Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics and Prose

Byron Borger


By Byron Borger

January 17, 2014 

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence  Gary A. Haugen with Victor Boutros (Oxford University Press; 2014) $27.95

One would be hard-pressed to suggest a more emotionally gripping, compelling, and persuasive book than this new one by CPJ friend and ally, Gary Haugen, loaded as it is with intimately told stories of injustice, rape, and unprosecuted crime. Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), reports from his work on the frontlines against human trafficking with relentless passion and hope. This may be his most important book yet.

Haugen opens his book with riveting descriptions of his on-the-ground documentation of genocide in Rwanda when he worked for the United Nations Special Commission. His stunning insight -- the theme and purpose of this new work -- began as a realization even then: that all manner of anti-poverty social improvements can be wiped away in an instant with vile lawlessness. If establishing stable orders of human rights, sound laws, and strong, fair enforcement by trained and reliable police and judges is not a priority, then nearly all other anti-poverty and development goals will be for naught.

The book opens with three powerful case studies from Peru, India and Kenya of systematic failures to enforce laws against murder, rape, torture, and human slavery, reminding us that this global crisis is not merely occasional, nor is it abstract. Haugen’s keen storytelling ability shows us in deeply human terms exactly what is at stake. He and his co-author (an investigator and prosecutor for the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit) teach us that this vulnerability to violence -- the locust effect -- is endemic to being poor, insisting it is “catastrophically crushing the global poor.” Haugen writes,

This plague of predatory violence is different from other problems facing the poor; and so, the remedy to the locust effect must also be different. In the lives of the poor, violence has the power to destroy everything -- and is unstopped by our other responses to their poverty. 

Of course other things such as hunger and disease can wipe out everything, but, mostly, the world knows this. There are global responses; we are attempting to address these other great needs by drilling wells, serving refugees, helping with crops, doing micro-financing, and such.

Interestingly, the near constant violation of law among the poor is hardly reported and not well understood. For instance, the esteemed “Millennium Development Goals” of the United Nations (affirmed strategically by many NGOs and world relief agencies of many church bodies) never mention anything about the need for safety against predatory violence or the significance of the rule of law.

But how to establish justice? How to create civil society with reasonable laws, reliable police, and skilled, impartial judges? How can poor villages be resourced to enforce the laws against violence that may already be on the books in their states or provinces?  To accomplish this, Haugen warns us, we will have to first “walk with them into the secret terror that lies beneath the surface of their poverty.” He writes,

We would ask you to decide to persevere through these first chapters as they take you, with some authentic trauma, through that darkness -- because there is real hope on the other side. Later, not only will we discover together a fresh and tangible reminder from history of how diverse developing societies reversed spirals of chaotic violence and established levels of safety and order once considered unimaginable, but we will also explore a number of concrete examples of real hope emerging today, including projects from IJM and other non-governmental organizations…

It is a rare book indeed that can be so riveting and yet so thoroughly researched, so beautifully humane and pragmatically driven, so strong on astute analysis and yet so visionary about hopeful policy reforms and proposals. The stories in The Locust Effect will captivate you, the studies of the rise of coherent criminal justice systems will fascinate you, and the copious footnotes will take you into another world of study. As Moisés Naim, former editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy exclaims, “This extraordinary book offers surprising and valuable insights about the nature and the drivers of the plague of violence that haunts the global poor, as well as smart ideas about how to tackle it. A must-read.”

CPJ has long proclaimed the need for good laws that balance human liberty and social justice, in light of God’s desire for the common good. Haugen takes this worldview and subsequent theories of a multi-dimensional view of the social order, made strong and safe by legitimate governance, and shows us why it all matters so very much.  In some ways, this is the most important book I have read in a long time for the CPJ community and I cannot commend it with any greater enthusiasm. 

-  Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Books. Capital Commentary readers can get a 20% discount on books listed here by ordering through Hearts & Minds.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”