What do we know about poverty and violence?

I gave a talk to USAID on Monday, focusing on “the micro level”. This is an obtuse way of saying “why men rebel”.

My short answer: the usual economic incentives matter. But just because you can get a statistically significant estimate doesn’t mean it matters. Economic variables don’t explain most of the variation in violence, in my opinion. We only have fragments of evidence what does. I discuss one or two.

Here are my slides and speaking notes. It was 12 minutes, so forgive the lack of detail and footnotes. I’m pondering an article or book. Here is what I thought five years ago if you are burning for references.

20 thoughts on “What do we know about poverty and violence?

  1. Not enough in answer to the title. Especially when the same circumstances of poverty do not create violence in other places.
    I think it is not so much poverty but competition for wealth tenuously held or recently discovered. That partly explains why the war starts when the wealth previously not seen is discovered, e.g. diamonds start the war not the poverty.
    Also the notion of comparative poverty contributes. One with less power access to the source of wealth but not much poorer sees the opportunity and the war begins.
    But the civil wars identified contained a good number of wars between independence armies in Africa. Formerly facing one foe they were united but once the colonialist was defeated they turned on each other. Maybe poverty was the root cause but it would seem to be more power over others.
    Needs a bit of thinking.

  2. The fight against Poverty and Violence is totally eternal. Through education and creation of jobs, we will eradicate the intense survival of poverty in this century.
    Personally, I have created jobs for young people in my society, making them relevant and useful for themselves. I want to build more means of proverty freedom life for lots and lots of people right here in Africa.
    Nigeria is one place… many people live with no hope for tomorrow. They live in violence, preparing to create chaos and disasters because of ignorance and poverty.
    I and my team are ready to support the fight against POVERTY.
    Thanks for your article sir.

  3. Very interesting talk. Very unusual to have some actual data to go with these questions. One thing jumps out at me. The search for solutions is focused on ways to get men to stop being violent. Given that the first principal causal component may well be injustice, and given that women suffer even more injustice than men, that focus seems odd.

    Don’t worry. I get that women don’t take up arms against you and me (or very rarely) and that since it’s men we’re afraid of it’s men that get the focus.

    But that seems shortsighted. Women have immense power over children, especially over small impressionable ones. There’s no reason to assume injustice has a different effect on women. If they’re a mass of resentment, the closest subjects for spillover are kids.

    It might be worth doing some research to see whether solutions that extend justice to women result in more self-perpetuating peace. Admittedly, it would have to be such a long term study, you’d be bequeathing it to your grad students.