The Effect of Economic Condition on Civil Unrest: New Insights from Agent Based Modeling

Author: 
Publication Date: 
May 2013
Description: 
UMD Dissertation
Project: 
Civil Violence Project
Publication File: 
Document Type: 
Dissertations
Harry authored a CISSM policy brief, "Deteriorating Economic Condition and the Emergence of Social Instability," that draws from this dissertation's finding. On the morning of December 17th 2010, a Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi took a can of gasoline and lit himself on fire in front of the local governor’s office in protest of having his cart and its inventory confiscated by a corrupt police force. What began as act of individual protest against the Tunisian state evolved into mass demonstrations across the Arab world significantly altering the political landscape. While researchers have explored links between economic determinants and the outbreak of civil conflict, use of large datasets and econometric analysis alone has been unable to draw the indelible connections scholars had hoped. The use of country wide data are seen as insufficient in capturing localized dynamics of civil violence calling into question the applicability of current conceptual frameworks. Case study and data collection at sufficient granularity are now necessary steps in the further exploration of this topic. To help develop our understanding of how localized conflict emerges this dissertation steps away from the use of traditional case study and econometric analysis to develop two agent based models of protest that allow exploration to changes in the average level of utility, its distribution, and growth on the onset, size, and frequency of protest. This dissertation finds that the level and distribution of utility affects the onset, evolution, magnitude, and frequency of civil instability. Further, empirical methods explored to date fail to account for significant micro dynamic behavior that influences the emergence of mass protest. This dissertation extends earlier modeling work on civil protest and discusses findings on how utility levels in a system of agents affect the magnitude, frequency, onset, and structure of civil conflict. The most surprising finding is the bifurcated relationship between utility distribution and the emergence of civil conflict. This specific result provides a plausible explanation for why empirical analysis has thus far been unable to correlate income inequality and civil violence.