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Do Jobs Really Cure Violence?

Does giving a man a job stop him from becoming a political insurgent? The generally accepted wisdom is that it does. In fact, the U.S. and other western powers have distributed millions of dollars of foreign aid in the hopes of reducing political violence and instability. But a new working paper from Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro may force policymakers to reevaluate this strategy. The researchers looked at unemployment and political violence against both the government and civilians in Iraq and the Philippines. They find that unemployment is actually negatively correlated with attacks against the government and statistically unrelated to insurgent attacks against civilians. The authors explore several explanations for the negative correlation and find some evidence that high unemployment may lead to a more difficult environment for insurgents, decreasing violence. Berman, Felter, and Shapiro conclude: “The negative correlation of unemployment with violence indicates that aid and development efforts that seek to enhance political stability through short-term job creation programs may well be misguided. Development funds might be directed instead at improving the quality of local government services, thereby inducing noncombatants to share intelligence about insurgents with their government and its allies …” [%comments]