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Post-2015 Consensus: Conflict and Violence Perspective, Soares

Summary

Because of the difficulties involved, I sympathise with Fearon and Hoeffler’s general approach of trying to highlight certain relevant costs rather than coming up with specific cost-benefit ratios. However, I think the discussion would benefit from a slightly different perspective, taking a further step back to define specific issues of paramount importance together with promising interventions, since any attempt to paint a broad picture inevitably becomes somewhat fragmented and superficial. Considering which issues could deliver potentially the highest benefits and be tackled by fairly standardised interventions, I believe the focus should be on common crime and violence.

The authors correctly stress that deaths from common crime in societies subject to chronically high levels of violence far outweigh mortality from civil and military conflicts. One point overlooked is the heterogeneous nature of civil conflicts. In particular, since civil conflicts have political origins, it is difficult to conceive of standardized interventions which would be acceptable to all parties. Addressing common crime, on the other hand, would benefit virtually the entire population of affected countries.

What distinguishes societies subject to chronically high violence is an astonishingly high fatality rate for young men. High levels of common crime seem to be closely connected to socioeconomic conditions and state policy, whereas violence against women and children usually has more of a cultural nature, though this simplistic view obviously misses some heterogeneity in both phenomena.

We can think of an ‘equilibrium level’ of crime set by balancing the potential supply of criminals with repressive state policies. Most public security policies focus on the latter side of the equation, but interventions that improve socioeconomic conditions and job prospects can also help. Overall costs of crime based on expenditures on public justice and health systems can be calculated but, from a policy perspective, we should be comparing marginal benefits to marginal costs, for example the social value of spending an extra dollar to reduce the likelihood of homicides. To assess this, we can use either marginal willingness to pay or contingent valuation, but these methods can still miss some of the most harmful dimensions of the cost of crime, such as the reduction in the quantity and quality of investment in education. There is also a problem with trying to scale numbers from country to country for comparison, which may not be valid.

Against this background, target setting seems a hazardous business. For example, Fearon and Hoeffler’s suggestion of a 20% reduction in various dimensions of violence seems rather arbitrary, and I would advocate a more focused and conservative approach. Focusing on those countries whose homicide rate is higher than the WHO criterion of 10 per 100,000 for an epidemic seems like a natural starting point. Some local governments in developing countries have substantially reduced levels of fatal violence through a combination of policy efforts, with an unmistakable improvement in citizen security. Bogota and Sao Paulo are notable examples.In summary, my take on this issue is probably much less ambitious than the Copenhagen Consensus would want. The priority, right now, should be the production of high quality comparable data and the creation of knowledge related to program effectiveness in the area of public security in developing countries.

In summary, my take on this issue is probably much less ambitious than the Copenhagen Consensus would want. The priority, right now, should be the production of high quality comparable data and the creation of knowledge related to program effectiveness in the area of public security in developing countries.