Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Insecurity and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Insecurity and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

Article excerpt

In the last decades, the concept of security has come to acquire new dimensions. A new vision of security relating to the nation-state now incorporates dimensions of security centered on individuals, a concept that has come to be known as human security. Chronic threats like hunger, disease, and repression, or protection from sudden and painful changes in daily life, be it in the workplace or in the community, today form part of this new vision of security.

Since the term was introduced in the 1994 Human Development Report, focusing on freedom from fear and freedom from want, its reach has expanded. A 2012 United Nations Resolution described human security as "the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair."1 While important efforts have been undertaken by the international community to identify and define the main components of human security, given its multidimensional nature, no single accepted operational definition exits. Security encompasses economic, social, political, and safety components allowing for a life free from fear and risk.2

Over the last decade Latin America and the Caribbean have made considerable progress in the economic and social development dimensions of human security, with important gains in poverty and inequality reduction. However, vulnerability to crime and violence increased, to such an extent that opinion polls identify them among the region's top problems. Crime and violence are increasingly recognized as serious obstacles to social and human capital formation and sustainable economic development.3 Insecurity has become a shared challenge that hampers development in Latin America and the Caribbean.4

This article looks at the economic dimensions of security - with a focus on the economic impact of crime and violence - and how it contributes to and feeds from inequality in the region. It argues that building more equitable and inclusive societies is key to facing the threat that violence and crime increasingly pose to wellbeing. After an overview of the economics of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, the article assesses the region's recent economic and social performance and links to crime and violence, as well as the costs of rising insecurity. It suggests that progress in addressing crime demands more sustainable growth with greater equality and social inclusion. It demands, as well, investing in youth, so as to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the demographic dividend.5 Effective government policies, mobilization of resources, strengthening of institutions, and collaboration and input from civil society and the private sector will be necessary.

An Economic Perspective on Security

From an economic perspective, crime and insecurity can be a development challenge. By diverting public and private resources away from promoting economic activity and wellbeing, crime and insecurity undermine economic and social prosperity. Physical and human capital accumulation can be adversely affected, jeopardizing long-term development as a result.6 There is a vast economics literature on crime and violence that goes back many decades, following on Gary Becker's 1968 seminal work.7 This literature suggests a strong correlation between insecurity and income inequality, unemployment, institutional weakness, and lack of progress in social development. Eleanor Sohnen has noted a global correlation between relatively high rates of homicidal violence and failure to achieve progress on certain Millennium Development Goals, namely eradicating extreme poverty, youth unemployment, and hunger, improving primary school enrollment ratios, and reducing infant mortality and adolescent birth rates. During the 1990-2008 period, countries with lower average homicide rates had an 11 percent higher chance of improving their standing in the United Nations' Human Development Index - a composite measure of social and economic development - than those with higher homicide rates. …

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