This review synthesises evidence on the economic interventions or tools supported by international actors, including international financial institutions, have delivered short-term stability to manage popular unrest between protestors and the state. There have been a large number of studies on the political economy of energy subsidy reform and food prices, which were associated with significant popular unrest in recent years. Neither of these literatures has an analytical focus on the effectiveness of policy responses at bringing stability. Research on energy subsidies centres on optimal design of reform strategies to minimise unrest before it happens (Inchauste and Victor, 2017), while studies of food price shocks tend to focus on the effectiveness of economic policy responses in reducing price volatility or poverty levels. Nevertheless, relevant findings include:
Where policy changes have triggered unrest, reversing those changes (e.g. by reinstating subsidies) may not deliver stability, as issue-specific protests often become connected to broader mobilisations challenging regime legitimacy.
Policy reforms liable to provoke unrest should be carefully designed to compensate powerful groups that stand to lose out as far as possible and should be accompanied by effective communication strategies.
K4D helpdesk reports provide summaries of current research, evidence and lessons learned. This report was commissioned by the UK Department for International Development.
Boys, J. & Walsh, A. (2020). Economic interventions to manage popular unrest. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.
Published 19 February 2020