will be at the University of Chicago, with a joint appointment in the Department of Polit...

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Feb 9, 2019

John Dingell, Heresthetician

In one of two or three previous lives, I worked on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s as a legislative assistant to the member of Congress from my home district. It was a heady experience. I had always loved politics, and while my own political views were...

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Jan 20, 2019

Producing (Not Writing) Your Own Book

I like to think of myself as an article writer who writes the occasional book. With my dissertation book, I did things the standard way: I wrote the manuscript, which upon completion of review I submitted (as LaTeX and supporting files) to Cambridge Un...

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Oct 25, 2018

Drawing the Wrong Lessons from Socialism

I have just forced myself to read the CEA report on "The Opportunity Costs of Socialism." Personally, I rather prefer Francis Spufford's Red Plenty for a palatable introduction to actually existing socialism. But a couple of observations. Somewhat sur...

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Jul 17, 2018


Typically lurking just below the surface, the question of whether Vladimir Putin has anything on Donald Trump has dominated public discourse since the Helsinki summit and the American president's declaration that he believes a former KGB agent over his...

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May 7, 2018

Is Formal Theory Back?

In blurbing my text on Formal Models of Domestic Politics, David Laitin expressed what I then only dimly perceived to be the book's ambition: My expectation is that Scott Gehlbach's Formal Models of Domestic Politics will become the standard text fo...

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Apr 23, 2018

What is Socialism? (2018 edition)

Farah Stockman at the New York Times has the story of the emergence of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as a force within the Democratic Party. Ten years after "socialist" became a slur with which to paint Barack Obama, many Democratic candidates...

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Feb 10, 2018


My paper with Paul Dower, Evgeny Finkel, and Steve Nafziger on "Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies" is out in the most recent issue of the APSR. It's the latest installment in a project on reform and rebellion in Imperial Russia that, ...

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Feb 5, 2018

Last Lecture

It is a tradition at UW for faculty to attend the last lecture that a colleague gives before retirement. Today it was our turn to send off Byron Shafer, Hawkins Chair of Political Science and author of numerous books on American politics--most recently...

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Jan 25, 2018

Not According to Plan

David Bordwell—the William Riker of film studies—writes: It's a commonplace of film history that under Stalin (a name much in American news these days) the USSR forged a mass propaganda cinema. In order for Lenin's "most important art" to transform ...

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Nov 15, 2017

History and Economic History

Can historians and economic historians understand each other? That was the subtext of a panel discussion on "Number Trouble" at last weekend's meeting of the American Association for Slavic and East European Studies (ASEEES). On the panel were some of ...

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Nov 7, 2017

One Hundred Years

One hundred years since a small group of extremists seized control of a major European state, thus launching a civil war, collectivization, terror, the complete reorganization of economy and society, and a geopolitical standoff that could well have end...

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Oct 16, 2017

Technology Made Us Slaves, Technology Will Set Us Free

I'm back. Vacation turned into the mad rush before the start of the semester turned into the actual start of the semester turned into…Anyway, it seems as good a time as any to return to the theme of distractions and how to manage them. My friend John A...

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Aug 17, 2017

What Trump Knows (apropos of Korea, Putin, and Charlottesville)

Donald Trump is a little man who knows one big thing: the power of political rhetoric lies in not sounding like other politicians. He is not the first to understand this—Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination in 1992 by playing against (1980s Democ...

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Aug 16, 2017

(Not) Correcting Acemoglu and Robinson

When is an error not really an error? Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson recently posted a correction to the key proposition in "Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality, and Growth in Historical Perspective," the seminal paper in wha...

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Jun 26, 2017

A Good Conference

What makes for a good conference? The opportunity to see old friends and make new ones. Quality panels with work that challenges and crosses intellectual boundaries. Outstanding plenary sessions. Pleasantly situated receptions and dinners. And what so...

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Jun 13, 2017

Game Theory and Medicine

It's been radio silence for a few weeks as I have raced to beat various deadlines. The last of these lifted as I gave a talk on Thursday in the Internal Medicine Department at the University of Iowa. This was, needless to say, my first presentation to ...

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May 21, 2017

Is Trump Tipping? An Update

In what seems like eons ago, but in fact was early March, I posed the question: Is the Trump presidency at a tipping point? My conclusion then was that it was easy—perhaps too easy—to tell stories in which actors have incentives that lead to tipping po...

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May 7, 2017

Second Pancake (on Ukraine after the Euromaidan)

A big shout-out to Grigore Pop-Eleches and Graeme Robertson, who organized a great conference at Princeton on Wednesday. It was the latest opportunity for scholars and policymakers to come together to discuss the future of Ukraine, which--I don't think...

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Apr 30, 2017

Going Deep

Consider me a convert. After listening to Ezra Klein's interview with Cal Newport, author of the popular Study Hacks blog, I read Newport's Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The book is not written specifically for academics, ...

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Apr 10, 2017

What CEU Means (to Me)

Not good. Ignoring an international outcry and over 50,000 protesters in downtown Budapest, Hungarian President János Áder has signed a billintended to force the Central European University from Hungary. As I write, students are marching to Fidesz head...

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Apr 1, 2017

A Presentable Enemy (on the future of U.S.-Russian relations)

Andrei Kozyrev, Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister from 1991 to 1996, was in Madison Thursday for a talk on the future of U.S.-Russian relations. We covered a lot of ground at the public seminar and later at our house for dinner--a thrill for faculty and...

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Mar 26, 2017

What’s Next for the Study of Nondemocracy?

I'm back from a stimulating workshop on autocracy at Indiana University. Regina Smyth, Armando Razo, and Michael Alexeev have some exciting plans to institutionalize the study of nondemocracy at IU, and as part of the planning process they asked Konsta...

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Mar 5, 2017

Is the Trump Presidency at a Tipping Point?

A friend posts the following observation on Facebook: With multiple stories breaking about Trump-Russia, we may have hit a tipping point, from which the meltdown of the 45th presidency accelerates. Part of me wants to think it's true--the sooner the p...

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Feb 18, 2017


Hannah Chapman (Ph.D. student at UW) observes that Trump's news conferences look a lot like Putin's: Under Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, the near-daily White House news briefings have changed from routine interactions with a professional pr...

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Feb 13, 2017

Donald Trump as Lightning McQueen

Watching Donald Trump struggle to make good on his extravagant campaign promises, I am reminded of the opening scene in Pixar's Cars. Hot rod Lightning McQueen attempts to win the Dinoco 400 by ignoring the advice of his "expert" pit crew, who demand t...

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Feb 2, 2017

Imagining Trump’s End

I'm teaching Socialism and Transitions to the Market this semester, and we're reading Francis Spufford's excellent Red Plenty. Here he is on Khrushchev's end: [H]e was starting to frighten them…He had made alarmingly specific, alarmingly verifiable ...

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Jan 29, 2017

The Parable of Vladimír Mečiar

I received a message this morning from a friend unable to start the day, so in despair was she over recent events. My response was curt: "Get out of bed and write a check to the ACLU. Then find a protest to join or a refugee center where you can volunt...

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Jan 21, 2017

Sean Spicer Is No Joseph Goebbels

Donald Trump's first full day in office was marked by an all-out assault on the press. Standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall, the president called journalists "the most dishonest human beings on earth" and made false claims about the size of…um,...

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Jan 14, 2017

Lin-Manuel Mayakovsky

Blogging took a back seat over the holidays, but I'm back and ready to talk…Hamilton. I've been hooked since hearing the soundtrack for the first time last summer, and earlier this week we saw the show in Chicago. Seeing Hamilton on the stage definitel...

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Dec 27, 2016

How Propaganda Works, U.S. edition

The New York Times reports that Rush Limbaugh and company have decided to turn the label "fake news" against the mainstream media: Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally ...

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Dec 16, 2016

The Illegitimate President

Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election is the stain on Donald Trump’s presidency that will not go away. Trump will emerge from January’s inauguration viewed as an “illegitimate” president by large segments of the American population. Bu...

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Dec 8, 2016

Watch the Borders (GIS pro tip)

Speaking of the countryside, Evgeny Finkel, Dmitrii Kofanov (UW grad student), and I are writing a short paper on peasant unrest in 1917 for a special issue of Slavic Review on the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. There are limits to wha...

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Dec 8, 2016

A Field in Search of a Name

Still catching up after a fun weekend at Harvard for a Political Institutions and Economic Policy conference. By pure coincidence, this year's papers were all on the political economy of nineteenth-century agricultural societies: my work with Paul Dowe...

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Nov 30, 2016

Who Believes Fake News? A Bayesian Perspective, and a Lesson from Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a minefield, but I've always enjoyed discussing the world with friends and family gathered around the holiday table. This year was no exception. One of my friends--let's call him Dan--is a keen observer of human behavior....

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Nov 19, 2016

Abroad in Trump’s America

Nothing like seeing the inauguration stands go up in front of the White House to bring home the reality of a Trump presidency. I'm at the Slavic meetings at the Marriott Wardman Park in DC. Last time I was here, for the APSA meetings in 2014, hundreds ...

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Nov 13, 2016

The Rise of the Bullies

So, it’s looking like the establishment will have its revenge on Trump. Trump is no Hitler in an important respect: he has no party of his own, just the one that he seized during the election, and so he is reliant on Republican regulars to staff the fe...

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Nov 11, 2016

Trump’s Win, Putin’s Loss

Nice catch by Max Trudolyubov, who notes that the Kremlin may have mixed feelings about Donald Trump’s victory. As Konstantin Sonin and I discussed a couple of weeks ago, Trump’s campaign rhetoric of a rigged system played right into Putin’s hands. The...

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Nov 6, 2016

Why Donald Trump’s Election Could be Good for Democracy—And Why It Probably Won’t Be

What a day for my new blog to go live. Like much of the country, I have experienced a potent mix of anger, confusion, and anxiety over the past eighteen hours. In my case, there is also betrayal, as my home county in rural Illinois went overwhelmingly ...

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