Economic Interventions to Manage Popular Unrest

19th February 2020
Author: Alex Walsh, Julian Boys

This review synthesises evidence on the economic interventions or tools supported by international actors, including international financial institutions, that have delivered short-term stability to manage popular unrest between protestors and the state. We examine research on policy responses to unrest related to fuel and food prices, which highlights that reversing price increases may not bring stability because issue-specific protests often become connected to broader mobilisations challenging regime legitimacy. The preferred response of international actors to recent unrest, targeted social assistance, is rarely evaluated in terms of its impact on short-term stability, and anyway requires that state actors possess specific governance capabilities for effective implementation as well as having systems in place before unrest occurs. There is strong evidence, for example from India, that higher levels of social expenditure reduce unrest over the medium-long term, but in the short term the targeting of cash transfer programs may provoke unrest, as in the case of Indonesia. Overall the literature review points towards economic policy responses to unrest that are politically smart, speaking not only to the short term triggers of protests but also the underlying grievances held by disenfranchised and marginalised groups that are more likely to mobilise.

Download Report
Suggested Citation

Boys, J. & Walsh, A. (2020). Economic interventions to manage popular unrest. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.


19th February 2020


Continent: Global

Country: India, Indonesia