Monday, January 21, 2008

Enduring internal rivalries?

Having recently used the phrase "enduring rivalry" in a recent blog comment on the current crisis in Kenya, I was interested to see that Karl Derouen and Jacob Bercovitch have a paper in the new Journal of Peace Research on "enduring internal rivalries" (gated link here). They import the concept of "enduring rivalry" from the international relations literature and attempt to apply it to civil conflicts. Their coding rules result in a list of 60 enduring internal rivalries.

Enduring rivalries are fruitfully understood as forms of inefficient equilibria. Parties should be cooperating to maximize joint gains, but something prevents them from overcoming costly conflict. These sorts of equilibria may result in large scale violence, but violence may only occasionally punctuate what is otherwise a durable circumstance of conflict. In this way, "enduring rivalries" and long civil wars are not the same thing. One could imagine an enduring rivalry marked by a number of short bouts of violence, for example. To the extent that this is a reasonable characterization of some political circumstances---and I think it is---the challenge is to identify such equilibria when they exist (or have existed).

Enter Derouen and Bercovitch:
[Enduring internal rivalries] denote internal conflicts between a government and an insurgency with at least 10 years of armed conflict in which there are at least 25 deaths – regardless of whether or not these years are consecutive.

They implement this definition by classifying and sometimes lumping together observations from the PRIO armed conflict dataset. They identify 60 enduring rivalries.

Looking at their list, I found the selection of cases to be rough but intuitively reasonable if we are to limit ourselves to situations that have at some point resulted in major violence. But even with this major restriction on cases, the assignment of start and end dates often seemed arbitrary. There also seemed to be some arbitrariness in the decision to define enduring rivalries in terms of factions in some cases and conflicting social groups ("Palestinian insurgents") in others. Perhaps the latter issue is not too important, but it may be indicative of general inconsistencies in the way the original data has been constructed.

More generally, it is dissatisfying to have to use a coding rule that relies on the pre-existence of insurgent groups and a threshold of violence to demarcate cases. This definition would thus exclude years of rivalry that certainly have major socio-economic consequences but precede bouts of violence. In addition, I am not sure what kind of general rule could be used to assign end dates to the more expansive notion of an enduring rivalry that I prefer. If Derouen and Bercovitch are not interested in having us consider such an expansive notion of enduring rivalry, then I am not sure how their effort makes progress over the many civil war duration studies that are already out there.

I was also surprised that the authors chose to study the effects of these enduring rivalries. Bracketing the enormous endogeneity problems here, substantively, do we really need to demonstrate that protracted conflicts are bad or "a distinct class of civil wars"? How about focusing attention on the causes of these enduring rivalries!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another take on resource dependence and conflict

Christa Brunnschweiler and Erwin Bulte have a new working paper on the effects of natural resource dependence on the risk of civil war onset (link). They begin with the observation that "resource dependence" is likely endogenous to politics and conflict. Exploitation of resources is likely to depend on politics and conflict likelihood. Also, the denominator of the resource dependence variable, gross income, is obviously endogenous. Thus, "simple" regressions of conflict onset on resource dependence will not yield reliable estimates; nonetheless, the literature is replete with these types of regressions. They use IV regression on 5-year panels to overcome this endogeneity problem. Their findings:
Our main findings turn received wisdom upside down. We find that resource dependence is indeed an endogenous variable in conflict regressions, and that properly accounting for this endogeneity removes the statistical association between dependence and conflict. In a follow-up regression we demonstrate, not surprisingly, that a country’s history with respect to war and peace is a significant determinant of resource dependence – clenching our main result. Moreover, we find a significant negative relationship between resource abundance and the onset of war, possibly because of an income effect, suggesting that the label “resource curse” seems misplaced. Resource-rich countries have on average a lower propensity to enter a civil war, but countries that do end up with civil strife (possibly resource-poor ones) will experience increasing dependence on the primary sector.

It's good to see people trying to make further strides to deal with the obvious endogeneity problems in predicting conflict based on economic variables. Let's look at their instruments, though:

The main conditioning variables serving as exogenous instruments for [resource dependence] and ln(gdp) are average openness to trade over the previous 5-year period (openness); a dummy variable for a presidential-type system of government; latitude; percent of land area in the tropics; and distance to the nearest coast or navigable river.

Do any of these plausibly satisfy the exclusion restriction as instruments for resource dependence in predicting conflict onset? I'm not so sure. They would do well to conduct sensitivity analysis along the lines of what was mentioned in this post.

Also, there is some circularity in the way they arrive at their conclusion about the endogeneity of resource dependence to conflict. This conclusion comes from the negative and significant coefficient on "number of peace years" in the IV-first stage regression predicting resource dependence. Why shouldn't we be concerned about the endogeneity of "number of peace years" in this regression?

Anyway, the evidence here is far from a slam dunk, but I actually believe their story: politics and conflict drive the macro economy as much as they are responses to it. But the fact is, this is a really hard claim to demonstrate.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Indigenous" institutions and colonial origins of development

In a new World Bank working paper, Cambridge historian CA Bayly offers a revision of the "colonial origins of comparative development" story (link to paper). Contrasting Indian and African colonial experiences, Bayly notes that Indian commercial and knowledge institutions were quite sophisticated before the arrival of colonists. Indian elites were thus well-prepared to adapt for their own purposes institutions and practices introduced by the colonists. The British colonists would also employ many locals in administration; eventually Indian administrators would be employed throughout the British empire. As such, the colonial experience did more to boost development capacity in the Indian colonies than in the African colonies. Revising the Acemoglu et al line of reasoning, social conditions as much as environmental conditions that explain the difference in the extent to which institutional transfer succeeded, at least in these cases.

Bayly does not offer a theory of why "indigenous" social conditions were so different in the two regions, but he cites others who discuss ecological factors that favored dense, sedentary agriculture in many parts of India versus more expansive and mobile agriculture throughout Africa. So in a way we are back to ecological factors, but with social consequences in pre-colonial times as intervening factors.

Bayly's contribution is useful in providing clear examples of how the success of "interventions"---in this case, colonial institutional transfer---depend on the recipient social environment. On the one hand, there is some danger here of inspiring people to rush to ad hoc judgments about whether recipient social environments were well-suited to absorb innovations in other cases. On the other hand, it would be similarly foolish to disregard the potential constraints associated with low "absorption capacity" of recipient social environments. Grist for the mill...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Evidence of "Perverse Punishment" and "Collectivist Socialization" Effects

Simon Gachter and Benedikt Herrmann present results in a new working paper on their public goods games experiments in urban and rural Russia (link to paper):

We report evidence from public goods experiments with and without punishment which we conducted in Russia with 566 urban and rural participants of young and mature age cohorts. Russia is interesting for studying voluntary cooperation because of its long history of collectivism, and a huge urban-rural gap. In contrast to previous experiments we find no cooperation-enhancing effect of punishment. An important reason is that there is substantial punishment of high contributors in all four subject pools. Thus, punishment can also undermine the scope for self-governance in the sense of high levels of voluntary cooperation that are sustained by sanctioning free riders only.

Elinor Ostrom's and Ernst Fehr's experiments in the 1990s caused quite a stir in the social sciences because they showed that people are willing to pay to punish others for not contributing to public goods. This type of pro-social behavior defied the predictions of "Nash"-type rational behavior in public goods games.

A line of skeptical inquiry since then has been to look into whether the results of these experiments are themselves endogenous to the social environment. Maybe Fehr's subjects---students from a Swiss university---were not products of a social environment that would make them representative of humankind, for example. Gachter and Herrmann's paper provides more evidence that this is indeed the case. For Russia, Gachter and Herrmann propose that varying exposure of "collectivization" programs would leave varying marks in the behavior of subjects. They find some supporting evidence: older people and rural people, both of whom were exposed to higher "doses" of collectivization, tend to contribute at higher rates in the public goods games.

The experiments thus become measuring devices for the effects of aspects of the social environment. With this being the case, researchers are now faced with an additional challenge. Not only do they have to work out the challenges of designing and implementing the experiment, but they have to do so in places where the effects of particular aspects of the social environment are identifiable. Behavioral experiments themselves do not produce generalizable results if the effects measured in the experiments are conditioned by unidentifiable environmental variables. While Gachter and Herrman's results are intriguing, should we accept that age and rurality map uniquely to collectivization experiences? Probably not. The lesson for me: when we are interested in developing generalizable knowledge about human behavior, behavioral experiments are strong measuring devices, but are nonetheless subject to identification problems associated with observational studies.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kenya elections and violence, III

An article from the IRIN news service (linked here) suggests that the following factors were central in motivating people to participate in the violence:

(1) Frustration associated with high socio-economic inequality throughout the country, as documented in a report by Kenya's Society for International Development (link here), using UNDP socio-economic data.

(2) Perceptions of unfair distribution of opportunities. The article claims,
Ethnicity came into play during the election violence because of the widespread perception that those who fared best under Kibaki were his own Kikuyu group, the country’s largest, which dominated politics and the economy both under his administration and that of founding president Jomo Kenyatta.

(3) Frustrated ambition of the current young adult generation, which has received more education than previous generations:
Kenya’s youth in particular, who make up a majority of the population - and of those who rioted - feel the most let down. Improved education gave them hope of a better life than their parents’, hope that was dashed, according to Kwamchetsi Makokha of Nairobi-based communications consultancy Form and Content.

“Under colonialism, it was almost a slave labour system which grew up in the early days of the coffee estates. After independence [in 1963], the white master was simply replaced by the black master. A lot of young people who got a bit of education could not see themselves working for pittances as farm labourers. They started drifting to the cities where the opportunities are not enough to accommodate all of them. You have this massive influx of people who just can’t find work,” he told IRIN.

Nor can they find a political voice, he added. “The common Kenyan citizen who does not have money or property does not have a say in how Kenya is organised. They never have. It’s always been about what car you drive, where you live, and then you have more rights than other people.”

"Huntington 1968" should be ringing in peoples minds as they read that.

(4) Frustration with the corrupt practices of the Kibaki regime: "Another ingredient in this combustible mix is corruption, which Kibaki pledged to eradicate but which under his rule, according to analyst and author Gerard Prunier, 'reached new heights, matching some of the excesses of the Moi years'. "

One thing that strikes me in reading this is the extent to which grievances are perceptions. That's where the challenge comes in conducting rigorous analysis of the link between inequality, favoritism/discrimination, and political upheaval. Perceptions may cause participation in an uprising, but the perceptions themselves are caused by strategies of "political entrepreneurs" and objective conditions. I sense that a lot of debate among analysts and researchers over "true" motivations centers on disentangling the relative contribution of these factors in causing perceptions injustice. Of course, there is another view prevalent these days that much of the participation in upheaval is somehow "opportunistic", but to me, those interpretations have to first explain where from the "opportunity" for an uprising comes. I think any serious thought on that question would lead the analyst back to considering perceptions of injustice.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kenya elections and violence, II

Discussion of events in Kenya on Ryan Sheeley's blog continue. Ryan discussed the idea that the restoration of order may need to flow from the local to the national. I posted a comment that raises some questions about this view:
I put a comment on Chris's blog yesterday that may challenge the faith put into "local solutions." First, if participation in violence is largely determined by the extent to which one is frustrated by discrimination, favoritism, or other barriers to realizing one's potential, then "local solutions" are only available to the extent that the relevant barriers operate at the local level. But is this the case here? Or are we talking about macro level barriers (e.g. mass discrimination organized across ethnic lines)?

Second, in my own examination of conflict histories in developing societies, I have found that "local solutions" tend to be conservative. That is, local institutions tend to police the barriers against which mass protest is rallying. Without being too teleological, one could say that their erosion is part of the modernization process. Thus, CDF mobilization in Sierra Leone, for example, was a conservative, counter-insurgent response to the RUF. The "local solution" was effective because this conservative movement was both allied with foreign interveners and sufficiently effective in mobilizing people to preserve the status quo. As a contrasting example, rebel mobilization in Burundi thoroughly transgressed "local institutions" precisely because these local institutions were erected to police, at the local level, the type of mass discrimination that rebels sought to overthrow. No "local solution" was imaginable in this case. Thus, whose interests would "local solutions" in Kenya satisfy?

UPDATE: See the comments linked below for a very informative response from Ryan.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kenya elections and violence

On their blogs, Chris Blattman and Ryan Sheeley have been offering updates and links to other blogs on the Kenyan electoral crisis. I posted the following comment on Chris's blog:

I wonder about the deeper background to the current crisis.

One gets the sense that an all too common story might be at work here:

Undiversified, aid-dependent economy means that control of the state equals control over significant assets and opportunities. Access is conditional on relationship to incumbent, who is thus custodian of exclusionary political economy. For some reason, incumbent loses control over electoral dynamics, which presents a secular opportunity for the excluded to seize control of assets and opportunities. Recognizing what is at stake, incumbent tries to prevent control from being pried from his grasp. Fighting ensues.

Something like this story is what we heard about Burundi in 1993 during the course of our research there over the past 2 years. It's also like the story one reads about Rwanda in 1959 or even Congo-Brazzaville since 1997. It echoes recent stories told about Bolivia, heck even Venezuela for some... It bears resemblance to the "revolutionary politics" story that has been formalized by Carles Boix, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and Thad Dunning, among others.

I wonder whether this "exclusion" or "mass discrimination" lens is relevant here. If one were to peer into the records in the education system, for example, would one find overrepresentation of one group or another? If so, there are implications for how external aid should be used as leverage for dealing with the type of exclusion that may be at the heart of the crisis.

I'd be interested in hearing responses to the applicability of this lens.