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Do Conflicts Cause Poverty, or Vice Versa

Understanding the tangled web of cause and effect that potentially links poverty and violence is a task that has long stymied social scientists. Does war cause poverty, or vice-versa? Or perhaps other factors – such as societal hatreds or divisions – cause both economic stagnation and war. Maybe all three of these are operating at once. This is no matter for ivory-towered thumb twiddling – foreign aid priorities hinge critically on the answer.

In an earlier Vox commentary, World Bank economist Simeon Djankov and Marta Reynal-Querol of Pompeu Fabra claim that the evidence weighs against poverty-induced violence. Yet their arguments fail to account for more recent research that has most convincingly cut through the Gordian knot of causation to identify the underlying connections between economic deprivation and violence. The punchline: poverty does cause violence.

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