Blast Off


This week, the Mexican government sued eleven major US arms manufacturers, alleging that they facilitated the illegal flow of guns into the country. The proliferation of US-manufactured guns in Mexico during recent years has been well-documented, but their presence precedes the twentieth century.

In a 2013 text, BRIAN DELAY investigates how the newly-independent Mexican state navigated wars while lacking capital to purchase arms, leading to a reliance on US creditors.

From the piece:

“During the 1850s and 1860s, in response to demand created by several coups and regional rebellions, more than a decade of civil war, and a foreign occupation, ammunition would pour into Mexico by the tons and firearms by the many tens of thousands. Most of this material came from the United States, most of it came on credit, and mostly the terms were ruinous. During the French Intervention of 1862–1867, Mexico’s conservatives conspired with Napoleon III to install Archduke Maximilian as Mexico’s king. Mexico’s president-in-exile, Benito Juárez, dispatched scores of agents to US cities in search of capital and weapons with which to retake control. Existential desperation encouraged them to make fantastical promises, and to sell more than thirty million dollars in bonds at steep discounts.

Historian John Hart has sleuthed out the list of buyers, and it reads like a who’s who of America’s incipient Gilded Age. These men were not so naïve as to expect prompt repayment on the bonds. They expected the bonds to give them not scheduled returns so much as leverage to secure land deals, mining concessions, commercial privileges, and, above all, railroad projects. The creditors clamored for repayment as soon as the liberals retook the capital. Finally in 1876, despairing of ever recouping their investments, these bondholders conspired with colleagues in the railroad business to fund and arm a coup by Mexican General Porfirio Díaz.”

Link to the text.

  • In a 1973 article, Robert Ryal Miller traces US military support for the Juaristas during the French intervention. Link. And Lindsay Schakenbach Regele identifies the US War and State Department’s support of the gun manufacturing industry pre-1848 as “national security capitalism.” Link.
  • In a 2013 study, Arindrajit Dube, Oeindrila Dube, and Omar García-Ponce examine the effects of the 2004 expiration of the US Federal Assault Weapons ban on cross border violence, where California was the only border state to retain a state-level ban. Link.
  • “Of the 11,000 guns turned over to the ATF in 2009, almost 90 percent were traced to U.S. gun shops.” In the Boston Review, Sarah Hill investigates violence in Ciudad Juárez. Link.



Assistant Professor of Data Science at Utica College JING-MAO HO studies the intersection of sociology, computer science, and statistics. His dissertation examines the modern state’s use of statistics from 1826 to 2010.

From the abstract:

“Why do modern states routinely keep official statistics on their societies? [I present] arguments about how gathering official statistics as a technology of state power facilitate modern states’ engagements in democratic state building, capitalist state building, colonial, and post-colonial state building, and war making in world society. These arguments are illustrated by historical case studies and tested by cross-national longitudinal analyses of the worldwide establishment of National Statistical Systems (NSSes) in 157 countries from 1826 to 2010. The analyses demonstrate that, although there are regional and temporal variations, democratization, capitalist development, aggregate war onsets, colonization, and inter-governmental linkages generally prompt modern states to establish NSSes. How does the statistics profession become globally institutionalized? [I analyze] the worldwide founding of national statistics associations from 1833 to 2011, arguing that the statistics profession emerged in the nineteenth-century West and spread to other parts of the world in the twentieth century.”

Link to the text, link to Ho’s website.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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  • Laura Millan Lombrana on the lack of weather stations in Africa and consequences for climate science. Link.
  • “The United Kingdom imposed an arms embargo on Chile in 1974 but not on Argentina after the 1976 coup, despite brutal military dictatorships in both countries.” Rodrigo Fracalossi de Moraes investigates the politics of UK arms sales. Link.
  • Peng Lu, Xiaoguang Fan, and Fan Fu create a new dataset of China’s super rich. Link.
  • Mónica Unda Gutiérrez on the role of business sector lobbying in Mexico’s 2013 tax reform. Link.
  • “When employers’ explicit gender requests were unexpectedly removed from a Chinese job board overnight, pools of successful applicants became more integrated: women’s (men’s) share of call-backs to jobs that had requested men (women) rose by 63 (146) percent.” By Peter Kuhn and Kailing Shen. Link.
  • Adrienne Buller and Benjamin Braun examine “asset manager capitalism” in the UK. Link.
  • “Investors’ attention to domestic politics varies with conditions in global capital markets.” Cameron Ballard-Rosa, Layna Mosley, and Rachel Wellhausen on sovereign borrowing. Link.
  • Rebecca Rays finds that regional development banks and sub-regional development banks have much greater borrower representation than global multilateral development banks. Link.
  • “In 1786, the Van Staphorst brothers, America’s Dutch investment bank, entered the French office of the Director General of Finance, intent on making an offer for a portion of France’s holdings of American bonds. Unknowingly, their offer set off a bidding war that could have ended with poorly capitalized American financial adventurers owing a large portion of bonds which could threaten the fragile health of American credit. At the eleventh hour, the Van Staphorsts conjured up a bold, unprecedented, scheme to persuade the French that it would be unnecessary to sell their American bonds at discounted prices.” By Peter Theodore Veru. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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