Boom Terrorists Are Rich and Smart: A Long Post on a Longer Research Paper
posted by November 15 at 12:18 PMon
It’s one of those ideological litmus-test questions that’s unwise to ask at the Thanksgiving dinner table: Is terrorism caused by problems than can be socially engineered away, like ignorance and poverty?
Or is terrorism caused by, you know, evil?
Fascinating new research by Alan Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton, says neither.
So all that popular guff about fighting terrorism with economic development? Not so much.
Here’s some of Kreuger’s evidence.
From a survey of 1,300 Palestinian adults, regarding armed attacks against Israel:
while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent.
(To distill from his slightly tortured economist’s prose: Opposition to armed attacks is higher among illiterates; support for armed attacks is lower—although 74 percent hardly seems low—among the unemployed.)
He also finds that suicide bombers come from wealthier families and that almost 60 percent of them have “more than a high school education, compared with less than 15 percent of the general population.”
The same kinds of wealth-and-education statistics hold for Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents—most of them wealthier and better-educated than their non-terrorist peers.
These aren’t just the strategists and the figureheads like Bin Laden—these are the foot soldiers, the cannon fodder.
So what gives? Why are the wealthier and more educated—the people with more to lose, from an economist’s point of view—becoming suicide bombers and terrorists?
On the supply side: Terrorism, Krueger says, is less like crime (more popular among the poor) and more like voting or protesting (more popular among the rich).
On the demand side:
… terrorist organizations want to succeed. The costs of failure are high. So the organizations select more able participants—which again points to those who are better educated and better off economically.
What isn’t surprising: Terrorists aren’t starved for money, they’re starved for civil liberties.
Using data from the Freedom House Index, for example, I found that countries with low levels of civil liberties are more likely to be the countries of origin of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks. In addition, terrorists tend to attack nearby targets. Even international terrorism tends to be motivated by local concerns.
So how to fight terrorism, Professor Krueger?
That suggests to me that it makes sense to focus on the demand side, such as by degrading terrorist organizations’ financial and technical capabilities, and by vigorously protecting and promoting peaceful means of protest, so there is less demand for pursuing grievances through violent means.
The answer still isn’t “invade Iran.”