Greed Versus Grievances theory in Economics of Conflict

Greed Versus Grievances
Greed and grievances can be regarded as the most important causes of civil war. Much of the
academic debates on the economic causes of contemporary armed conflict has become polarized
around the Greed Vs grievances dichotomy, just posing "loot-seeking" with "Justice-seeking"
rebellions, and more generally the significance of economic versus socio-political drivers of civil
war. The scholar, Frances Stewart, who has often been seen as proponent of the grievances
theory, and Paul Collier, who has often been linked with the greed theory. Collier has started in
his contribution to the book "Greed Vs Grievances” that his results overwhelmingly point to the
importance of economic agendas as opposed to grievances. Countries with abundant natural
resources are more prone to violent conflict than those without, and this insurgent groups are
more likely motivated by control over resources than by actual political differences with
government authorities, ethnic divisions, o r other factors typically viewed as root causes of civil
war. Paul Collier says ethnic tensions and ancient political feuds are not starting civil wars
around the world,….economic factors such as entrenched poverty and the trade in natural
resources are the true culprits.
According to greed theory, conflict reflects elite competition over natural resources rents. Thus,
civil war begins from the greedy behavior of a rebel group in organizing an insurgency against
the government. Collier, the main scholar of greed argument claimed that civil wars occurred
when rebel groups are financially viable. For collier greed is important causes of civil war than
grievances, the proxies for greed and grievances are very questionable. Lack of access to
education is taken as a proxy for greed. But we know that for many countries, including
Sierraleone, that a key grievance motivating many fighters has been lack of access to education.
First posted in the World Bank websites in early 2000, Collier and Hoeffler undertook a crossnational statistical analysis of civil war onset on 161 countries since 1960, and found that the
extent of primary commodity exports is the strongest single influence on the risk of conflict. By
way of explanations, they argue that primary commodity dependence creates better opportunities
to finance rebel groups and so enables rebellion.
 Greed is the primary causes of civil war based on the study of income growth, plunder of
natural resources, financial ability to maintain military activity. Presence of greed
resource production will cause an increase in the likelihood of civil war inset; duration of
civil war and increase in the magnitude of civil war.
 The greed explanation on the other hand assumes that rebels act in pursuit of selfinterested material gain. Greed is about opportunities faced by the rebel groups. The
opportunities can be disaggregated into three components- financing, recruitment and
geography. The most common sources of rebel finance are the appropriation of natural
resources, donations from sympathetic diasporas residing aboard, contribution from
foreign states. Recruitment is about the opportunity to induct fighting manpower;
something made easier when there is a high proportion of young employed males in
population in a setting of endemic poverty and poor education.
 Geographic situation to rebels are mountainous terrain and other safe heavens for
 Higher level of education decreases the risk of conflict because they increase the
opportunity cost for rebellion.
 The set of variables representing rebel opportunity or greed akin to loot seeking are the
main causes for civil war.
 Rebellion needs both motive and opportunity: opportunities are more important in
explaining conflict that is motives. Quantitative indicators of opportunity: - 1.
Opportunity for financing rebellion 2. Extortion of natural resources, 3. Donations from
Diasporas, 4. Subventions from hostile governments.
 Opportunities arising from typically low cost: proxies for forgone income: - 1. Mean
income per capita, 2. Male secondary schooling, 3. Growth rate of the economy. Hence
the probability of war is diminishing in both the expected duration of conflict and the per
capita income of the population.
 Low population density and low urbanization may inhibit government capability.
Population dispersion increases the risk of conflict because it provides the rebels with
military advantages.
In the context of civil war or rebellion, grievances are sometimes described as a justice
seeking motivation. Central to grievances are identity and group formation. An
individual's utility may be related to his identity, especially the relative position of the
group identifies within the social group. An individual may derive utility from central
normative forms of behavior appropriate to his identity but considered deviant by the
other groups, and may even face sanctions from like-minded group members if he
deviates from them. In appropriate definition of ethnicity may be a superior basis for
group formation compared to social class in an ethnically homogenous group. Natural
resource rents can by themselves become a source of grievances, if local populations feel
that they are not getting a fair share of these. It can also cause secessionist tendencies
among relative rich regions, which no longer want to subsidies their fellow countrymen,
as in the case of Aceh in Indonesia (Tadjoeddin, et. al, 2003). The deep cultural,
biological or psychological nature of ethnic cleavages that makes identification with coethnic people plausible (Horowitz, 2005).
 According to Stewart (2000), a combination of horizontal inequalities- be it economic,
political, social or cultural- jointly increases the risk of civil war. A main reason for
intergroup hatred is economic, political and cultural inequalities between groups.
Inequality between individuals- usually dominated as vertical inequality- i.e. consider to
be a cause of social unrest, intergroup inequality- dominated as horizontal inequalityseems an even more plausible explanation for ethnic identification and mobilization.
 Theories of grievance is sub-divided into relative deprivation,, polarization and
horizontal inequality.
o Relative Deprivation
The notion of relative deprivation dates back to the work of Gurr (1970) who
identifies it as the discrepancy between what people think they deserve, and what
they actually believe they can get; in short the disparity between aspirations and
achievements. Thus, educational achievements may rise the aspirations of young
people, but they will be frustrated if they unemployed, occasionally venting their
feelings in mass political violence. In Nepal the lack of development in remote
areas of the country fuelled the Maoist insurgency ( Murshed and Gates, 2005).
o Polarization
Esteban and Ray (1994), as of polarization occurs when two groups exhibit great
inter- group heterogeneity combined with intra-group homogeneity. Ethnic
polarization along with higher vertical inequality can occur in societies that are
culturally homogenous. It is important to note that ethnic polarization requires
two or more ethnicities. When a society has a large number of identities, then the
term ethnic fractionalization is more appropriate. Therefore polarization is what
may matter for conflict.
o Horizontal Inequality
The notion of horizontal inequality between groups, classified by ethnicity,
religion linguistic differences, tribal affiliation etc- is thought to be an important
cause if contemporary conflict and sectarian strife, but not routine violence. The
notion of horizontal inequality originates in the work of Frances Stewart (2000),
and should be distinguished from vertical inequality, which is the inequality
within an otherwise homogenous population. Four sources of horizontal
inequality may be highlighted:
1. Discrimination in public spending and taxation
2. High Asset inequality
3. Economic mismanagement and Recession
4. Grievances related to resource Rents
Grievances Factors:
- self- determination
- religious, political and ethnic diversity
- ethnic cleansing/genocide
- wealth disparities
- economic insecurity
- unemployment and lack of opportunity
- displacement/IDPs
- Predominance of one ethnic or religious group (85%)
- weak states
In short: Grievances
- Ethnic and religious hatred
- Political repression
- Political exclusion
- Economic inequality
Primary commodity exports are highly significant: the risk of conflict peaks when
they constitute around 32% of GDP
Foregone earning also are significant: secondary schooling and growth both
reduce conflict risk
Costs of conflict- specific capital( the number of months since any previous
conflict: highly significant
Ethnic dominance is the only significant grievance variable: If a country is
characterized by ethnic dominance its risk of conflict is nearly doubled.
Democracy is highly significant; repression increases conflict risk
A missing element in the greed and grievances theory is the role that governments of resourcerich states play. Too often, government control of important resources and the revenues that flow
from these resources goes hand in hand in with endemic corruption, a culture of impunity, weak
rule of law and inequitable distribution of public resources. These factors often led to
governments with accountable power that routinely commit human rights abuses; they can also
make prolonged armed conflict more likely.
Nepal's civil war:
As the Nepal conflict demonstrates group grievances over systematic socio-economic exclusion
and widespread poverty can provide an important impetus for armed rebellion when fused with
political and ideological agendas aimed at a violent campaign for state power.
1. Low income
2. Inequality across caste line
3. Landlessness
4. Institutional failure
5. Economic mismanagement
6. High asset inequality
7. The extractive state
Policy Implications:
In practice the greed and grievances are inextricably intertwined. Conflict motivated by
grievances can acquire an acquisitive character as the once marginalized are tempted by the
profit derived from power, civil war motivated by the desire to capture resource rents can breed
grievances as lives and property are lost in the course of combat. Horizontal inequalities are
inequalities amongst groups of people who share a common identity (gender, religion, ethnicity
etc.). They differ from inequalities amongst individuals and from vertical inequalities. Group
boundaries are socially constructed and fluid overtime but are felt strongly. Identities represent a
powerful way of mobilizing people politically. There are also perceptions matters.
- Where HIS are severe, there is a need to address them
- A range of policy options is possible
- Policies are needed in all heterogeneous societies
- Monitoring is needed
- Social inclusiveness
- Gender equality
- Address the grievances among the groups, religions, etc
- Different types of quota system should prevail to take the leaders of the marginalized
growth so that they could not have opportunity to group mobilization and finally aid
collective action for the political turmoil.
( Sudip Pandit holds Master's Degree from Conflict, Peace and Development Studies,
Tribhuvan University).
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