Waylaid Dialectic

July 21, 2010

Diversity is not destiny…

Filed under: Conflict,Governance — terence @ 9:44 am
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A new, gated, NBER paper by Rachel Glennerster, Edward Miguel, and Alexander Rothenberg returns surprising results:

Scholars have pointed to ethnic and other social divisions as a leading cause of economic underdevelopment, due in part to their adverse effects on public good provision and collective action. We investigate this issue in post-war Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries. To address concerns over endogenous local ethnic composition, and in an advance over most existing work, we use an instrumental variables strategy relying on historical ethnic diversity data from the 1963 Sierra Leone Census. We find that local ethnic diversity is not associated with worse local public goods provision across a variety of outcomes, regression specifications, and diversity measures, and that these “zeros” are precisely estimated. [My emphasis.]

Surprising, but it would be a mistake I think to go as far as Chris Blattman in asking whether the “role of ethnic rivalry is exaggerated” in the existing literature*.What the combined weight of research seems to be indicating is that ethnic diversity within a nation has the potential to lead to under-provision of public goods but that the extent to which this potential is realised is a product of other factors. Diversity isn’t destiny in other words. Specifically, these other factors include:

  1. The building of identity that transcends ethnicity. This can be the product of active efforts (think Nyerere in Tanzania) or historical ‘accident’ and expediency (i.e the findings of Danial Posner’s 2004 paper on Chewas and Tumbukas in Zambia and Malawi.)
  2. The way history, particularly the slave trade, conflict and colonial rule, interacted with ethnic cleavages serving either to exacerbate tension or ameliorate it.
  3. Strong functioning formal institutions which override some of the collective action dilemmas/issues of trust/issues of enforcement. This being a tricky chicken and egg problem, because in many cases the very problems of collective action resulting from ethnic diversity will undermine the establishment of such institutions. Interestingly, in their study Glennerster, Miguel, and Rothenberg find no evidence that the chiefly institutions of Sierra Leone succeed in negating the impact of ethnicity in Sierra Leone – either this is a result of methodological limits, or the answer is elsewhere.

One explanation that Glennerster et. al. offer is language:

While its exact origins are uncertain, the popularity of the Krio language throughout Sierra Leone is clear. Speakers of the leading indigenous ethnic languages have adopted Krio, and Krio has had a major impact on spoken Mende and Temne as well as other languages. The widespread knowledge of Krio in Sierra Leone – despite the fact that the vast majority of adults in the country have no formal schooling – facilitates trade, communication and potentially cooperation across ethnic lines, as well as a common feeling of national identity.

Maybe, although in Solomons and PNG Tok Pisin (Tok Pijin)  plays a similar role, apparently without success in promoting collective provision of public goods. While violence in the PNG highlands is often between speakers of the same (first) languages. So I’m inclined to think that language alone will do little.

*Seminal papers/books, I think, including:

Alesina, Alberto, Reza Baqir, and William Easterly. (1999). “Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114(4), 1243-1284.

Habyarimana, J., M. Humphreys, D. Posner, and J. Weinstein. (2007). “Why Does Ethnic Diversity Undermine Public Goods Provision?” American Political Science Review, 101(4), 709-725.

Habyarimana, J., M. Humphreys, D. Posner, and J. Weinstein. (2009). Coethnicity: Diversity and the Dilemmas of Collective Action. Russell Sage: New York.

Miguel, Edward (2004) “Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania” World Politics 56:3, pp 327-362.

Miguel, Edward and Mary Kay Gugerty (2005) “Ethnic diversity, social sanctions, and public goods in Kenya”. Journal of Public Economics. 89:11-12, pp. 2325-2368.

Posner, Daniel. (2004). “The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi,” American Political Science Review, 98(4), 529-45.

Habyarimana, J., M. Humphreys, D. Posner, and J. Weinstein. (2007). “Why Does Ethnic Diversity

Undermine Public Goods Provision?” American Political Science Review, 101(4), 709-725.

Habyarimana, J., M. Humphreys, D. Posner, and J. Weinstein. (2009). Coethnicity: Diversity and the

Dilemmas of Collective Action. Russell Sage: New York.

Miguel, Edward (2004) “Tribe or Nation? Nation Building and Public Goods in Kenya versus Tanzania”

World Politics 56:3, pp 327-362.

Miguel, Edward and Mary Kay Gugerty (2005) “Ethnic diversity, social sanctions, and public goods in

Kenya”. Journal of Public Economics. 89:11-12, pp. 2325-2368.

Posner, Daniel. (2004). “The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas are

Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi,” American Political Science Review, 98(4), 529-45.

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