Do Working Men Rebel? Insurgency and Unemployment

It is an article of economic faith that employed people are less likely to get caught up in political violence. It is in part because they have less to be unhappy about, and to a lesser degree about simply being less idle. Combined it creates an opportunity cost in rebelling.

But is it true? A new paper tries to test the theory using data from Iraq and the Philippines :

Do Working Men Rebel? Insurgency and Unemployment in Iraq and the Philippines

Most aid spending by governments seeking to rebuild social and
political order is based on an opportunity-cost theory of distracting
potential recruits. The logic is that gainfully employed young men are
less likely to participate in political violence, implying a positive
correlation between unemployment and violence in places with active
insurgencies. We test that prediction on insurgencies in Iraq and the
Philippines, using survey data on unemployment and two newly- available
measures of insurgency: (1) attacks against government and allied
forces; and (2) violence that kills civilians. Contrary to the
opportunity-cost theory, we find a robust negative correlation between
unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces and no
significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent
attacks that kill civilians
. [Emphasis mine]

Funky and surprising stuff. Higher unemployment means fewer government attacks?

[Update] In an earlier version of this post I had summarized the finding completely backwards. Blame sleep deprivation and too much multitasking. Fixed now, but my bad.

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