Do Commodity Price Shocks Cause Armed Conflict? A Meta-Analysis of Natural Experiments

Abstract

Scholars of the resource curse argue that reliance on primary commodities destabilizes governments: price fluctuations generate windfalls or periods of austerity that provoke or intensify civil conflict. Over 350 quantitative studies test this claim, but prominent results point in different directions, making it difficult to discern which results reliably hold across contexts. We conduct a meta-analysis of 46 natural experiments that use difference-in-difference designs to estimate the causal effect of commodity price changes on armed civil conflict. We show that commodity price changes, on average, do not change the likelihood of conflict. However, there are cross-cutting effects by commodity type. In line with theory, we find price increases for labor-intensive agricultural commodities reduce conflict, while increases in the price of oil, a capital-intensive commodity, provoke conflict. We also find that price increases for lootable artisanal minerals provoke conflict. Our meta-analysis consolidates existing evidence, but also highlights opportunities for future research.

Publication
Revision Requested, American Political Science Review
Darin Christensen
Darin Christensen
Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science

Political economist interested in conflict and development.