Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chris Blattman on conflict and development:
  1. Civil war is on the decline (while NGOs are on the rise)
  2. There’s little evidence that poverty causes conflict
  3. Poor and unemployed young men don’t seem to be a source of social instability
  4. Conflict and violence are at root a governance failure
  5. The MDGs and good governance may be at cross-purposes
  6. Elections do not good governance make
  7. Political development, like economic development, evolves slowly; Good governance will take a long, long time
  8. Institutions develop through internal forces, not foreign NGOs
  9. Just being there may be a governance intervention; outside the capitol you could be the only professional, impersonal, meritocratic bureaucracy in town
  10. We don’t really know how to build better governance systems (but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try)

He follows up today with this:
Whether as policy makers or social scientists, if there’s one thing we think we know, it’s that poor and unemployed young men are a source of social instability. Underemployed young men have been implicated in Kenyan election violence, religious riots in Nigeria, and rebellion in Sierra Leone.

Economic theory gives us a solid explanation: without incomes, the returns to predation are greater than the returns to peaceful production. With future earnings prospects so poor, there is little to weigh against the costs and risks of violence are weighed.

Gary Becker first argued this case with American crime. It has been applied broadly, and is the basis of economic theories of civil war. Scattered evidence on economic shocks, or the income conflict correlation, suggests its truth.

The theory also provides a strong basis for a public intervention, because there is a negative externality not being taken into account by the market.

Here’s the thing, I’ve seen nothing to suggest any of this is true.

We really don’t have much evidence one way or the other, but the little we have argues against rather than for Becker’s philosophy.

There are actually several possible explanations for violence and social instability, some of them with more evidence in their favor. If they turn out to be true, then not only could youth employment programs not stem the risk of instability, they could heighten that risk.
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