Art Carden  

Psychohistory and Changing One Event: What if Franz Ferdinand Hadn't Been Shot?

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While procrastinating earlier (yes, I admit it), I came across a question from LearnLiberty:

If you could change the outcome of one major world event, what would it be and why?

I had just been thinking about this in light of twentieth-century warfare. Here was my answer:

I was just thinking about this. Someone informs Franz Ferdinand's driver of the change in plans, so he doesn't make a wrong turn. Therefore, he doesn't get shot. Therefore, there's no World War I. Therefore, there's no "Economic Consequences of the Peace" creating a void for the Nazis to fill.

Of course, there might have been some equally-unfortunate event that would've touched off the whole thing. What would Hari Seldon say?

Indeed, what would Hari Seldon say? Would the twentieth century have been radically different had Franz Ferdinand not been shot, or were there much larger forces at work?

For a neat discussion of psychohistory and Isaac Asimov, here's a great post by co-blogger Alberto Mingardi.

Usual Disclosure: I've been paid to be in LearnLiberty programs, not for blogging about them.


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CATEGORIES: Economic History



COMMENTS (7 to date)
David Friedman writes:

I was wondering recently about a different variant a few years later. What if the U.S. had stayed out of the war and the German forces freed by the collapse of Russia had been sufficient to break through the allied defenses in the west and win the war? Would the Europe that resulted have been more or less attractive than the one that actually did result?

Tracy W writes:

I read a book about the lead-up to WWI that argued that there were these ongoing conflicts, and tensions, and countries were taking steps that they regarded as defensive but appeared to other countries as threatening so said other countries would take defensive steps, which appeared threatening ....

But she still thought that if the leadership of Germany had made different choices, amongst other things pushing the German military to not have such overly-committed plans, Europe could have muddled through.

Art Carden writes:

@Tracy: That's my understanding: Europe was a powder keg that could've been lit by many sparks.

@David: As always, I'm honored that you're commenting on one of my posts. That's a great question, and we can carry it a step further. Would a German Empire have been strong enough to rebuff Soviet advances, assuming the communists still came into power?

Given people's revealed preference for butchering one another, I doubt the 20th century would've been a peaceful paradise had WWI not happened or had the US not gotten involved. The body count probably would've been much, much lower, though.

Bill B writes:

Ideas have consequences. So, while it is not a major event, if the marginal revolution had occurred earlier, say with Cournot, we might have avoided the Marxist twist on the labor theory of value and the post-1848 revolt of the clerisy (ala McCloskey). Kinder words might have called forth kinder outcomes.

LD Bottorff writes:

I think Hari Seldon might say that you need to understand all the historical forces that contributed to the tragedy, not just the most publicized event.

I haven't read 11/23/63 (yet) but it is a story about someone attempting to change history. One quote that my wife remembers from the book is "the past is stubborn."

Norman Pfyster writes:

If only that damned butterfly hadn't flapped its wings...

Steven Berge writes:

I'm sure the elites that make money on both sides of wars would have found any way to make it happen.

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