header image

The Economics of Violence

Posted by: Annie Voy | April 16, 2011 | 14 Comments |

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks discussing the relationship between conflict and poverty in the developing world. Here is an interesting addition to the discussion from The Economistare countries poor because they’re violent or violent because they’re poor?

under: Links
Tags: ,

Responses -

This article reminded me of Paul Collier’s point of poor countries being very likely to fall back into civil war or violence after one civil war is over. Collier pointed out that these poor countries have to spend way too much government revenue on their military following the end of a civil war, just to keep the threat of more violence from becoming reality again. This is definitely a “violence trap” that these counties are facing, perhaps in itself causing the “poverty trap.” From the counties we have looked at in this class, this seems to be a proven pattern. Eastern European countries, India and China have made significant progress in economic growth, while violence ridden countries in the Middle East and Africa are still at the bottom of the Human Development Index and have the lowest rates of economic growth. This may seem logical, that countries with more violence are going to be the poorest and worst off, however perhaps foreign aid is only sweeping dust off the main problem by focusing on the “poverty trap” instead of the “violence trap.” As we give more money to projects that will help the country rise out of the poverty trap, it is possible that the country could fall right back instead of climbing upwards, due to the violence trap being left unresolved.

“Many think that development is mainly hampered by what is known as a “poverty trap”. Farmers do not buy fertiliser even though they know it will produce a better harvest.” It would help if farmers could afford the fertilizer. I think people are tired of hearing about farmers in other countries unable to afford fertilizer (even if we are still spending more than we can afford and tired of seeing how much we owe to banks and other countries). If we, for one year, used 1% of our GDP and spent it wisely so we could assist farmers as well as attempt to quell any future wars and/or problems in other countries. By investing overseas in farmers, we are assisting farmers to help them help their families (and potentially helping them reinvest in the U.S.).

“The report reckons that 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by political violence, organised crime, exceptionally high murder rates or low-intensity conflicts.” I realize Collier titled his book “The Bottom Billion,” but an additional 500 million people are in that category? (When Collier’s book was released, the world population was estimated at 6.7 billion people. So, the bottom billion represented 15% of the world population. Now, accounting for the population in 2009 of the world, and the report’s estimate of 1.5 billion people living in countries affected by political violence, organised crime, exceptionally high murder rates or low-intensity conflicts, this new bottom billion (1.5 billion people) account for 22% of the world’s population.) (http://tinyurl.com/yf4lqy9 population of World as of 2008, 2009)

“As a rebel leader in South Sudan once said, life is so cheap “It pays to rebel”. Growth would presumably reduce the incentive to fight. To test the importance of wealth, the authors of the report asked why young people joined gangs and rebel groups in half a dozen countries. The biggest share, about two-fifths, cited unemployment as the main reason; only a tenth said belief in the cause (in contrast, belief was cited as the main motivation half the time for members of militant Islamist groups in Mali and the West Bank).” The thought of high unemployment affecting how people wage war to gain control and gain riches (at the expense of others) is somewhat shocking, but their opportunity cost is small. The risks are large (potentially losing their life), but they figure the risk of dying is worth the reward of riches (and not being unemployed).

if there was one thing i agreed with most in this article it was definitely that preventing violence should be given much higher priority then it is given now.

the article made a few good points like drawing attention to reestablishing peoples confidence in the government and making credible government appointments are two important steps that need to be taken to restore peace.

trying to argue whether certain countries are poor because of violence, or have violence because they are poor is just splitting hairs because the two terms are synonymous with each other in most of these countries. I do strongly believe that restoring peace in a country should take precedent over restoring financial stability

This article related very closely to my research project. I researched Cambodia and the reasons why it is one of the world’s poorest countries.

From my research, as well as our class readings/discussions, I was generally coming to many of the same conclusions that are mentioned in this article. I think that when picking apart every little aspect we could find all sorts of reasons to account for poverty in the world, but it really all boils down to governments and violence.

I believe that regardless which came first, poverty or violence, the point is that there should be more focus on ending the violence. If the country was poor and then violence breaks out, the country will be worse off than it was before. And if the violence came before poverty, then obviously the violence is a problem and the longer is continues, the worse things will become.

The World Development Report suggests that violence is the primary cause of poverty. One contributing factor not discussed in the article may be that developing countries are much less likely to give aid to a country that is experiencing a civil war, or that has very corrupt government. Although the solutions which are suggesting are interesting and thoughtful, they seem easier said than done. For example, “quickly restoring people’s confidence in their government seems like in some cases it would be nearly impossible. I also appreciated Shyla’s response, because it some point it doesn’t matter which came first, but that countries are able to address the problem of violence.

This article seemed kind of pointless to me. Sure, it shows how violence and poverty are related but together these issues are a small portion of the problems that Africa faces. While reading I kept in mind some of the concepts learned from the End of Poverty. Africa faces dozens of challenges that aren’t related to poverty and violence. Just some of them include disease, lack of food and water, poor infrastructure, government corruption, etc. All of these issues are inter-related and countries in Africa will never develop unless all of them are addressed together in a uniform effort. So in my opinion trying to relate these two issues of violence and poverty together seemed kind of pointless to me. Lets all just accept that all of the issues are related and start to move the debate to how we can address all of them.

My original thought about which causes which, violence or poverty, is that poverty is the cause of violence. The way I see it, if a country is poor and suffering, it may be attributed to suppression and a lack of basic rights. Due to this, people feel the need to revolt and find justice for the inequalities that exist, thus creating violence. At the same time, I can see the other side of the argument, that violence causes poverty. Take nearly any war, and look at the effects it caused on a various country. It’s likely that some regions of that area turned into poverty-stricken areas as a result of the violence.
This article did not really help me to determine which one causes which, yet it did bring out some good points. I liked at the end when it noted that: “the MDGs that guide as well as measure development do not even mention things like justice and people’s security.” I think it’s important to acknowledge those aspects, as they are a large measure of a country’s growth and overall wellbeing.

This article ties perfectly into my research paper i wrote about the drug cartels in Mexico. There are many facets of violence, and one of the most destructive matters involves the poor. In Mexico, all citizens feel imprisoned in their own homes as gang members continually kill innocent people as examples of their power and resistance to government officials.

This article mentions towards the end that we need to be more patient, however i strongly disagree with is when it comes to the issues in Mexico. To effectively quell these vicious attacks on innocent bystanders action needs to be taken immediately and without rest. Clearly it has been proven that these war lords have no intentions of ceasing their tyrant ways. If the U.S. doesn’t step in to control this disease in time it will completely eradicate the country as a whole.

I REALLY liked this article. It is fascinating to ponder the two sides of this argument and try to come up with a correct answer. However, i dont believe that there is a correct answer. History would show that most cival wars are due to a lack of a strong economy and financial means. The same can be said for many of these countries. If the minority has the majority of the money of course the majority of people will uprise. I feel that when money is regulated throughout the population, many uprising’s are supressed. More needed than money or peace, is the stability of a un-corupt government.


It is interesting to wonder which precedes the other, the violence or the poverty, but it seems that they probably go hand in hand. I personally believe that violence makes people poor and keeps people poor. However, they were already in impoverished conditions, violent rebels are simply less poor than others. One rebel said, “it pays to rebel” so they are making some money. It seems to be a continual cycle.

I agree with Nick. It’s not possible to determine the causality between violence and poverty, just their correlation. In all likelihood it is a reflexive relationship, a feedback loop…a poverty trap. It seems violence breeds poverty and poverty violence. As the article states, if people had jobs it wouldn’t pay to rebel. And if the rebels weren’t causing violence, the situation would be more conducive to job creation. At the crossroads between violence and poverty stand governance. If good governance was implemented poverty and violence could both be reduced in the long term. Going forward, I think this illustrates an important lesson for efforts in poverty reduction–there is not a simple, single solution. Rather, poverty reduction must seek a concordant decline in violence and also seek to redress poor governance.

My impression after reading this article is that violence perpetuates and fuels poverty. I think this because like the article stated, many citizens do not have the means to support themselves any other way. This is why their are many children in certain African countries becoming soldiers as boys. Violence is mindless and easy to carry out and that is why it works so well in poverished countries. These citizens have little education, few rights, and poor government and economic systems in place. The simplicity of brainwashing a child and placing a gun in their hands is all too easy. I think poverty is a result of many factors, but violence does not cause poverty. Instead, violence encourages societies to stay impoverished.

Collier touched on this quite a bit in his book. The fact that civil wars exist in such prevalence is because abject poverty makest them so easy. Life is not valuable and so its easy to take and manipulate. Individuals who are not inherently evil may flock to an evil cause because it can provide them a semblance of control and stability in otherwise chaotic and unpredictable environment. Plus without foreign aid, there really is no way for the cycle to be halted it will just continue to be one regime after another after another after another. However, like Collier pointed out, if the UN was able to work exclusively wit the appropriate government and provide security through international troops it would make the costs of forming rebel groups much higher. Even though the process of reclaiming stability and peace could take around a decade, there is no way for some of these war torn countries to get out of these traps without foreign help. There simply are not enough resources for the amounts of people, and when there are, they are harvested by crime lords that keep them for themselves. But with fully armed and willing UN troops walking around, rebels may be a bit less inclined to form coalitions which will give new governments enough time to gain stability. Either way though, the foreign troops and the Government needs to be working in unison for security to be maintained.

This article directly relates to Colliers Chapter 2 on the Conflict Trap (1 of 4). All societies have conflicts, but only some can escape them. America had one in the 19th century, but was able to escape it. Unfortunately for the bottom billion countries it is a different story. Though they may escape the conflict once it is soon going to reappear. One link Collier made with conflicts (civil wars) was the initial level of income. Civil war is most likely going to appear in countries with low-income. But poverty doesn’t just bring up conflicts alone, but in fact conflicts may bring a country to poverty.
The article presents how conflict effects people’s health and education are affected. (twice as likely to be malnourished and three times likely to miss primary school).
The article brings up the question, “But perhaps these countries are violent because they are poor, rather than poor because they are violent?” Collier talks about this theory in chapter 2 of BB.
Personally I believe a poor country brings conflict. People have no money to eat, so they turn to stealing and killing, in order to survive.
When it comes to Aid, I think its very hard to settle a country at country at conflict. The poor will receive AId, the fighters knowing that aid is there will continue to keep finding. The conflict doesnt end.