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Can We Predict Political Uprisings?

Image courtesy of MudflapDC/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 19 June 2017.

Forecasting political unrest is a challenging task, especially in this era of post-truth and opinion polls.

Several studies by economists such as Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler in 1998 and 2002 describe how economic indicators, such as slow income growth and natural resource dependence, can explain political upheaval. More specifically, low per capita income has been a significant trigger of civil unrest.

Economists James Fearon and David Laitin have also followed this hypothesis, showing how specific factors played an important role in Chad, Sudan, and Somalia in outbreaks of political violence.

According to the International Country Risk Guide index, the internal political stability of Sudan fell by 15% in 2014, compared to the previous year. This decrease was after a reduction of its per capita income growth rate from 12% in 2012 to 2% in 2013.

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Is Globalisation Really Fuelling Populism?

One world / courtesy of Kai Schreiber/flickr

This article was originally published by the the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) on 11 May 2016.

On both sides of the Atlantic, populism on the left and the right is on the rise. Its most visible standard-bearer in the United States is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee. In Europe, there are many strands – from Spain’s leftist Podemos party to France’s right-wing National Front – but all share the same opposition to centrist parties and to the establishment in general. What accounts for voters’ growing revolt against the status quo?

The prevailing explanation is that rising populism amounts to a rebellion by ‘globalisation’s losers’. By pursuing successive rounds of trade liberalisation, the logic goes, leaders in the US and Europe ‘hollowed out’ the domestic manufacturing base, reducing the availability of high-paying jobs for low-skilled workers, who now have to choose between protracted unemployment and menial service-sector jobs. Fed up, those workers are now supposedly rejecting establishment parties for having spearheaded this ‘elite project’.

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Indexing Happiness

scatter plot GDP per capita / North Korean Happiness Index

Rich countries poor souls, according to the North Korean Happiness Index. Data source: shanghaiist/wordbank

It’s official: China is the happiest country on earth. North Korea comes a close second, while the American Empire (the U.S.) ranks at the bottom of the list. That’s according to a Happiness Index released by – surprise! – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. For anyone outside Kim Jong-il’s monopoly of information, the index is a surreal and somewhat comical attempt to legitimize the government’s performance. The idea of measuring happiness in general, however, is not quite as far-fetched.

Indices like GDP per capita continue to dominate national debates about social and economic progress, but critics of this practice are no longer ridiculed. Traditional gauges of prosperity are seriously flawed; they do not, for example, take into account environmental degradation or the exhaustion of natural resources. And that’s only part of the problem. The more important argument is that measures such as the GDP disregard most factors that make life worth living.

The Economist has recently launched a debate about whether or not new measures of economic and social progress are needed for 21st century economies. Proposing the motion, Emeritus Professor of Economics Richard Layard argued that quality of life, as people actually experience it, must be a key measure of progress and a central objective for any government. An overwhelming majority of the readers agreed. » More