Do Working Men Rebel? Insurgency and Unemployment in Iraq and the Philippines

45 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2009 Last revised: 26 Jun 2010

See all articles by Eli Berman

Eli Berman

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Joseph Felter

Stanford University

Jacob N. Shapiro

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: November 2009

Abstract

Most aid spending by governments seeking to rebuild social and political order is based on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting potential recruits. The logic is that gainfully employed young men are less likely to participate in political violence, implying a positive correlation between unemployment and violence in locations with active insurgencies. We test that prediction in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines, using survey data on unemployment and two newly-available measures of insurgency: (1) attacks against government and allied forces; and (2) violence that kills civilians. Contrary to the opportunity-cost theory, the data emphatically reject a positive correlation between unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces (p<.05%). There is no significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent attacks that kill civilians. We identify several potential explanations, introducing the notion of insurgent precision to adjudicate between the possibilities that predation on the one hand, and security measures and information costs on the other, account for the negative correlation between unemployment and violence in these three conflicts.

Suggested Citation

Berman, Eli and Felter, Joseph and Shapiro, Jacob N., Do Working Men Rebel? Insurgency and Unemployment in Iraq and the Philippines (November 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15547. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1513737

Eli Berman (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Joseph Felter

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

Jacob N. Shapiro

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

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