Ethnic conflicts stoked by government intervention, not liberalisation

Tuesday, 30 September 2008, 07:00 Hrs
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Toronto: Eruption of ethnic violence and social evils over the past two decades worldwide has been ascribed to globalisation and liberalisation.

But a new study conducted by McGill University researchers has challenged this assumption, suggesting that violence and rebellion are instead the outcome of greater governmental intervention.

Conversely, the more economically open a society is, the less likely such violence becomes, said Stephen Saideman of McGill and his former student David Steinberg.

"Our study counters the idea that a liberalised economy is worse for ethnic groups. Minorities are more likely to be on the outside of the political system," explained Saideman, associate director of graduate studies in McGill department of political science.

"So, if the government is involved in the economy, minorities are more likely to be affected by the whims of the state than by the whims of the market."

Utilising their own original research, along with the 'Minorities at Risk' dataset compiled by University of Maryland colleagues, Steinberg and Saideman showed how government intervention leads to a spiral of political competition among groups to gain control and the economic spoils it distributes.

"Thus groups on the outs feel threatened because they have no control, which can lead to open rebellion," Saideman said, "while those who are in power become terrified of losing control, as occurred in Serbia. Before the war the Serbs controlled a large chunk of the Yugoslav political system and it was their fear of losing it that led to war."

Moreover, the researchers said, their results were reasonably consistent in virtually every society they studied, regardless of political system, according to a McGill University release.

"We're not just talking about command economies like the old Soviet Union or Yugoslavia," he said. "We control for regime type, so whether a country is a democracy or not, statistically and probabilistically, the more government involvement there is in the economy, the more likely ethnic conflict is."

"Ironically, look at how the US government is now in the process of buying up a large hunk of the economy to bail out Wall Street," he said. "In the future, this will give people who are denied loans or who have other economic grievances an incentive to blame the government."

The study was published in the current issue of International Studies Quarterly.
Source: IANS
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