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.
November 1996 Paper Number CEPDP0294
This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.