Tuesday, 3 June 2014

If Muslims get richer, Hindus try to kill them.

Implications of an Economic Theory of Conflict: Hindu-Muslim Violence in India

Anirban MitraDebraj Ray

NBER Working Paper No. 19090
Issued in May 2013
NBER Program(s):   DEV   POL 
We model inter-group conflict driven by economic changes within groups. We show that if group incomes are low, increasing group incomes raises violence against that group, and lowers violence generated by it. We then apply the model to data on Hindu-Muslim violence in India. Our main result is that an increase in per-capita Muslim expenditures generates a large and significant increase in future religious conflict. An increase in Hindu expenditures has negative or no effect. These findings speak to the origins of Hindu-Muslim violence in post-Independence India
The full paper is here.
On the assumptions of the authors,  assuming the Police are non-functional or that they side with the majority, then -if a riot breaks out- the majority will
1) kill more than the minority unless the minority has rational expectations and quickly runs away
2) loot more than the minority and thus, potentially, come out ahead.
Thus only Minorities which are stupid or which have very poor Leadership or which have a suicide wish will ever participate in riots. Instead, they will be prepared to pay a Protection Tax till such time as they can safely emigrate. Similarly, Majorities with rational expectations will launch periodic predatory assaults on the Minority if for no other purpose than to keep their numbers down.
Prima facie, this model predicts that minority share of population wlll fall as indeed has happened in Bangladesh and Pakistan and now Iraq and Egpt and so on.

Examining the empirical evidence, the authors find something strange.
In India, the majority community doesn't slaughter and dispossess the minority (unless the majority happens to be Christian, as in Nagaland, or Muslim, as in Kashmir). Instead, if its Income goes up, it gets less aggressive (provided it is Hindu). Not so the Minority (unless it is Hindu- in which case it runs away). If its Income goes up it is more prone to go on the rampage. But this means it will lose more and so its Income will fall back down after a riot. Still, once Income starts rising again, they just go on the rampage  again and the pattern continues till either they become the majority (assume poorer people have bigger families) or they become so de-skilled that their Incomes can never rise.

Obviously, the Identity categories 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' have no natural or inevitable connection with 'majority' and 'minority' and thus can't be used as explanans in a scenario like this, yet this is what the authors do. Their conclusion is that when Muslims get richer, Hindus attack them. This is entirely inconsistent with their assumptions and findings. What is warranted is the conclusion that you don't have to be a Bengali Hindu to be a shite Economist, but it sure seems to help.


  1. I looked at the paper. It excludes Kashmir- where most of the Hindus had to flee the Muslim majority. Further, rising Muslim income (for example from Gulf, or Transport industry as in Godhra) could lead to higher investment in conflict whereas higher Hindu income may translate to lower availability for mutual defense and flight from Muslim dominated areas.
    Perhaps, the Hindu authors- whose ancestors may well have had to flee from present day Bangladesh- have deliberately made a weak argument so as to prompt the reader (presumably a Western 'Liberal' who secretly harbors Islamophobic sentiments) to draw the conclusion that Muslims get aggressive as they get richer while Hindus become more peaceful and law abiding as their standard of living rises.

    1. Good point. I guess that's why Pakistan still sees anti Hindu violence but, as India grows richer the Hindus get mellow.
      I suppose rising expenditure by Saudi Arabians resulted in 9/11 even though America was far more powerful.

  2. If you had read the paper, you would know that the authors find that the BJP vote-share had no effect on provoking violence. They do mention economic conflict- e.g. Hindu traders wanting Muslim traders put out of business as well as 'land sharks' seeking to gain control of rent-controlled chawls- but this diminishes as Hindus get richer though the opposite is the case for Muslims.
    All in all, this paper predicts less violence under a Modi Govt provided Muslims don't get richer. If they do get richer, however, they will increasingly be the aggressors even though they lose more.