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Collective Action after a Civil War

- October 28, 2009

We know that civil wars have very large long term negative consequences on health and development. Can international actors do something to help local communities mitigate those costs?

Yes, say political scientists Jim Fearon, Macartan Humphreys, and Jeremy Weinstein in an interesting short article in the May 2009 American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings. The authors evaluate the impact of a “Community Driven Reconstruction” (CDR) program in Liberia implemented by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). CDR programs involve the organization of community committee structures to help meet community needs . The authors convinced the IRC to randomly select 42 communities in which such programs were implemented. They then found that these communities performed better in a public goods game (with real money) than a control group, suggesting that social cohesion had improved as a consequence of the treatment. A nontechnical summary of these results and other findings are here.

This research has direct policy and welfare implications. The World Bank and other development organizations spend huge amounts on post-conflict development. It is heartening that small investments in local institutions can have the types of payoffs that Fearon, Humphreys, and Weinstein find. Obviously this was a pretty small study and it would need to be replicated in other settings. Yet, this research shows once more that small steps towards a much better world may come from political science research too. A challenger for a Cobie award?