Conflict Theory Poverty Essay Conclusion

By
Olympio Barbanti, Jr.

August 2004

The concept of "development" cuts across many levels. It refers to macro issues (such as patterns of a nation's growth), as much as it refers to meso problems (such as river-basin plans), or to micro problems (such as local community development). All three levels — macro, meso, and micro, are interwoven. And at all levels, many different dimensions — economic, cultural, religious and gender — affect and are affected by development. This research addresses the links between the promotion of social change associated with development aid and conflict.

Development should be understood as a process, not a product. Societies are always changing. Some improve, while others fail. Development theory aims at explaining both processes. Development practice intends to provide tools that can be applied to entire societies or specific communities. Such interventions are intended to move communities or societies from a situation in which they are believed to be worse off to a situation in which they are assumed to be better off.

Current links between development and conflict theory stress the provision of aid in cases of violent conflict. Peacebuilding interventions after violent conflicts address the same concerns as development interventions. Clearly, development is at the core of post-conflict interventions, where the physical and social landscape has been damaged. In such cases, development assistance is provided.

Yet development aid goes beyond development assistance. Aid refers to general support for the improvement of Third World societies, which may or may not be, in violent conflict. Perhaps because development aid does not deal directly with violence, conflict and conflict resolution have not been topics of major concern to development theorists or workers. This, however, has started to change.

The Millennium Development Goals illustrate how development is an interdisciplinary field, which implements programs in various areas and deals with innumerable variables — such as economic, social, political, gender, cultural, religious and environmental issues. The field is further complicated because these variables are highly intertwined. Therefore, the analysis of gender issues must also consider the affects of and on linked economic, religious, and cultural issues. Similar links exist with many other development topics. Such links become clear in the findings of this research.

Development and Structural Change

Societal change most often requires structural change. While this may be true in any country, it is probably more often true in the developing world. Yet most development intervention is locally targeted and short-term. It does not try to implement structural change across the entire society.

This disconnect creates something of a "Catch-22" — a vicious cycle in which development leads to conflict, and the lack of conflict resolution practices interferes with further development.

Ignoring structural factors means not only overlooking dimensions that take place at the macro level, but also not paying enough attention to the micro-level effects of development and conflict in society. One shocking example was recently publicized by an opinion poll, according to which 67% of Brazilians are functionally illiterate. That means they have great difficulty in understanding very basic information. How can one promote rational processes of conflict resolution in this situation?

Such functional illiteracy is caused, in part, by the fragility of the educational system. Deteriorated schools mirror the economic crisis of developing countries as well as the lack of importance attributed to education by the society. This is largely a result of long-standing social inequities maintained by an elite that benefits from the resulting patron-client relationship. These relationships are so strong that the structural problems continue, even after some conflict resolution measures are taken, such as the empowerment of powerless groups.

Development and Conflict

The interconnection of development factors often causes further conflict escalation. For example, administrative chaos in under-financed governmental bodies often causes the transference of responsibilities from the central state to NGOs, local governments, and the private sector. The result is that such organizations assume duties that may go well beyond their capacities, which causes further conflict. For example, NGOs, local governments, and the private sector lack training in facilitation, mediation, and negotiation, as well as the theoretical knowledge of conflict resolution. So conflicts escalate, with no one knowing what to do about it.

There are few institutions in most developing societies that understand or engage in the practice of conflict resolution. But even when they do, they tend to work with inadequate win-win frameworks. In some cases, for example, negotiation through typical win-win processes is blocked because the powerful within poor communities are criminals. In Brazil, criminal elements are able to exert full control over large territories, mostly within metropolitan areas, from where they traffic in narcotics and weapons. This is one of many reasons why traditional interest-based, win-win negotiation does not work in many cases in developing countries.

In Brazil, the criminal sector has been able to recruit children as young as nine years old. The profile of the typical youth taken to reform schools is shocking. The majority are around 13 years old, yet they are fathers and breadwinners. Most often, they turned to crime because they do not have other employment options nor do they have an expectation of a better life. Due to the economic crisis of the last ten years, permanent and secure employment was largely replaced by "flexible," insecure contracts without the guarantees of the official social security system. This has particularly affected women and other vulnerable groups in society, who form the majority of those working in the informal sector.

This informality has brought further constraints to conflict resolution in developing countries. Many young people are already the second, or even the third generation of families who are mainly employed in "flexible," or "odd" jobs. They lack the culture of work, and the values attributed to it.

Social values are also often undermined by the official educational system, since information disseminated by books in public schools is embedded with prejudice and stereotypes that, for example, overvalue men in detriment of women.

Development aid tries to change such problems. These factors, among others, are the target of the Millennium Goals. However, in many instances, development interventions underestimate local politics, social realities, and belief systems. These are strong factors affecting the opportunities for conflict resolution, which nevertheless have remained overlooked by those working in the field of development theory and practice.

It is remarkable that conflict resolution theory and instruments are also not taken into account either by indigenous organizations, or by international development agencies. This is clearly evidenced by the Human Development Report 2003, published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report reflects a deep concern with armed, violent and military conflicts such as interstate or civil wars. However, it does not consider other more subtle forms of conflict, or the notion that conflict processes can preclude the achievement of development goals. An understanding of the nature and effects of international development illustrates the reason for this.

Development History

Development practice is not new. It dates back to the European colonies, when colonizers enforced a "civilized," ordered, white, male, Christian ethic. Organized, ongoing development aid followed during the post-colonial period. Development theory, however, came along much later, emerging as a stable, academic field of inquiry only after World War II, when European countries were trying to keep their former colonies at arm's length. Throughout these years, development theory and practice was strongly characterized by the transmission of moral values from industrialized countries to less-industrialized, rural countries.

The development field has always been highly influenced by economic thought, as exemplified by the fact that development has been primarily measured by increases in gross national product (GNP). According to Dennis Rondinelli, during the 1950s and 60s, development intervention assumed that "successful methods, techniques, and ways of solving problems and delivering services in the U.S. or other economically advanced countries would prove equally successful in the developing nations." [1] Therefore, at the very start of development theory, there was a notion of direct transferability, or a "one size fits all" type of development assistance . However, delivering aid was not just a technical matter; it also involved political concerns. For example, during the Cold War, U.S. provision of aid was largely directed to those countries that were, or could come, under Soviet influence.

The 70s were marked by rapid growth of American and European multinational companies in the developing world. While these companies expanded markets and made new goods available, they also exerted predatory competition on indigenous industries. Two theoretical debates emerged in developing countries, especially in Latin America: the dependency theory and the center-periphery theory. For dependency theorists such as Paul Baran, Andre Gunther Frank, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, developing countries were trapped in a cycle of dependence on international capital in which there was little room to maneuver. The center-periphery (or metropolis-satellite) theory developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, argued that movement within and between the center and the periphery was possible.[2] This theory introduced the concept of a world economy, and said that movement within and between the strata of this economy was regulated by market forces.

Such movement became especially difficult, however, in the 1980s. Due to the financial crisis of this decade, many developing countries could not pay their external debts, and had to adopt economic adjustment measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in order to borrow money. Such measures included cuts in public expenditure, and the development of a more efficient, transparent and accountable state [3]. Though the World Bank recommendation was that "an effective state — not a minimal one — is central to economic and social development," in reality IMF and World Bank requirements have resulted in large cuts in states' size and functions, and little or no increase in accountability and transparency.[4]

During the 90s, the IMF maintained its structural adjustment plan, while the World Bank gained a deeper understanding of other factors that can affect economic performance. Academics such as Nobel laureates Robert Coase (1991), Gary Becker (1992), Douglas North and Robert Fogel (1993), John C. Harsanyi, Reinhard Selten, John F. Nash Jr. (1994), and Amartya Sen (1998) were amongst several authors who focused on transaction costs, property rights, institutions, non-market behavior and welfare economics in their development theories.

In the 90s, this renewed focus on institutions was combined with a series of world summits organized by the United Nations to discuss development. Environment and development was the theme of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro summit. In 1993, a human rights conference took place in Vienna. Cairo hosted a conference on population and development in 1994. Social development was discussed at the Copenhagen 1995 world summit. Gender issues, especially the role of women, were discussed in 1995 in Beijing. The last conference, Habitat-II, took place in Istanbul to discuss urban issues.

Current Development Theory

While much of development thinking and practice has changed, the moral and political dimensions still remain. Critics of current development theory such as Jonathan Crush [5] and Arturo Escobar [6], see development as a set of rational, managerial prescriptions through which industrialized nations have largely imposed their views and models onto the beneficiaries of their aid, forcing, to some extent, a change in the identities of those who have been "benefitted." It is still common for academics and practitioners in developing countries to believe that development is a direct transference of Western values onto non-Western cultures. Organizations such as the World Bank, and USAID are believed to impose expertise and authority, silence alternative voices, promote a dependent path to development, and keep their eyes closed to the power imbalances they create.

However, development is not the only influence on a nation; local political processes also have significant effects. Additionally, the development field helps to overcome human rights abuses, protect the environment and empower women. While the debate about the pros and cons of different approaches to development still rages, the constant critiques have inspired a quest for diversity among development theories.

As was noted earlier, development interventions are intended to move societies from a situation in which they are believed to be worse off, to situations in which they are assumed to be better off. Certainly, there is a great deal of contention on what determines who is "worse" and who is "better." The traditional paradigms of development theory have historically been similar to those of economics. Specifically, the field of Development Economics tries to explain differences in development conditions mostly through macroeconomic factors. A country's GDP has been, for most economists, the major parameter with which to measure development success.

Recently, the contributions of the Nobel laureates of the 1990s, who stressed the political and social dimensions of development, have come under more consideration. Research on development has become multi-disciplinary, embracing policy analysis and starting to focus on the major symptom of failed development, poverty.

Such a multi disciplinary view of development opens an avenue for fresh thinking on the human dimensions of development. The argument for such a view is that development is not an end in itself, but rather a means for achieving better and more equitable living conditions for human beings. Associated with this view, the focus on sustainable development aims at integrating economic, biological, social, cultural, and political dimensions.

Today, all approaches co-exist, and in many instances there is an attempt to reconcile all views of development. There are, certainly, nuances. The two tables below show the approaches to development topics from the World Bank and from the Eldis Gateway to Development, which presents a more academic view of development. The Eldis Gateway tends to emphasize anthropological and sociological approaches, while the World Bank's literature tends to stress the economics of development.

[1] Rondinelli, Dennis A. Development Administration and U.S. Foreign Aid Policy, Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, p.23.

[2] Wallerstein, I.M. (1979) The Capitalist World-Economy: Essays by Immanuel Wallerstein, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Messkoub, M. (1992). "Deprivation and Structural Adjustment." In Development Policy and Public Action, eds. Wuyts, Mackintosh and Hewitt. (175-285), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[4] World Bank (1997). World Development Report: The state in a changing world, Washington: World Bank. <http://wdronline.worldbank.org//worldbank/a/c.html/world_development_report_1997/abstract/WB.0-1952-1114-6.abstract>.

[5] Crush, Jonathan (1995). Power of Development, London: Routledge. <http://books.google.com/books?id=CyYvDxyd1TIC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

[6] Escobar, Arturo (1995). Encountering Development. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press. <http://books.google.com/books?id=Y35aclb012YC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>.


Use the following to cite this article:
Barbanti, Jr., Olympio . "Development and Conflict Theory." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: August 2004 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/development-conflict-theory>.


Additional Resources


By
Olympio Barbanti, Jr.

Originally Published October 2003; Current Implications section added by Heidi Burgess in April 2017.

Current Implications

This article is really interesting to apply 14 years later.  Not only was it written in an earlier political and economic era, but it was written by a Brazilian scholar who viewed inequality from the point of view of developed versus less developed countries. More...

Current Implications

This article is really interesting to apply 14 years later.  Not only was it written in an earlier political and economic era, but it was written by a Brazilian scholar who viewed inequality from the point of view of developed versus less developed countries. Neither he, nor we, at the time, were focusing on conflicts between the rich and the poor as being something that affected people and politics within developed countries.  We particularly weren't thinking about such conflicts as concerning US politics. But it did then, and it does even more so now, as inequality has been increasing in the U.S. for at least that long.  

Certainly many of Barbanti's observations remain true in this different context and time. Development (translated into increased prosperity, perhaps, in the US) does not reduce inequality; it may actually increase it. Class, status, power, and authority cannot be equalized, without suppressing other values such as personal freedom and individualism.  

As he perceptively argued, trade is not an equalizer, but rather a driver of inequality.  But neither he, nor we, in 2003, considered the argument that trade would be hurting the US economy or its citizens.  His argument was that trade was structured to benefit rich countries at the expense of the poor. In some sense, that is still true.  But many in the U.S. feel that trade is hurting them as well, which is why President Trump promised in his campaign to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA as well as several other international trade agreements. (It should be noted that his tone has softened considerably since he has taken office.)

So I urge you to read this article with an eye to what applies now, and what doesn't.  And regardless of your answers, what clearly does apply is that conflicts between rich people and poor people, both within and between countries, is very complex and intractable.  

--Heidi Burgess   May 10, 2017.

Graphic credit for social media posts:

Fox Rich and Poor People by Chris Piascik.  Creative Commons: CC-by-NC-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Introduction

In the age of globalization, the gap between high and low income countries is not only persisting, but in many cases it is widening, as the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)[1] has shown in its study of Luxembourg. While the existence of such a divide is unquestionable, its origins, structure, and consequences are not. Could one, for example, securely say that income gaps lead to conflict? Is it possible to relate intractability to this divide? Rather than answer these thorny questions, this article explores the debate with the aim of identifying its key arguments. But first, it is necessary to clarify some concepts.

Poverty, Inequality and Welfare

Poverty: Poverty has been approached in both absolute and relative terms. "Absolute poverty" is a measurable quantity referring to a lack of the basic resources needed to maintain a minimum of physical health, normally calculated in calories or nutritional levels. "Relative poverty" has a qualitative dimension. It refers to general standards of living in different societies, taking into account culturally sensitive interpretations of poverty, and variations between and within societies over time.

Inequality: For those concerned with social policies and economic growth, inequality is normally interpreted as lack of equality of condition, that is lack of achievement of any given welfare indicator (e.g. income, consumption) or any valuable attribute of a population. For example, the larger the difference in income between a country's rich and poor, the larger the inequality. Note that reduction of poverty levels within any given society may not imply a reduction of inequality, because all classes in society may benefit simultaneously from economic growth, keeping the same proportion among them. While it seems clear that inequality is undesirable, there is a great deal of debate over the desirability of total equality. One debate over equality questions is the meaning and value of concepts such as class, status, power, and authority. These cannot, it is argued, be completely equalized without suppressing other values such as personal freedom and individualism.

Welfare: It has a much broader meaning, referring to the general state of well-being that an "entity" enjoys. Here, "entity" can be taken as a person or as a state, thus one can speak in terms of "personal well-being" or "welfare of the state."

Economic Logic and the Development Discourses


William Urybegins explaining his role in trying to prevent a civil war in Venezuela, where the country is extremely polarized between those who support the president and those who oppose him. Like many other countries, it is essentially a conflict between the 'haves' and 'have nots.'

Classical economists have been largely influenced by Kuznet's 1955 postulate that suggests that in the early stages of economic growth in developing countries, inequality will tend to worsen, while at later stages there will be a better distribution of income.[2] Therefore, inequality, as well as poverty, Kuznet argued, could be tackled by efficient economic policy -- in other words, by rational development.

Though Kuznets's hypothesis influenced the study of income distribution for nearly four decades, others had previously established a direct casual relationship between economic development and overall betterment in people's life. This connection gained international political meaning on January 20, 1949, the day President Truman took office. In his Inaugural Address, Truman[3] said:

We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. The old imperialism -- exploitation for foreign profit -- has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing.

As Sachs[4] notes, Truman's speech "created" underdevelopment, by attaching a positive meaning to America's political institutions, which were built on "scientific advances and industrial progress." Development, then, could be achieved through science and material progress. The president also pointed out how politics and economics should work together to achieve development through "fair dealing."

For two at least decades, this rationalist view of development informed aid assistance to Third World countries. Underlying these ideas was the Weberian concept of modern (rational, urban, disciplined) versus traditional (superstition, rural, undisciplined). Weber's "spirit of capitalism" defined a life-style that reconciled discipline, diligence, and moderation, a rational hard-working principle necessary to turn "peasants into laborers."[5] The physical distance from the natural environment, and the very nature of non-agricultural activities, would disperse superstition, an essential characteristic of traditional/rural societies. Thus, development thinking rewarded rational behavior, linked to urban entrepreneurship and capitalist development.

It was only at the beginning of the 1970s that this development model was challenged within the circles of classical economics. Robert S. McNamara, then president of the World Bank, questioned the usefulness of economic definitions of development, and opened an avenue for a more humanist way of thinking that emerged later in the decade when the International Labor Office sponsored the "Basic Needs Approach."

Since then, development theories have changed character: they have begun to consider human dimensions involved in economic development, and questioned the real meaning of "development" to the poor. Welfare economists, such as Amartya Sen, have forcefully introduced new concepts, such as human-centered development. The concept of "empowerment" has also become central in the analysis of developing countries, which many prefer to call Less Developed Countries (LDCs).

At the same time, classical economists[6] have proven, with observations from 108 countries, that there is no support for Kusnet's hypothesis that inequality falls as economic development advances.[7] Therefore, there is a growing perception that the main casual relationship between inequality and economic growth is in fact the opposite: inequality is likely to obstruct the rate and quality of economic growth. It is therefore possible that a country could continue its economic development regardless of the inequalities its economy produces. Growth with inequality is an explosive mixture, one in which the very rich and the very poor live side by side in large urban centers. This fuels many forms of social conflict.

Double-standard "free" trade

Since Truman's inaugural words, the capitalist system has logged an incredible number of achievements. The technological revolution has brought a new standard of wealth, health and comfort to the peoples of First World countries, as well as great accomplishments in LDCs. According to E.A. Brett, these achievements have been possible due to a new institutional framework that supports "competitive markets, political freedoms, universal education, encourages objective scientific research, allows social and political criticism, and provides safety nets to reduce risk and deprivation."[8]

But Brett also observes that these achievements come with conflict. "Reducing scarcity," says Brett, "has created a crisis of sustainability as our propensity to consume exceeds our capacity to conserve diversity and control wastes; removing national barriers has exposed poor and ill-equipped peoples to the threats as well as the benefits of free trade and competitive markets; globalizing communications has reduced cultural diversity and exposed everyone to the temptations of an often materialistic and trivial international media industry."[9] In addition, Brett analyses the demands of competition in the capitalist setting, transforming workers into workaholics, with implications for stress-related illnesses, family breakdown, and the loss of traditional values and community solidarity.

The internationalization of the economy has had a direct impact in one of LDCs most important sectors: the international trade in agricultural and livestock commodities. Lagging behind in terms of industrialization, it is in the commodity market that LDCs may be competitive due to innate comparative advantages such as weather, soil, specific products, and labor costs. It is by commercializing their natural products, either raw or (semi) processed, that LDCs may achieve a balance of trade surplus. However, it is also in the agricultural markets that rich countries' policies have been most contradictory.

For example, global cotton prices have fallen by 50 percent since the mid-1990s. According to an Oxfam report,[10] when adjusted for inflation, prices are now lower than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, as the study points out, despite its rhetoric of economic liberalism, the United States' cotton subsidies give its cotton producers an unnatural place in world market. It is only because of these subsidies that U.S. cotton is globally competitive. "Every acre of cotton farmland," says Watkins, "attracts a subsidy of $230, or around five times the transfer for cereals. In 2001/02 farmers reaped a bumper harvest of subsidies amounting to $3.9 billion -- double the level in 1992."[11] This is larger than the entire USAID budget for Africa's 500 million people, and also larger than the entire GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country like Burkina Faso.

The problem is not liberalization of trade. As McKay et al. have discussed, trade liberalization "can have significant impacts on poverty which may be either positive or negative."[12] Liberalization may have positive impacts in the long run because, "it stimulates broadly based economic growth." Nevertheless, as the authors state, "it can still have significant adverse effects on particular groups...especially in the short term."[13] The problem is "double-standard" liberalism, one which may spread the gospel of democratic free trade, and at the same time put people's livelihoods at risk

This is also the case with the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which, among other roles, protects the income of its member nations' dairy farms "through a system of price support, production quotas, import restrictions, and export subsidies."[14] According to Fowler et al, "milk production is the most important agricultural activity in the majority of EU member states," and is particularly important in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, and the UK, representing around 14 percent of agricultural production, or $38 billion, and involving 600,000 farmers.[15]

Arguing the need to attend to its own internal market, the EU introduced a system of production quotas in 1984, which was set at 120 million tons of milk per year. This is 110 per cent of today's domestic consumption, which means that a large export surplus was built into the quota system. In addition, the dairy sector receives subsidies of around $16 billion -- 40 percent of dairy production. This is, says Fowler, "equivalent to more than $2 per day per cow. Half the world's people live on less than this amount."[16]

The damage is twofold. First, within the EU, subsidies are monopolized by the dairy processing and exporting industries, which have concentrated production, transportation, distribution and trade at the expense of the small farmer. So, "the number of EU dairy farmers has fallen by more than 50 percent over the past decade, while average herd size has increased by 55 percent."[17] The same concentration of production at the hands of large transnational companies effects LDCs. Low-priced dairy products from the EU are shipped to countries like Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Argentina, and India where they undermine local small-scale production.

The cases of U.S. cotton and EU dairy subsidies are just two examples of how economic globalization has benefited a few large companies and producers while damaging the small, mostly in developing countries. There are many other cases in the commodity sector as well as in the financial sector. However, the core discussion here is whether, and how, this state of affairs leads to social conflict.

Rich-poor relations and social conflicts

The development discourse and practice has been based on a rational approach that assumes that economic growth benefits all society, reducing both poverty and inequality. "Good" development, moreover, would be achieved by those LDCs that follow Western political institutional models, echoing Truman's view of "development based on the concepts of democratic fair dealing." However, it is clear that in at least two sectors important to rich countries, cotton and milk, the dealing has been far from fair.

This may have some implications for social conflicts in LDCs. Recent research carried out for the World Bank by Fajnzylber et al., for example, claims to have found substantial evidence indicating a sharp increase in violence during the last decade of ever-increasing globalization.[18] This violence was measured using recorded homicide rates in both the two poorest regions of the world (Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa), and where growth of inequality has been fastest (Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia).

Additionally, econometric research on Brazil carried out for the World Bank has found increasing demand for public safety in both poor and richer neighborhoods.[19] These studies show that both poverty and inequality have risen in the last decade. By 1998, 1.2 billion people still lived on less than a dollar a day, and 2.8 billion on less than two. If so, the "quality" of development has been widely compromised. A development that takes place without "quality," that is, without fairness, is a development undermined by intense and diverse forms of social conflicts.

While figures on crime may illustrate the situation, there are dimensions to current relations between rich and poor countries that both reveal the depth of inequality between the two as well as possibilities of transforming or resolving this disparity and its resulting social conflicts.

First, the dual behavior of rich countries has undermined LDCs' faith in the possibilities of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. This is partially because dispute settlement mechanisms existent at the global level (like those from the World Trade Organization -- WTO), have not been able to counter rich-countries' biased trade policies. Also, the Western framework of democratic institutions that has given support, and meaning, to economic liberalism and therefore to "fair dealing" has itself been called into question. There is therefore a vacuum of meaning in Western democratic institutions that support ADR.

Second, expanding inequality has reinforced the power of local elites in LDCs, who, in many cases, achieved prominence under a colonial power. The situation today could be called a "new colonialism" with two levels. The first level involves the power of the rich over the majority of the poor. The second has to do with the use of that power in relation to globalization: within the unstable political and economic setting of LDCs, inside information is vital for international businessmen. Those who hold economic, political and/or informational power in LDCs are in a position to channel investment and/or development where they want. The overall result is an even larger imbalance of power, which restrains fair negotiation and conflict transformation/resolution practices. To some extent, local-scale rich-poor conflicts mirror the conflicts between LDCs and the rich nations.

Third, the contradiction between rich nations' development aid intentions and their actual trade practices has a negative result among LDC populations. A country's commercial practice, like its culture, can be, rightly or wrongly, identified with its people's beliefs. American trade practices, for example, are the practices that Americans supposedly defend. It could be argued, therefore, that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacks on what the perpetrators' identified as symbols of the main source of LDCs' growing poverty and inequality: American trade policy and its military.

Development economics also have to do with human values. Globalization brings about a change in people's lifestyles and behaviors. Forms of alternative income earning have grown faster than formal and secure employment. Global companies have maintained control over planning, and sent to LDCs all stages of production that involve financial and human risk. Life in LDCs has become more unstable, generating and/or expanding many different types of conflict, from crime to intra-household violence, from environmental destruction to unfair competitive practices in human relations and commerce.

Finally, the logic of globalization tends to homogenize once diverse institutions and the cultural frameworks derived from them. This brings conflict in different forms, as local culture institutions and structures have to adapt or risk dying out. This includes ADR practices themselves: their introduction in LDCs may become a source of conflict if indigenous forms of negotiation, based on local values and cultures, are not taken into account.

This list is not complete. Inequality has more faces and more links to social conflict than this paper has the room to discuss. The issues raised here -- the connections between peoples' welfare and social conflict at both local and global levels -- deserve further analysis.

Current Implications

This article is really interesting to apply 14 years later.  Not only was it written in an earlier political and economic era, but it was written by a Brazilian scholar who viewed inequality from the point of view of developed versus less developed countries. Neither he, nor we, at the time, were focusing on conflicts between the rich and the poor as being something that affected people and politics within developed countries.  We particularly weren't thinking about such conflicts as concerning US politics. But it did then, and it does even more so now, as inequality has been increasing in the U.S. for at least that long.  

Certainly many of Barbanti's observations remain true in this different context and time. Development (translated into increased prosperity, perhaps, in the US) does not reduce inequality; it may actually increase it. Class, status, power, and authority cannot be equalized, without suppressing other values such as personal freedom and individualism.  

As he perceptively argued, trade is not an equalizer, but rather a driver of inequality.  But neither he, nor we, in 2003, considered the argument that trade would be hurting the US economy or its citizens.  His argument was that trade was structured to benefit rich countries at the expense of the poor. In some sense, that is still true.  But many in the U.S. feel that trade is hurting them as well, which is why President Trump promised in his campaign to renegotiate or pull out of NAFTA as well as several other international trade agreements. (It should be noted that his tone has softened considerably since he has taken office.)

So I urge you to read this article with an eye to what applies now, and what doesn't.  And regardless of your answers, what clearly does apply is that conflicts between rich people and poor people, both within and between countries, is very complex and intractable.  

--Heidi Burgess   May 10, 2017.

Graphic credit for social media posts:

Fox Rich and Poor People by Chris Piascik.  Creative Commons: CC-by-NC-ND 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

Back to Essay Top


[1] OECD, Income Distribution in OECD Countries: Evidence from the Luxembourg Income Study (Paris: OECD, 1995).

[2] S. Kuznets, "Economic Growth and Income Inequality," American Economic Review 45, no. 1(1955): 1-28.

[3] Harry S. Truman, "Inaugural Address, January 20, 1949," in Documents on American Foreign Relations (Connecticut: Princeton University Press, 1967).

[4] Wolfgang Sachs, ed., The Development Dictionary -- A Guide to Knowledge as Power (London: Zed Books, 1995).

[5] Weber M., The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, (London: Unwin University Press, 1971).

[6] K. Deininger and L. Squire, "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank EconomicReview 10 (1996): 565-591.

[7] See international inequality database at http://www.worldbank.org/research/growth/absineq.htm.

[8] E. A. Brett, (2000) "Development Theory, Universal Values and Competing Paradigms: Capitalist Trajectories and Social Conflict," LSE Development Studies Institute -- Working Paper Series No. 00-02, (London: London School of Economics, 2000), 20.

[9] Ibid.

[10] K. Watkins, "Cultivating Poverty -- The Impact of U.S. Cotton Subsidies on Africa," Oxfam Briefing Paper 30 (Oxford: Oxfam, 2002).

[11] ibid, 2.

[12] A. McKay and others, "A Review of Empirical Evidence on Trade, Trade Policy and Poverty - A Report to the Department for International Development (DFID), prepared as background document for the Second Development White Paper," mimeo (London, DFID, 2000), 45.

[13] ibid, 45.

[14] P. Fowler and others, "Milking the CAP -- How Europe's dairy regime is devastating livelihoods in the developing world," Oxfam Briefing Paper 34 (Oxford: Oxfam, 2002), 4.

[15] ibid, 4.

[16] ibid, 7.

[17] ibid, 2.

[18] P. Fajnzylber, D. Lederman and N. Loayza, "Determinants of Crime Rates in Latin America and the World," World Bank Latin America and the Caribbean Viewpoints Series Paper (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1998).

[19] M. Pradhan and M. Ravallion, "Demand for Public Safety," Free University and the World Bank, mimeo (Washington, D.C., World Bank, 1998).


Use the following to cite this article:
Barbanti, Jr., Olympio . "Rich / Poor Conflicts." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/rich-poor>.


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