The Economics of Violence

Is there a relationship between a society’s level of socio-economic development and it’s level of violence? There is, as this chart seem to suggest.

I used the parameters murder rate per 1000 citizens and GDP per Capita (2006) and charted it in a scatterplot. What is interesting is that the murder rate (as a proxy for violence) increases exponentially when the GDP per Capita falls below ca: $10,000/year. This is however not a necessary outcome as per the other relatively poor countries where the murder rate remains at the level of the richer countries. The economic development level might be said to represent the watershed where a society reaches a critical mass of institutions. It would be an interesting study to compare and contrast these countries to discover the reasons for their low murder rate, despite their low income level. One must read the GDP per Capita variable as a proxy for overall development, it is fair to presume that high income countries have a highly functioning state apparatus, lower levels of corruption etc than the low income countries.

What, however, this data does suggest is that “every day violence” and socio-economic development are closely related, it is a near universal phenomenon. Over the years fanciful explanations for Africa’s high levels of violence have been put forward by academics, linking it to globalisation, media or “Africans’ inherently violent nature.” By extrapolating the violence to socio-economic development trend to these polities exhibiting low development levels, high levels of violence are easily predicted, especially when keeping in mind the exponential nature of the trend line.

One can fairly conclude that violence rises exponentially in a society that lies below the watershed representing the critical mass of institutional development, but once this level is reached it would be readily presumed that violence will subside as a result of the self-reinforcing effect of socio-economic progression.


About J.F. Gjersø

PhD in International History, LSE.
This entry was posted in Imperial History, Violence and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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