By Shiza Ahmed*
Poverty has become an unescapable reality for many people around the world. Time and again efforts have been made to decipher the multidimensionality of the issue, but with little success. The mainstream discourse continues to link the persistence of this malady to three factors: illiteracy, health, and income inequality. However, a thorough analysis of the contemporary developments indicate that violence is one of the most catastrophic yet, ignored threats that facilitate breading grounds for poverty. This is the focal argument presented by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros in their book “The Locust Effect”.
The name of the book insinuates that just like the calamitous lotus plague which devours anything that comes in its path, violence if left unchecked will soon take a similar form. Crumbling public justice systems, war, genocide, lack or personal security, arbitrary detention, forced labor, sex crimes, abusive police and land seizures are just a few examples of the ferociously spreading wave of violence. The author highlights the chronic vulnerability of the poor to violence and gives three reason for it: 1) The violent act has a privileged perpetrator behind it who can hide his crime 2) Poor people abstain from discussing it due to its traumatic nature 3) They have accepted it as a normal part of their life. Pushing the reader away from the conventional concepts on the causes of poverty, the authors shed light on a world that they believe has been invisible to international organizations and policymakers.
Throughout the book vivid illustrations including personal accounts and experiences of multiple people have been used to address the inextricable link between poverty and violence. Referring to an Indian girl who had been raped on her way back from school, long detention of slave laborers, or an old woman whose land was seized, the authors make a compelling argument stating that no matter how many schools or hospitals we build, the reality will remain the same-these people are most vulnerable to violence and they will always live in fear of it. Absence of functioning criminal justice systems, bribery, corruption, and laws that protect the rich are all reasons why the poor continue to remain poor. Using reports and statistics from multiple resources the authors substantiate their stance and declare that security issues and violence are of more importance to the poor than income or housing issues.
The book has robust arguments to prove that our efforts to curtail poverty have been lopsided. It allows the reader to change their frame of reference and leads them to question the power imbalances and structural failures in our national and international systems. The incisive analysis made by Gary throughout the book serves as a wakeup call for all those who claim to be advocates of human rights. It succeeds in puncturing the mainstream correlation between economics and poverty and convincingly asserts that violence is the missing link in all our development interventions.
This thought-provoking piece of literature scrutinizes the usefulness of foreign aid in fighting poverty. Its gripping outlook on our short-range solutions for fighting poverty oblige the reader to dig deeper into our contemporary effort. It sets off a chain reaction where readers indulge in and crave for more information on the topic and after hours of going through various sources, the booklovers come to conclusion that the authors are indeed correct. A stout correlation between poverty and violence including cases of day-to-day barbarity does exist. It brings to attention the fact that this concurrence is not incidental or fallacious. Gary succeeds in convincing his audience that exhaustive efforts must be made to analyze the connection between the two; only then will we be able to eradicate worldwide penury.
A sizeable amount of world literature is focused on digging out systemic loopholes. Although these distressing observations are imperative, they only address one part of the problem. What is missing from these pieces are practicable solutions. This is exactly what sets The Locust Effect apart from other publications. The solution presented by the authors is pragmatic and simple: effective law enforcement. Using case studies from various countries including Brazil and Georgia, Victor demonstrates how through a bottom-up approach these countries have worked on curbing violence, which in turn has helped tame poverty. The book highlights two steps that can bring us closer to our objective: 1) law enforcement agencies must gain trust from the bottom i.e., the citizens 2) leadership and local ownership is imperative for successful reforms. The authors also use the example of Philippines who through their partnership with IJM were able to transform the local law enforcement on sex trafficking a result of which, the rescue rate grew by 1000%.
While the book does provide substantial evidence to help us map out a link between poverty and violence, the arguments is some instances lack conceptual clarity. Building a one-directional cause effect relationship between the two is risky. Although they do acknowledge that factors like hunger and disease are consequential, the solutions mentioned in the book only prioritize violence. This ambitious approach has a shaky foundation as while the readers are convinced that violence is an essential factor that could help us win the war against poverty, it is for sure not the only one. For much of the book the authors overlook the multidimensionality of the issue. Hence, to develop some conceptual clarity on the topic, readers best read this piece as compliment to the book “Why Nations Fail”. Moreover, the role of justice systems and its relationship with substantial development seems overstated. An anti-thesis to this is presented by entrepreneurs and economist who argue that economic development brings prosperity which in turn reduces violence.
Nonetheless, the authors have made a notable effort in reframing the mainstream discourse on poverty. Its biggest strength lies in its demonstration of violence as a plague that has been undermining all our efforts to fight poverty. It gives a refreshed outlook on the topic with a new set of ideas and proposals which appeal to a broad audience. The vivid imagery used in the book keeps the reader gripped and its strategic use of statistics from credible resources impel the academicians and policymakers to reevaluate their stance on global poverty. Overall, The Locust Effect is a much needed reminder of the fact that in order establish a world of shared prosperity, we must tackle violence-a shared threat to humanity.