Unemployment and Rebellion

(With N. Carlson)

Does unemployment drive the poor to rebel? Or are employed individuals the more likely rebels? We use a field experiment to revisit the causal link between employment and rebellion. Our evidence comes from Zimbabwe, one of the world’s notorious autocracies, where a randomized development program created exogenous variation in employment. Using survey evidence, collected in 2016 and in 2017—days before the ousting of the country’s dictator, Robert Mugabe—we find that individuals assigned to the employment program are more likely to rebel. Specifically, they are more likely to voice dissent with government authorities and to espouse rebellious traits such as disobedience. We discuss seven potential mechanisms and point to reduced feelings of empowerment as the most likely causal channel. In focus group discussions, the newly employed lament about stark economic pressures and harassment by state authorities, which spurs their willingness to rebel.

Link to paper

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