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The Causes of Racial Disturbances

At the broad level of cross-country correlates, there is some evidence that negative shocks to per capita income.But in specific cases, economic shocks can have complex effects, as Dube and Vargas ð2013Þ observe in their study of resource shocks and violence in Colombia.5 Furthermore, there is little evidence for the argument that the relative deprivation of a group ðor economic inequality more generallyÞ is conflictual; see, for instance,This ambiguity shows up not just at the cross-country level but also in specific studies such as those by Spilerman ð1970, 1971, 1976Þ, Wilson ð1978Þ, and Olzak and Shanahan ð1996Þ on race riots in the urban United States. One reason for the lack of a connection is that cross-group inequality is correlated with increased segregation of the groups. They interact little, and so the frictions are low: as in a caste-based or feudal society, each group knows its place. But as the fortunes of the deprived group improve, the previously advantaged groups may feel threatened and react with violence. In the words of “when groups come to occupy the same niche, the historically more powerful or advantaged group attempts to exclude competitors. When the less powerful resist these attempts, racial conflict and violence ensues.”6 This viewpoint has two implications: first, that economic progress can be conflictual and, second, that changes in inequality have ambiguous effects on violence. By linking group incomes to violence and showing that the incomes of antagonistic groups can have opposing effects on the conflict between them, our paper builds on and contributes to this point of view.