The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
Reconstruction and Reconciliation: What’s
Economics Got to Do With It?
by Christopher J. Coyne
econstruction and reconciliation are perhaps the most pressing issues of our
time. The ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, as well as the many problems
generated by weak, failed, and conflict-torn states in other parts of the world, are
examples of situations where these topics are relevant. Reconstruction entails
rebuilding, and in some cases constructing, both formal and informal institutions in
weak, failed, and postwar countries. More specifically, the reconstruction process
involves the restoration of physical infrastructure and facilities, minimal social
services, and structural reform in the political, economic, social, and security sectors.
The end goal is the establishment of liberal democratic institutions, or at least the
foundations of such institutions. A liberal democracy refers to political institutions
which recognizes, respects, and enforces individual and civil rights, the rule of law,
and private property.
Typically the reconstruction process involves some array of
indigenous citizens and elites as well as exogenous actors, whether they are military
occupiers or international policymakers.
Reconciliation can be seen as a key aspect of the broader reconstruction process
and involves individuals coming to terms with past human and civil rights abuses,
oppression, and violations of the rule of law and private property. Any shift from an
illiberal to a liberal regime requires some form of reconciliation between enemies.
The past violations of human, civil, and property rights by certain individuals must
be addressed, but when doing so, a balance of retribution and reconciliation should
be established. In the absence of such an ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation, the
transition toward a liberal order will be incomplete.
As the historical record indicates, policies that aim to advance reconstruction
and reconciliation efforts are among the most difficult to implement.
For the most
part, research regarding the issues of reconstruction and reconciliation have been
limited to the disciplines of history, political science, and public policy. My primary
aim in this paper is to explore the contribution that the economic way of thinking
can make to this existing literature. Specifically, I examine the economic concepts of
incentives, constraints, opportunity cost, institutional path dependency, and gains
Christopher J. Coyne
is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Hampden-Sydney College in
Virginia. This paper was written while the author was a summer post-doctoral fellow at the
Mercatus Center, Arlington, VA.