Debate: Economics and Violent Intrastate Conflict

Since the late 1990s, there has been a pronounced increase in econometric analyses of violent intrastate conflict, not least thanks to the now seminal distinction of “greed” versus “grievance” factors – prominently put forth by Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler – to explain the causes of civil wars.

To discuss the potential strengths as well as pitfalls of such distinctions and analyses, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (SEN) has invited four experts in the field to address the question of “What contribution can the discipline of economics make to the study of violent intrastate conflict?” from their very own perspectives.

Their contributions, to be published in the features section of SEN volume 11 number 2, are:

Dr Anke Hoeffler (University of Oxford): “‘Greed’ versus ‘Grievance’ – A Useful Conceptual Distinction in the Study of Civil War?”
Dr Anke Hoeffler revisits her earlier arguments on “greed” and “grievance” from the perspective of collective action problems. If rebellion produces a public good, then satisfying the private “greed” of individuals is indispensable to motivate them to collective action in pursuit of their “grievance”.

Professor Indra de Soysa (Norwegian University of Science and Technology): “The Hidden Hand Wrestles Rebellion: Theory and Evidence on How Economic Freedom Prevents Civil Violence”
Professor Indra de Soysa uses multivariate regression to show that fairer economic governance reduces the likelihood of violent conflict. In an environment that provides incentives for investment and enforces rules that safeguard profits, investing in production will be more attractive than investing in war.

Professor I William Zartman (Johns Hopkins University): “Greed and Grievance: Methodological and Epistemological Underpinnings of the Debate”
Professor I William Zartman criticises mono-causal explanations of violent conflict. Not only have many economists focused too narrowly on “greed”; the inherent limitations of statistical methodology imply that they are also unable to grasp the complex social reality of violent conflict.

Professor Michael Pugh (University of Bradford): “Local Agency and Political Economies of Peacebuilding”
Professor Michael Pugh uses the insights of political economy and post-colonial studies to criticise the paradigm of “liberal peacebuilding”. The prescriptions of “good governance” and neoliberal market economics work to naturalise global inequalities. They need to be challenged by the inclusion of local knowledge into understandings of peace.
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