NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Price of Genocide and Democide

October 14, 1997

A nation that kills its workers can't tax them. That may be why authoritarian states in recent years have cut down on the practice of murdering their own citizens, says National Center for Policy Analysis senior fellow Gerald W. Scully.

Except for the Twentieth Century, governments have tended to kill a smaller and smaller share of their citizenry over the centuries.

  • During the 14th and 15th Centuries, Mongol rulers in Asia killed some 30 million people.
  • In this century, Communist states have killed more than 100 million of their own people, and all of them have practiced what Scully calls "democide" -- killing members of the general population.
  • Communist countries with the most heinous death tolls are: Red China, with 35.6 million dead between 1949 and 1987; the Soviet Union, with 54.7 million exterminated between 1917 and 1987; and one-third of the entire population of Cambodia -- or about 3 million -- killed by the Khmer Rouge during 1975-79.
  • The Nazis killed more than 16 million people in Germany between 1933 and 1945.

Scully suggests that where per-capita income is low, life is viewed by authorities as cheap; where it is higher, states may be constrained by the costs of killing their own populations.

He has found that each 1 percent rise in gross domestic product reduces state killings by 1.4 percent. And as more nations have liberalized their economies and grown wealthier, the pace of killings has slowed.

Scully claims that the average annual real GDP in the most murderous nations is 20 percent below what it might have been.


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