Economics 101 & Public Square

Ending the Plague of Violence against the Poor

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There is something missing from our approach to addressing poverty and bringing about freedom, fulfillment, and flourishing for the world.

What’s the missing ingredient?

In their new book The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen, president of International Justice Mission, and Victor Boutros, a federal prosecutor, argue that what’s absent is a meaningful, effective solution to the violence plaguing impoverished people in the developing world.

They write,

The Locust Effect then is the surprising story of how a plague of lawless violence is destroying two dreams the world deeply cherishes: the dream to end global poverty and to secure the most fundamental human rights to the poor.

The key theme of The Locust Effect is that poverty can’t be eliminated if there is violence. Violence in impoverished countries is an explicit result of political corruption and oppression of the masses via broken systems of justice and property rights. Such brokenness favors the powerful rather than the productive.

Favoring the Powerful

In his blog posts on poverty and the church, Dr. Glenn Sunshine begins by discussing God’s main concern regarding poverty. Sunshine writes,

God’s concern is for righteousness and justice…And this is precisely why the rich are so often condemned in Scripture. In a fallen world, the rich and powerful have historically taken advantage of their position to increase their privileges at the expense of the poor and the weak…

Sunshine points out that biblical condemnations of the rich are tied to denying justice to the poor and the taking of property from the powerless.

These practices haven’t ended, as The Locust Effect makes painfully clear. Many of the injustices committed against the poor and the weak in the developing world are carried out by elites with the resources to destroy evidence, find scapegoats, and bribe police, prosecutors and judges for favorable outcomes.

Haugen and Boutros illustrate time and again  how many elites in the developing world are either indifferent to their country’s broken justice systems or are invested in keeping these systems broken.

They explain,

Criminal justice systems in the developing world remain broken substantially because many elites with the power to change it don’t need it, and other predatory elites actually need to keep it broken to secure their exploitative dominance of the poor.

The Locust Effect describes this dominance and exploitation in detail. After a while it causes the judgments rendered by Old Testament prophets to ring in your ears as you read. One such crime, the murder of an eight year old Peruvian girl, is succinctly summarized by David Brooks in this recent New York Times column.

Another crime, known as property grabbing, is also detailed in the book. As I read about Susan, a Ugandan grandmother caring for her grandchildren whose land was illegally seized by a neighbor, I was reminded of Dr. Art Lindsley’s teaching on the biblical view of private property and why rule of law and property rights are so essential to human flourishing.

The Human – and Spiritual – Consequences of Violence

After detailing the copious amounts of violence perpetrated against the poor, Haugen and Boutros calculate the economic cost, concluding,

Very high rates of common criminal violence can have the same devastating impact on economic development as a civil war, economic shocks, or the worst natural disasters.

Along with the measurable costs comes the hidden cost of trauma – what Haugen and Boutros refer to as “the destruction of the person inside.” And that’s when it hits home – the human cost of this endemic violence is also a spiritual cost.

Victims of the violence portrayed The Locust Effect are made in the image of God with dignity and creativity. What Haugen and Boutros are describing is nothing less than the disfigurement of God’s image.

These people are created by God with a purpose and a calling, each with their own unique talents and gifts to offer the world. They are being robbed, not just by poverty but by violence, of the opportunity to pursue their callings and use their gifts.

What is the world losing as a result of people being prohibited by violence and slavery from living out their God-given calling and creativity? That cost seems almost too devastating to count, and makes the mission to stop the violence and fix these broken systems all the more important.

Making a Commitment of Compassion

How can Christians meaningfully address the issue of lawless violence after reading The Locust Effect?

Haugen and Boutros exhort readers to share what they’ve learned about the plague of violence. Beyond sharing, we can also pray.

Haugen and Boutros point out that reforming broken justice systems in the developing world requires many things, including:

  • Projects of hope – instances of reform proving to the world that lasting change is possible.
  • Brave, innovative, passionate, and clear-thinking community leaders and reform-minded elites.
  • Community forces and people with the expertise to help transform these systems.

We can pray that God would provide these needs. Pray that he will call people to this work, and that he will equip those whom he calls with the passion, perseverance, and skills they’ll need to carry out this important task.

Haugen and Boutros close with a call to all Christians:

It’s time to take that decisive turn down the long road we’ve been avoiding – by…making that commitment of compassion to secure what we have always treasured for ourselves: the freedom from violence and fear through which the global poor might finally find their opportunity to flourish and thrive.

If you’re concerned about helping the poor find their opportunity for freedom, fulfillment, and flourishing, The Locust Effect is not to be missed.

Visit to learn more about how you can help stem the tide of violence afflicting the poor in the developing world. 

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