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Civil War: A Review of 50 Years of Research

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  • Christopher Blattman
  • Edward Miguel

Abstract

Most nations have experienced an internal armed conflict since 1960. The past decade has witnessed an explosion of research into the causes and consequences of civil wars, belatedly bringing the topic into the economics mainstream. This article critically reviews this interdisciplinary literature and charts productive paths forward. Formal theory has focused on a central puzzle: why do civil wars occur at all when, given the high costs of war, groups have every incentive to reach an agreement that avoids fighting? Explanations have focused on information asymmetries and the inability to sign binding contracts in the absence of the rule of law. Economic theory has made less progress, however, on the thornier (but equally important) problems of why armed groups form and cohere, and why individuals decide to fight. Likewise, the actual behavior of armed organizations and their leaders is poorly understood. On the empirical side, a vast cross-country econometric literature has aimed to identify the causes of civil war. While most work is plagued by econometric identification problems, low per capita incomes, slow economic growth and geographic conditions favoring insurgency are the factors most robustly linked to civil war. We argue that micro-level analysis and data are needed to truly decipher war’s causes, and understand the recruitment, organization, and conduct of armed groups. Recent advances in this area are highlighted. Finally, turning to the economic legacies of war, we frame the literature in terms of neoclassical economic growth theory. Emerging stylized facts include the ability of some economies to experience rapid macroeconomic recoveries, while certain human capital impacts appear more persistent. Yet econometric identification has not been adequately addressed, and there is little consensus on the most effective policies to avert conflicts or promote postwar recovery. The evidence is weakest where it is arguably most important: in understanding civil wars’ effects on institutions, technology, and social norms.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Blattman & Edward Miguel, 2009. "Civil War: A Review of 50 Years of Research," Working Papers 166, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:166
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    File URL: http://www.cgdev.org/content/publications/detail/1421335
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    Cited by:

    1. Mohamed, Issam A.W., 2011. "Challenges of formal social security systems in Sudan," MPRA Paper 31611, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. David Yanagizawa-Drott, 2012. "Propaganda and Conflict: Theory and Evidence from the Rwandan Genocide," CID Working Papers 257, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    3. Mauricio Cardenas & Marcela Eslava & Santiago Ramirez, 2016. "Why internal conflict deteriorates state capacity? Evidence from Colombian municipalities," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(3), pages 353-377, June.
    4. Mauricio Cárdenas & Marcela Eslava & Santiago Ramírez, 2013. "Do Modern-Time Wars Make States? Panel Data Evidence," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 011939, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    5. Thiemo Fetzer, 2014. "Can Workfare Programs Moderate Violence? Evidence from India," STICERD - Economic Organisation and Public Policy Discussion Papers Series 53, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    6. Valentina Calderón & Margarita Gáfaro & Ana María Ibáñez, 2011. "Forced Migration, Female Labor Force Participation, and Intra-household Bargaining: Does Conflict EmpowerWomen?," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 008912, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    7. Timothy Besley & Thiemo Fetzer & Hannes Mueller, 2015. "The Welfare Cost Of Lawlessness: Evidence From Somali Piracy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 13(2), pages 203-239, April.
    8. Albornoz, Facundo & Hauk, Esther, 2014. "Civil war and U.S. foreign influence," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 64-78.
    9. repec:pia:review:v:8:y:2017:i:1:n:2 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Civil war; violence; economic development; growth;

    JEL classification:

    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • C80 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - General

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