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Problems in Modeling Complex Dynamic interactions: The Political Realignment of the 1850s


  • Robert W. Fogel


The aim of this paper is to break open the stochastic component of a maj or political change and to show that what seems like the product of purely chance events is the particular conjunction of processes, each of which is definable in a systematic way, that provide collectively a favorable context in which purely chance events operate. It is only in a particular context that the purely chance events became decisive in bringing about a particular political outcome. Section 1 emphasizes that Lincoln's margin of victory in 1860 was so small that anyone of numerous chance events could have resulted in his defeat. Sections 2-4 outline the intergenerational, cohort, and period changes and events that created a context favorable for the political realignment of the l850s. Section 5 describes the key chance events of 1855 -1856, the absence of any of which could have prevented the formation of a major national Republican party in 1856, as well as the chance (or at least exogenous) events of 1857-1859, the absence of which could have led to splits in the Republican party that would have insured the victory of a proslavery candidate for the Presidency in 1860. Section 6 deals with the problems and advantages of turning the theory of the political realignment of the l850s implicit in sections 2-5 into an explicit, testable mathematical model. Section 7 explains why it is impossible to produce a general theory of political realignments that would have significant predictive power.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert W. Fogel, 1993. "Problems in Modeling Complex Dynamic interactions: The Political Realignment of the 1850s," NBER Historical Working Papers 0012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0012
    Note: DAE

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    1. Becker, Gary S, 1974. "A Theory of Social Interactions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(6), pages 1063-1093, Nov.-Dec..
    2. Baumol, William J & Benhabib, Jess, 1989. "Chaos: Significance, Mechanism, and Economic Applications," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 77-105, Winter.
    3. Arthur, W Brian, 1989. "Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In by Historical Events," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(394), pages 116-131, March.
    4. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-337, May.
    5. Stigler, George J & Becker, Gary S, 1977. "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(2), pages 76-90, March.
    6. Gary S. Becker, 1983. "A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(3), pages 371-400.
    7. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, December.
    8. Zvi Eckstein & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1989. "The Specification and Estimation of Dynamic Stochastic Discrete Choice Models: A Survey," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(4), pages 562-598.
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