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Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Lack of Civil Liberties, Not Poverty, Breeds Terrorism"

These results have been noted here before, but they're worth highlighting again. Terrorism is not driven by economic conditions:

Princeton Economist Says Lack of Civil Liberties, Not Poverty, Breeds Terrorism, by David Wessel, Capital, WSJ (Free): When Princeton economist Alan Krueger saw reports that seven of eight people arrested in the unsuccessful car bombings in Britain were doctors, he wasn't shocked. He wasn't even surprised.

"Each time we have one of these attacks and the backgrounds of the attackers are revealed, this should put to rest the myth that terrorists are attacking us because they are desperately poor," he says. "But this misconception doesn't die."

Less than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush said, "We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror." ... Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn has argued, "The war on terrorism will not be won until we have come to grips with the problem of poverty...."

The analysis is plausible. It's appealing because it bolsters the case for the worthy goals of fighting poverty and ignorance. But systematic study -- to the extent possible -- suggests it's wrong.

"As a group, terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group in the societies from which they originate," Mr. Krueger said at the London School of Economics last year...

There is no evidence of a general tendency for impoverished or uneducated people to be more likely to support terrorism or join terrorist organizations than their higher-income, better-educated countrymen," he said. The Sept. 11 attackers were relatively well-off men from a rich country, Saudi Arabia. ...

Data on which all this relies are hardly perfect: Terrorists don't fill out elaborate questionnaires. Better-off, better-educated individuals could be motivated if not by their own circumstances, then by the conditions of their impoverished countrymen. Interviews of terrorists in Pakistan by Harvard terrorism scholar Jessica Stern reveal recruiters there found the poorest neighborhoods to be the most fertile ground, particularly among those who feel Muslims are humiliated by the West. She says Mr. Krueger and like-minded scholars don't yet have enough evidence to prove anything. "We are only just beginning to do really serious large studies in terrorism," she says.

But the conventional wisdom that poverty breeds terrorism is backed by surprisingly little hard evidence. ... The 9/11 Commission stated flatly: Terrorism is not caused by poverty.

So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. "When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed," he says, "malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics." ...

    Posted by on Thursday, July 5, 2007 at 03:06 AM in Economics, Politics, Terrorism | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (40)


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    » Feeding terrorism? from Graeme's

    This evidence appears to show that the main cause of terrorism is the lack of civil liberties (as discussed in this blog post). So where does that leave governments whose war on terror involves getting rid of civil liberties? It is not re... [Read More]

    Tracked on Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 06:30 AM


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