Saturday, June 04, 2005

Terrorism and Poverty: Any Connection? :: Becker-Posner

As anyone who reads the news will know: "The suicide bombers in the 9/11 attack were mainly highly educated Saudis, not poor Moslems from other parts of the Middle East, Asia, or Africa. The Basque region of Spain may not have done well economically in recent decades, but the members of its ETA terrorist organization are generally middle class and reasonably well educated."

What Becker and Posner add is some economic analysis.

An extract from Becker:

Recruits with good economic opportunities would only be willing to undertake suicide missions that have a relatively high likelihood of destroying some enemies too. For they would not be willing to go on missions that have little chance of succeeding since they would then prefer safer terrorist activities, or doing well economically while working peacefully. In this case, relatively highly educated terrorists will be sent on missions that are more likely to succeed in destroying their enemies as well as themselves. As a result, the education and other determinants of the economic opportunities of successful bombers will exceed the opportunities of bombers who fail (and who may be captured).

An extract from Posner:

Liberals do not like either force or poverty, and so faced with crime or terrorism they prefer a solution that involves alleviating poverty rather than one that involves applying force. They sometimes dress up this politically motivated preference by distinguishing between the "root causes" of terrorism or crime, on the hand, and the "symptoms"--i.e., overt acts of terrorism or criminality--on the other hand, and arguing that a problem can be solved only by removing the root causes. But this is incorrect. It's the effects--the acts of terrorism, the criminal offenses--that we care about, and often the effects can be eliminated at lower cost than the causes. In any event, there is little basis either theoretical or empirical for thinking that poverty causes terrorism.


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