When Nations Snuff out Their Own Citizens

Article excerpt

Speaking of the Red Terror, Josef Stalin said, "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." The moral repugnancy of governments killing their own people for political reasons is the overarching tragedy of human history. Dictators, emperors and kings have killed to stay in power, to weaken or destroy opposing factions, because of racial or ethnic hatred, to enforce political or religious ideologies or to enrich themselves and their closest followers. Indeed, over the centuries far more people have died at the hands of their own governments than in wars.

Much of this killing has taken the form of mass murder of groups -- what economist Gerald Scully, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, calls "democide."

While the economic consequences of democide are insignificant compared with its moral reprehensibility, the point is still worth making: Democide is a tragedy for the living as well as the dead. In a new study, Scully presents evidence that democide is destructive to a nation's economy. On average, he calculates, murdering its own people makes a country about 20 percent poorer. The killed, of course, can't work and pay taxes or tribute to the government. Further, when a dominant group uses the government to improve its economic position beyond what it could gain in the marketplace -- called "rent seeking" by economists -- many of the restrictions and requirements the government imposes distort the market and lower overall income, even as the dominant group may be enriching itself.

Scully points to the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos as an example of how a democidal regime can affect a nation. The Philippines were averaging 2.9 percent annual economic growth until Marcos declared martial law and suspended the constitution in 1972 so he could stay in office. From that point, his regime practiced violence to keep its power and the Philippines experienced a negative growth rate. When Corazon Aquino became president after Marcos' death, the state-sponsored killing stopped -- and the economy began growing again, averaging 3.6 percent annually from 1987 to 1990.

Nor was this an isolated case. Scully studied per-capita output and how it grew -- or didn't grow -- in 23 less-developed nations that didn't practice democide and compared those nations with 33 other less-developed, democidal nations. …