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CEP discussion paper

Political and Gender Oppression as a Cause of Poverty


Political regimes and social rules have often served to suppress human rights and freedoms. In this paper I analyze the determinants of oppression when self-interested leaders seek to gain from oppressing a less powerful group. In my framework an oppressive regime is a rational equilibrium outcome and is characterized by distortionary macroeconomic policies, abuse of human rights, and a high incidence of poverty. Oppression ends if the benefits to oppressors decline, or if technological change raises the fighting power of oppressed groups. I use indicators of human rights abuses in 101 countries to examine the empirical determinants of gender, political and ethnic oppression along with the impact of oppression of poverty. I find that oppression declines with income, and that it is highly correlated with religious rules. I also find that oppression is positively correlated with basic poverty indicators. My point estimates imply that shifting from an oppressive equilibrium to a liberal equilibrium could reduce infant mortality rates by up to 87% in low income countries. One policy implication is that a system of international incentives and sanctions targeted to end oppression could permanently reduce poverty.


Peter Boone

November 1996     Paper Number CEPDP0294

This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.