Why Ending Poverty Requires Ending Everyday Violence Against the Poor

January 29, 2014

When middle class households opt out en masse of public schools —  as in India and Brazil and the inner cities of USA— it’s bad news for the children of the poor majority.  That’s now a familiar and important argument for radical new thinking about school systems.

But it’s even worse for poor people when the middle class and rich give up on basic public security, protecting themselves instead with private guards, gated communities and bullet-proof cars. Result: poor people are left exposed to everyday criminal violence that is “as much a part of what it means to be poor as being hungry, sick, homeless or jobless” — says Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission in this Washington Post op ed.

It’s rare for me to pump a non-CGD book on our CGD website.  But Haugen makes a compelling argument that the development community has badly neglected the problem of everyday violence in the lives of the poor. His new book, Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence brings gut-wrenching stories to that argument. Here’s wording from the endorsement I sent his publisher: 

I was stunned by the story of 11 year old Yuri and cannot put aside the unfathomable pain her mother Lucila must still endure today—not only because Yuri is lost to her but because the rapist and murderer is a neighbor who walks free and clear in her town in Peru. You may “know” that the world’s poor suffer common everyday violence--robbery, extortion, rape, murder, torture—a stream of humiliating assaults on their dignity. You may “know” that this implies lost productivity and ultimately lost growth for low-income economies. Economists “know” that physical security is the most basic public good that government provides. . .

Haugen asks:  What good are health and schooling and other services the development community has endorsed as MDGs without protection for the poor from everyday violence?  He convinced me that ending violence and the impunity that begets and sustains should be included in the post-2015 development agenda. Every country could sign on. Read Haugen and see what you think.  


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.