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Research Report

Poverty and Conflict:: The Inequality Link

Ravi Kanbur
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2007
Pages: 16

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
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  3. (pp. i-ii)
    Terje Rød-Larsen

    The International Peace Academy (IPA) is pleased to introduce a new series of Working Papers within the program Coping with Crisis, Conflict, and Change:The United Nations and Evolving Capacities for Managing Global Crises, a four-year research and policy-facilitation program designed to generate fresh thinking about global crises and capacities for effective prevention and response.

    In this series of Working Papers, IPA has asked leading experts to undertake a mapping exercise, presenting an assessment of critical challenges to human and international security. A first group of papers provides a horizontal perspective, examining the intersection of multiple challenges in specific regions of...

  4. (pp. 1-1)

    The focus of this paper is on conflicts within states. These range from the full scale armed conflict of a civil war (between two “states within states”), through relatively isolated and contained low intensity insurrection against the state, to regular bouts of communal violence in a “well functioning” state. I wish to ask how poverty and inequality causally interact with these phenomena. The causality from conflict to poverty is not much in doubt and stands to reason—conflict destroys or impairs incentives for productive economic investment and innovation at all levels. However, the precise nature of causality in the other...

  5. (pp. 1-3)

    The standard measurement of poverty and inequality in economics starts with a definition of individual well being, which in turn is specified in terms of monetary based measures such as income or consumption.¹ The empirical implementation relies on nationally representative sample surveys of household income and expenditure, in which information is collected on these items at the household level from a household respondent, as well as a range of socio-demographic information such as age and gender of individuals in the household, ethnicity, religion, etc. The monetary measures of income or expenditure at the household level are then corrected for price...

  6. (pp. 3-5)

    As noted earlier, conflict can range from low intensity simmering resentment, expressed in words and speeches, through mob violence of one communal group against another, to full-fledged civil war with organized armed combatants, which sometimes leads to genocide. Our task is to explore the causal impact of poverty and inequality on conflicts at these different levels.

    It seems to be generally accepted that poverty and inequality breed conflict. However, while in a general sense it seems plausible that poverty can create the desperation that fuels conflict, or inequality can foster resentment that stokes conflict, the precise nature of the causal...

  7. (pp. 5-7)

    If the line of argument developed in the previous two sections has any validity, it has significant implications for policy. While poverty in general has been offered as an explanation for conflict—ranging from communal violence to civil war—and ethnic polarization has equally been studied as a likely cause of civil war, economic inequality per se has not been as heavily emphasized as a cause of conflict. As noted earlier, once conflict begins, and especially once it descends into civil war, it acquires a dynamic of its own. In such circumstances the policy options include a range of actions...

  8. (pp. 7-7)

    Focusing on conflicts within states, this paper has further concentrated on the problem of avoiding conflict. While there is a general view that poverty and inequality can lead to conflict and are therefore in this sense security issues, the precise nature of the links are less well appreciated. This paper draws out the links based on the recent economics literature and discusses their implications for policy. It is argued that while inequality is a natural concomitant of economic processes, particularly those driven by the market, its implications for security emerge when unequal outcomes align with sociopolitical cleavages. Such an alignment...

  9. (pp. 8-9)
  10. (pp. 10-10)
  11. (pp. 11-11)