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  • The Locust Effect by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros
  • Chris Burdett
Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, The Locust Effect. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 368, hardcover, $27.95 US.

It is tragic that The Locust Effect has to be written in the first place. The developed world should not need to be woken up to the violence that plagues the lives of the poor. In truth, no society should be guilty of abandoning the impoverished to the clutches of violence. Unfortunately, according to Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, this is our reality. The developed world is neglectful, preoccupied with poverty alleviation through aid and economic growth. Meanwhile, the poor continue to suffer from institutional failures that leave them devoid of remedy. Without justice and basic protections, they continue to be victimized and stripped of their humanity.

The imagery that confronts us at the outset of the book is intentionally shocking. It sensitizes the reader to the struggles of the poor in the face of devastating violence. However, the authors are not trying to convince us that violence against the poor is wrong. Any sensible person would find their stories repulsive and repugnant. Instead, the book is meant to be a window to the reality of the poor, revealing their hidden personal struggles with violence, and thereby criticize the developed world for what it has not done. This is in the hope of inspiring a change in how we think and talk about development, while feeding a sense of urgency and moral outrage.

The authors derive the book's name from the notion of predatory violence as a plague that has "the power to destroy everything," much like the locust cloud that devastated the Midwest United States in 1875 (xi). The poor are uniquely vulnerable to this plague because they are desperate and easy to manipulate thanks to their economic circumstances (61). In addition, the poor are typically unprotected because they live under dysfunctional criminal justice systems. This dynamic, the authors explain, confounds conventional approaches to poverty alleviation and leads to a vicious circle. Violence does not figure into the calculus of most aid agencies and international organizations, so conventional programs that target poverty do not address violence directly. In turn, violence effectively undercuts these programs, rendering them ineffective. Meanwhile, the poor remain vulnerable and the plague continues to feed upon them.

Accordingly, improving the well-being of the poor is not just a function of increased access to money or goods. Haugen and Boutros argue that they require basic protections. The poor will not flourish if they are subject to sexual exploitation, enslavement, extortion, and theft. Experiencing physical violence may compromise the ability to work while incurring medical fees they are ill-equipped to pay. Human capital accumulation will also suffer if children are too afraid to go to school or kept home because they may be attacked. The acutely impoverished are already high-risk in economic terms. Violence and the threat of violence only amplify the risk while intensifying the consequences when this risk is realized.

Haugen and Boutros subsequently converge on the importance of law enforcement to the reduction of poverty. Criminal justice systems in the developing world, however, are woefully deficient. This is due in part to an overhang of the colonial period, when law enforcement afforded protection only to the elite (176–7), though the lack of [End Page 250] investment and resources—primarily trained and equipped personnel—likely better explain why criminal justice systems in the developing world are crippled by institutional failures. Taken together, the picture for the poor is bleak, as they are caught in a sort of violence trap, whereby necessary reforms never achieve escape velocity due to low state capacity, accepting that there is even a will within the establishment to design and implement them.

Clearly, outside assistance is required to address the vulnerability of the poor to violence, yet, according to the authors, the developed world has failed to focus on, prioritize, or fund the protections that the poor really need (199). For that matter, development spending has not included programs that directly address criminal justice. They attribute this in part to a knowledge...


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pp. 250-254
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