Doing well out of war

17 January 2002

The importance of economic agendas in contemporary conflicts has been the focus of a series of recent papers by Paul Collier, Director of the Bank’s Development Research Group. His basic argument is that recent civil wars have been driven overwhelmingly by greed rather than political grievances.

A number of people have criticised Collier’s findings. David Keen of the London School of Economics cautions about the validity of the econometric analysis Collier uses to back his conclusions. “You can’t directly put a number on greed or grievance”, he warns. A heavy reliance on the export of primary commodities – taken by Collier as a proxy for greed – could easily be taken as an index of underdevelopment and hence of the grievances which underdevelopment has instilled. Low educational levels are for example also taken as proxy for “greed” rather than for “grievance”.

“I think it is true that even intense grievances do not necessarily lead to rebellion. Indeed this is in large part how extreme inequality develops and persists in the first place,” commented Keen. “It may be more reasonable to conclude from Collier’s figures that severe political repression is often effective, than to conclude that rebellions, when they do occur, are not motivated by grievances.” He also points out that “stigmatising rebels as entirely illegitimate also carries the risk of legitimising brutal counter-insurgency and avoiding the difficult question of how reconstruction might lead to a society where grievances were less intense.”

The World Bank’s analysis also fails to analyse how greed and grievance interact. Part of this should involve looking at how greedy individuals manipulate the grievances of others. There is a lack of attention to the manipulation of conflict by ruling elites for profit and power. Collier touches on this problem only extremely briefly.

The World Bank claims, however, that the research is “directly policy-relevant and will produce several important insights and prescriptions, specifically … to identify the best possible strategy for the Bank’s resource-allocation decision with respect to conflict.”

Greed and Grievance research paper, P. Collier

Email David Keen, London School of Economics

World Bank policy: Post-war and conflict situations