New Study Shows Political Unrest Often Starts With Lack of Upward Immobility

COMMENTARY International Economies

New Study Shows Political Unrest Often Starts With Lack of Upward Immobility

Sep 7, 2017 1 min read

Commentary By

Patrick Tyrrell

Former Research Coordinator

Anthony B. Kim @akfreedom

Research Fellow and Editor of the Index of Economic Freedom

Anti-government activists in Venezuela demonstrate against President Nicolás Maduro. Cao Sanchez/Polaris/Newscom

In countries with higher levels of economic freedom, individuals are free to move up (or down) the socio-economic ladder because of the decisions they make and the work that they do. They have what economists call social mobility.

The freedom to earn income according to one’s talents and to own and control property are a big part of economic freedom and of social mobility. In more economically free societies, the socio-economic status a person has as a child need not determine that status as an adult.

Not surprisingly, new research, published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, affirms a relationship between social immobility and political unrest. Riots, strikes, anti-government demonstrations, political assassinations, guerrilla fighters, and revolutions and civil wars are more likely in countries lacking social mobility.

Christian Houle, the author of the new research, finds that it is most often when individuals from poor families perceive little hope of moving up the socio-economic ladder that political unrest begins.

It is not the level of income, but rather the presence or absence of opportunity for advancement, that is determinant. Confirming the hypothesis from the opposite direction, Houle finds no political risk associated with declining socio-economic status among the wealthy.

The 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, using precise economic data to rank and score countries on their economic freedom, categorizes 22 countries as repressed, meaning that individuals lack economic freedom and have little, if any, opportunity to advance.

A natural conclusion to draw from Houle’s research is that the repressed countries are likely to experience political unrest, because social mobility is not possible when one is constrained from directing one’s own life.

Not surprisingly, countries such as Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela are on the repressed list.

At the heart of ensuring upward economic and social mobility is the task of advancing economic freedom, so that ordinary people in a free society can enjoy the fruits of their labor and of their enterprise.

Economic freedom is critical to generating the broader-based economic growth that brings more opportunities to a greater number of people, so they can work, produce, and save. Ensuring greater economic freedom is directly related to having dynamic upward mobility.

It is not massive redistributions of wealth or government dictates on income levels that produce the most positive societal outcomes. Countries that mandate those frequently experience political turmoil and unrest as a result.

Instead, mobility and progress require fewer government intrusions and restrictions, and greater economic freedom. That is the pathway to prosperity and the pathway to peace.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal