January 22, 2018

Causal Claims

Why causation?

Prescription requires answers to causal questions

  • not always easy/possible to answer

Prediction requires causal knowledge

Without prediction, without causes, there is no understanding

  • Need to know why things happen

Causal questions in politics:

1. Effects of policies and institutions

  • Helps answer: which policies or institutions should we adopt/change

2. Causes of policy and political actions

  • Why do governments/political actors make the choices they do?
  • Why do political actors/institutions often fail to meet our prescriptive ideals?
  • Why do political outcomes vary so widely?

Causal questions in politics:

3. Causes of inputs into political choices

  • What causes some actors to be more powerful than others
  • Why do political actors want certain things?

Causal claims

1. The U.S. invasion of Iraq caused the creation of ISIS

2. Sexism in the United States caused the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton

3. The threat of nuclear war caused the United States and Soviet Union to avoid going to war.

Counterfactuals:

The U.S. invasion of Iraq caused the creation of ISIS

  • If the US did not invade Iraq, ISIS would not have been created

Sexism in the United States caused the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton

  • If there were less sexism in the US, then Trump would not have won.

The threat of nuclear war caused the United States and Soviet Union to avoid going to war.

  • If nuclear weapons had not existed, the US and USSR would have gone to war.

Counterfactuals:

Causality requires a counterfactual claim.

Definition

"C is a cause of E" necessarily implies:

If C had not happened, E would not have happened

What is one causal claim

Restate as counterfactual

Counterfactuals:

What is the object of a counterfactual claim?

It is a claim about the same thing, person, country, world but

with a different exposure to the supposed cause

It compares the same thing/unit to itself, not to something else

Everything is the same except the cause

Counterfactuals and potential outcomes:

Potential outcomes:

  • The state of a unit/person/country/world under different exposures, whether factual or counterfactual

Example:

  1. If the United States had invaded Iraq, then ISIS would have been created
  2. If the United states had not invaded Iraq, then ISIS would not have been created

Counterfactuals and potential outcomes:

A potential outcomes table

Unit Invasion ISIS.if.invade ISIS.if.not.invade ISIS
The world ? Yes No ?

Counterfactuals and potential outcomes:

What if we could look at multiple universes?

Universe Invasion ISIS.if.invade ISIS.if.not.invade ISIS
1 Yes Yes No Yes
2 No Yes No No

Counterfactuals and potential outcomes:

More generally:

Universe C E.if.C E.if.not.C E
Factual Yes Yes No Yes
Counterfactual No Yes No No

Counterfactuals:

What we actually see:

Universe Invasion ISIS.if.invade ISIS.if.not.invade ISIS
Factual Yes Yes ? Yes
Counterfactual No ? ? ?

Counterfactuals:

Recall:

Causal claims imply descriptive claims.

What descriptive claims are implied here?

Sexism in the United States caused the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton

  • If there were less sexism in the US, then Trump would not have won.

Counterfactuals:

Universe Sexism Trump.if.sexism Trump.if.not.sexism Trump
Factual Yes Yes No Yes
Counterfactual No Yes No No

Counterfactuals:

What if the two universes were different in more than one way?

Universe Sexism Racism Trump.if.sexism Trump.if.not.sexism Trump
1 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
2 No No No No No

Counterfactual trouble:

- We can only observe the world in one state, not both

- We only observe history once, can't rerun it.

- "Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference"

Types of causes

First World War:

World historical event

  • War between all great powers

  • Decline or dissolution of empires

  • Emergence of Communism

  • United States becomes dominant

Horrific human cost:

  • ~ 9 million combat deaths; ~ 8 million civilian deaths

  • Set in motion Second World War

What was the cause?

Was it this?

Was it this?

Structural causes

  1. Ethno-national tensions within Austria-Hungary

  2. Imperialism / competition over resources

  3. Militarism and aggressive aims

  4. Structure of alliances

"Triggering Event"?

Was assassination the cause?

Was Russian mobilization the cause?

Would war have happened anyway?

The Arab Spring

The cause.

  • Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisian peddler self immolates

  • His death sparks popular anger, massive protest

  • One month later, Tunisian government (under Ben Ali) falls

  • Protest sweeps the region

The cause?

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Bouazizi's death \(\xrightarrow{\text{protest}}\) Regime collapse

What, if anything, would you add to this explanation?

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Oppressive Rule

\(\xrightarrow{\text{hopelessness/anger}}\)

Bouazizi's death

\(\xrightarrow{\text{protest}}\)

Regime collapse

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Consider the counter-factual…

  • Could protest and regime collapse have happened even if Bouazizi had not died?

  • Maybe oppressive rule made lots of people angry, ready to protest

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Oppressive Rule

\(\xrightarrow{\text{hopelessness/anger}}\)

Someone starts hunger strike

\(\xrightarrow{\text{protest}}\)

Regime collapse

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Oppressive Rule

\(\xrightarrow{\text{hopelessness/anger}}\)

Someone else self-immolates

\(\xrightarrow{\text{protest}}\)

Regime collapse

Cause of Tunisian regime change

Oppressive Rule (structural cause)

\(\xrightarrow{\text{hopelessness/anger}}\)

Bouazizi's death (triggering event)

\(\xrightarrow{\text{protest}}\)

Regime collapse

Structural causes vs. triggering event

Triggering event:

  • Details how or when some outcome/event happens

  • Fails to meet counterfactual definition of a cause
    • triggers are substitutable
    • Some trigger necessary, but specific trigger is not

Structural causes vs. triggering event

Recognizing triggering events:

Triggering event is event that:

  • Generates outocome only in combination with structural causes
    • is not sufficient
  • Could have been substituted by other events that were also likely
    • is not necessary

Identify the triggering event:

Global Financial Crisis of 2008

  1. Inequality

  2. Weak regulatory structures

  3. Collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank

Riots in Ferguson, Missouri: 2014

  1. Failure of Grand Jury to indict police officer who shot Mike Brown

  2. Systemic racial bias in police stops

  3. Ferguson city reliance on tickets and fines for revenue

Structural causes

Social science interested in structural causes

Want causal patterns/regularities

Why?

  1. What conditions generally necessary for an outcome
    • Revolutions don't generally require Mohamed Bouazizi
  2. What conditions generally contribute to outcomes
    • Self-immolation of peddlers does not typically lead to revolution

Structural Causes \(\xrightarrow{}\) Portable Knowledge

Structure vs. Agency

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Common to explain the world through individuals:

  • Individuals' choices
  • Individuals' qualities

e.g.

  • Charisma / skill of political candidates
  • Brilliance/incompetence of generals in war
  • Celebrity bringing attention to a cause
  • Individual responsible for atrocity

Why?

  • Gives us characters, a narrative, maybe exciting

Structural causes vs. individual choices

BUT

Individual choices can be produced by structural causes

  • E.g., Gavrilo Princip shot the Archduke, but why was he in town, with a political agenda, armed with a pistol?

Individual qualities can be selected by structural causes

  • Why was what someone like Hitler saying in 1920s Germany attractive?
  • Parties with more public support may have a better pool of qualified candidates

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Political interactions are sum of individual choices, but:

  1. Individual choices are often produced by structural factors
    • Constraints on what you can do
    • Incentives/motivations for what to do
    • Resources available
    • Grievances that drive action
  2. Individuals are selected for by structural factors
    • Structures make certain traits favorable
    • Structures attract individuals with certain traits

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Political interactions are sum of individual choices, but:

  1. Individual choices overwhelmed by structural forces
    • Individual chocies may only matter at the margins
    • E.g.: capability of generals on Eastern Front in Second World War

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Why did Trump win and Clinton lose?

Clinton was "weak" candidate

  • Baggage of Benghazi
  • Those emails
  • Cozy with big business
  • Political "insider"
  • Not "relatable"/"likeable"

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Why did Trump win and Clinton lose?

Trump was "strong" candidate?

  • Political 'outsider'
  • No ties to the "swamp"
  • Charismatic?
  • Knew how to mobilize white voters

Structural causes vs. individual choices

Why did Trump win and Clinton lose?

Incumbency?

  • Voters reject two-term incumbents

Economy?

  • Economy weak

Why did Trump win and Clinton lose?

Why did Trump win and Clinton lose?

Incumbency?

  • Voters reject two-term incumbents

Economy?

  • Economy weak

Anti-immigration

  • Rise in sentiment pre-dates Trump
  • Backlash against Obama?

Gender Bias

Kinds of causality

A puzzle:

How could war happen between two countries that know each others' capabilities?

War is costly…

and if capabilities are known, they can reach a settlement

An example: US and Soviet Union