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Civil war, public goods and the social wealth of nations

  • David Pottebaum
  • Ravi Kanbur

This paper establishes and explores the implications of a somewhat surprising empirical finding. Although civil war adversely affects the performance of social indicators in general, poorer countries lose less, in absolute and relative terms, than richer countries. It is argued that the explanation may lie in the extent to which richer countries have better social (and economic) indicators because of more public goods, and adaptation of economic and social mechanisms to the greater abundance of public goods such as physical infrastructure. Civil war destroys public goods, and therefore damages disproportionately the countries most dependent on them. A further implication of this framework is that the post-conflict rebound in social indicators should be relatively stronger in poorer countries. The data bear out this prediction. Our results should not of course be read as implying that poorer countries need less support to avoid civil war and to cope with its aftermath. Although their losses are less, they start from a lower base; so even small declines severely impact human well-being. Properly understood, our results highlight the central role that public goods play in underpinning the social (and economic) wealth of nations.

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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Oxford Development Studies.

Volume (Year): 32 (2004)
Issue (Month): 4 ()
Pages: 459-484

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Handle: RePEc:taf:oxdevs:v:32:y:2004:i:4:p:459-484
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  1. Paul Collier & Jan Willem Gunning, 1998. "Explaining African economic performance," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/1997-02.2, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
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  9. Frances Stewart & Frank Humphreys & Nick Lea, 1997. "Civil conflict in developing countries over the last quarter of a century: An empirical overview of economic and social consequences," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(1), pages 11-41.
  10. Hertz, Erica & Hebert, James R. & Landon, Joan, 1994. "Social and environmental factors and life expectancy, infant mortality, and maternal mortality rates: Results of a cross-national comparison," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 105-114, July.
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