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Polarization, Fractionalization and Conflict

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  • Joan Esteban
  • Debraj Ray

Abstract

This article provides a theoretical framework that distinguishes between the occurrence of conflict and its severity, and clarifies the role of polarization and fractionalization in each of these cases. The analysis helps in ordering the various definitions, and in providing explanations for the empirical observations on the relationship between conflict, on the one hand, and polarization or fractionalization, on the other. The behaviour of players in conflict is described as a game, and equilibrium payoffs to all players are computed. The status quo is characterized by a set of political institutions that channel the different opposing interests and turn them into a collective decision, with a second set of payoffs. Groups rebel against the status quo political institution whenever the latter set of payoffs is dominated by the former. When society is highly polarized, the potential cost of rebellion is extremely high, and this cost may serve as the guarantor of peace. So, in highly polarized societies, the occurrence of open conflict should be rare but its intensity very severe, whenever it happens. On the other hand, highly fractionalized societies are prone to the occurrence of conflict, but its intensity will be moderate. It matters, therefore, whether one studies the intensity of conflict, conditional on conflict breaking out, or the likelihood that conflict actually occurs. Specifically, it is shown that: (i) measures of fractionalization and polarization tend to run in opposite directions, (ii) the onset of conflict critically depends on the political system in place, (iii) the occurrence of conflict and the intensity of conflict also tend to move in opposite directions, (iv) the relationship between polarization or fractionalization and conflict is non-monotonic and (v) the intensity of conflict depends positively on the degree of polarization.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Barcelona Graduate School of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 312.

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Date of creation: Apr 2007
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Handle: RePEc:bge:wpaper:312

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  1. Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo, 2000. "Inequality and Growth: What Can the Data Say?," NBER Working Papers 7793, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2011. "A Model Of Ethnic Conflict," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 496-521, 06.
  3. Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1998. "The Quality of Government," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1847, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2008. "On the Salience of Ethnic Conflict," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2185-2202, December.
  5. Esteban, J.M. & Ray, D., 1992. "On the Measurement of Polarization," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 171.92, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  6. Alberto Alesina & Arnaud Devleeschauwer & William Easterly & Sergio Kurlat & Romain Wacziarg, 2003. "Fractionalization," NBER Working Papers 9411, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Collier, Paul & Hoeffler, Anke, 1998. "On Economic Causes of Civil War," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 50(4), pages 563-73, October.
  8. Reynal-Querol, Marta, 2005. "Does democracy preempt civil wars?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 445-465, June.
  9. Jean-Yves Duclos & Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2003. "Polarization: Concepts, Measurement, Estimation," Working Papers 46, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  10. Easterly, W & Levine, R, 1996. "Africa's Growth Tragedy : Policies and Ethnic Divisions," Papers 536, Harvard - Institute for International Development.
  11. Paul Collier, 2001. "Implications of ethnic diversity," Economic Policy, CEPR & CES & MSH, vol. 16(32), pages 127-166, 04.
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Cited by:
  1. Erica Field & Matthew Levinson & Rohini Pande & Sujata Visaria, 2008. "Segregation, Rent Control, and Riots: The Economics of Religious Conflict in an Indian City," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 505-10, May.
  2. Anirban Mitra & Debraj Ray, 2013. "Implications of an Economic Theory of Conflict: Hindu-Muslim Violence in India," NBER Working Papers 19090, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Dominic Rohner, 2008. "Reputation, Group Structure and Social Tensions," HiCN Working Papers 40, Households in Conflict Network.
  4. Rohner, D., 2006. "Information, Reputation and Ethnic Conflict," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0658, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
  5. Héctor Galindo Silva, 2007. "Polarización económica y emergencia de confilctos violentos internos un estudio empírico," DOCUMENTOS DE ECONOMÍA 004449, UNIVERSIDAD JAVERIANA - BOGOTÁ.

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