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Gauging the potential for social unrest


  • Oded Stark


  • Walter Hyll
  • Doris Behrens


It stands to reason that social unrest does not erupt out of the blue. Although there are a great many reasons why social dismay might descend into social disorder, only few yardsticks or indices can plausibly be used to gauge the potential for social unrest (PSU). If policy makers want to undertake public action to prevent social dismay escalating into social disruption, they obviously need to draw on practical sensors. This paper assesses critically the adequacy of two such measures, the polarization (P) index, and the total relative deprivation (TRD) index. The paper proposes a tentative guide to selecting between these two measures. A review of three stylized scenarios suggests that, where income redistributions reduce the number of distinct income groups, and when each group is characterized by a strong sense of within-group identity, the P index surpasses the TRD index as a basis for predicting PSU. When the within-group identification is weak, however, it is better to use the TRD index to predict PSU.
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Suggested Citation

  • Oded Stark & Walter Hyll & Doris Behrens, 2010. "Gauging the potential for social unrest," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 143(1), pages 229-236, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:143:y:2010:i:1:p:229-236
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-009-9499-7

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Esteban, Joan & Ray, Debraj, 1994. "On the Measurement of Polarization," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(4), pages 819-851, July.
    2. Stark, Oded, 2006. "Inequality and migration: A behavioral link," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 91(1), pages 146-152, April.
    3. Jean-Yves Duclos & Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2004. "Polarization: Concepts, Measurement, Estimation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(6), pages 1737-1772, November.
    4. Choe, Jongmook, 2008. "Income inequality and crime in the United States," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 31-33, October.
    5. Bossert, Walter & D'Ambrosio, Conchita, 2006. "Reference groups and individual deprivation," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 90(3), pages 421-426, March.
    6. Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1979. "Relative Deprivation and the Gini Coefficient," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 93(2), pages 321-324.
    7. Atin Basuchoudhary & William Shughart, 2010. "On Ethnic Conflict And The Origins Of Transnational Terrorism," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 21(1), pages 65-87.
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    More about this item


    Social dismay; Potential for social unrest; Polarization; Total relative deprivation; Policy choice; D31; D63;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement


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