Arnold Kling  

Ethnic Strife

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In a timely article, Austan Goolsbee writes

The good news is that history suggests that the destruction of war has no lasting impact on economic prospects. The bad news is that most of these countries, especially Iraq, are filled with ethnic divisions and civil discord. The evidence shows that these problems, unlike bombs, cause lasting damage to the prospects for a nation’s economy, even if they do not boil over into civil war.

He cites a paper by Alberto F. Alesina, Janina Matuszeski, and William Easterly.

They write,

We provide two measures never before used in econometric analysis of comparative development. One is relatively simple and captures whether or not an ethnic group is "cut" by a political border line. That is, we measure situations in which the same ethnic group is present in two bordering countries. This measure accounts fairly precisely for one of the ways in which borders may be "wrong", that is when they cut through groups left in separate countries. But it does not capture other ways in which borders may be undesirable; for instance situations in which two ethnic groups are forced into the same country. We then provide a second measure, based upon the assumption that if a land border is close to a straight line it is more likely to be drawn artificially i.e. by former colonizers; if it is relatively squiggly it is more likely to represent either geographic features (rivers, mountains etc.) and/or represent divisions carved out in time to separate different people.

...For the partitioned variable, going from the 75th most partitioned country to the 25th most partititioned country is associated with an increase of 83% in GDP per capita ... Moving from the 75th most squiggly border to the 25th most squiggly border is associated with a 37% increase in GDP per capita.

There is a lot to ponder here. What to make of India, for example? It ought to be a failed state, given its ethnic heterogeneity. But is it a failed state?

I think I would be more comfortable with an analysis of countries within sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East than with a study that in effect compares those regions with the rest of the world.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Omer K writes:

India's GDP is still too low to say its not a failed state. I hear recently they tried to increase the number of affirmative action seats (read undeserved seats) in Medical School from 22% to 49%.

There is a lot of reasons to believe India will be a failed state and less to belive they will succeed, above a limit which they havent yet reached anyway.

Dylan writes:

To some extent, India isn't a very strong state. It has significant federalism and allows Muslims to have their own batshit crazy family law tribunals. That undoubtedly decreases some of the pressure to kill your neighbors, keeping the numbers down to a few hundred deaths and a few dozen bombs a year, not counting the dozen or so ethnic/communist insurrections in the north.

dearieme writes:

"I think I would be more comfortable with an analysis of countries within sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East": are you deliberatley trying to incite sarcastic comments?

FC writes:

India isn't a failed state, but it is a successor to the catastrophic failure of British India.

BT writes:

Modern day Iraq and India were among the first places to become civilized on this planet. Just because the past few hindred years have been rough does not mean that the entire civilization is about to collapse.

I visted India in 1997 and was surprised to learn that there are more muslims in India than there are in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia combined. More surprising is the fact that many sects of Islam were represented, not just the Sunni and Shia. Given Iraq's interfactional fighting between Sunni and Shia, I am surprised that India does not suffer from more violence rather than less. Maybe that crazy guy Gandhi and his non-violence has something to do with sucess. It certainly worked for Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in America.

TGGP writes:

Ghandi's great ideas got him killed, and after the partition many other Muslims and Hindus were killed. I don't think it's fair to compare the India of 97 with the Iraq of today.

BT writes:

IMO the success or failure of a society is not based on ethnic strife rather on ideological outlook. Mainly non-violence is a better way to achieve change rather than violence.

India and Pakistan began as the same population. Therefore, any differences are a result of choices and beliefs not inherent differences in ethnicity. Yes, there are difficulties, but democracy seems to work well. India’s success is squarely based on its investment in education and political systems. Pakistan’s failure is squarely based on its investment in religious indoctrination (the Taliban began in Pakistan and spread to Afghanistan).

Yes, Gandhi was assassinated, but his ideas remain relevant. South Africa is peacefully transforming itself from centuries old prejudices and even the staunchest of conservatives in the southern United States salivate to see Rice elected Vice President and maybe even President. (btw. Gandhi was a lawyer in South Africa and sparked the non-violent movement before the SF gov’t sent him back to India). India and South Africa’s success can be traced to the non-violent ideologies that Gandhi introduced and the individuals who made a conscious decision to act on those ideas.

In 1947, the British division of India created a mess. In 2003, Iraq was a mess because of the borders the Brits drew up after WWII. In 1947, India was split along radical and moderate beliefs. India has more Muslims than the entire population of Pakistan, so the split is not based on religion but rather violent / non-violent ideologies. Currently in Iraq, the violence is based also on violent and non-violent ideologies. The Kurdish areas are relatively peaceful. Areas where there is a mixture of Sunni and Shia, experience the majority of violence. Iraq faces the same problems India did in 1947. India had Gandhi as a guide Iraq does not. Most likely if Iraq is split, the Kurds (being moderate in their ideology) will benefit greatly. The violence between the Shia and the Sunni factions will continue as it has since Mohammed’s death.

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