If you only read one thing this week…

“US policy, not poverty, ‘is cause of terrorism'” say leading academics by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
March 1, 2007, 1:11 am
Filed under: conflict, Development theory, If you have 30 mins, Megatrend

Alan B. Krueger (Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University) and Jitka Maleckova (associate professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Charles University in Prague) wrote a fascinating paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research in July 2002 entitled “Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?”

The idea that poverty and desperation fuel terrorism is a seductive one, that many influential people have advanced, for example;

If the mind is more open, that will automatically bring less fear. Education can narrow the gap between appearances and reality. The reality is that we and ‘they’ are not different.” (Dalai Lama);

At the bottom of terrorism is poverty. That is the main cause. Then there are other religious, national, and ideological differences.” (Kim Dae Jung);

External circumstances such as poverty and a sense of grievance and injustice can fill people with resentment and despair to the point of desperation.” (Desmond Tutu); and

What is it that seduces some young people to terrorism? It simplifies things. The fanatic has no questions, only answers. Education is the way to eliminate terrorism.” (Elie Wiesel).

These authors make the case that this simply is not true, that education and poverty are not the cause of terrorism, indeed, the more educated and prosperous are actually more likely to support certain types of violence. Their argument is that it is, in fact, US Foreign Policy, not poverty and ignorance, that is fueling terrorism.

The paper investigates whether there is a causal link between poverty or low education and participation in politically motivated violence and terrorist activities. After presenting a discussion of theoretical issues, the authors review evidence on the determinants of hate crimes. They find that the occurrence of hate crimes is largely independent of economic conditions. Next they analyze data on support for attacks against Israeli targets from public opinion polls conducted in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These polls indicate that support for violent attacks does not decrease among those with higher education and higher living standards. The core contribution of the paper is a statistical analysis of the determinants of participation in Hezbollah militant activities in Lebanon. The evidence they have assembled suggests that having a living standard above the poverty line or a secondary school or higher education is positively associated with participation in Hezbollah (and also, confusingly, to be associated with opposing them). They also find that Israeli Jewish settlers who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank in the early 1980s were overwhelmingly from high-paying occupations. The conclusion speculates on why economic conditions and education are largely unrelated to participation in, and support for, terrorism.

You can download the paper here. It’s a paid download, unless your top level domain (.com, .in etc) is in a developing country, in which case it’s free… In many ways Christina Paxson’s critical commentary on the paper is more accessible, and is free to all. It can be downloaded as a pdf here. For those who really can’t get enough, Greg Mankiw’s (professor of economics at Harvard University) blog here is a good read on these issues.


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