Monday, March 19, 2007

No link between poverty and terrorism

The conventional wisdom says that terrorism and poverty are linked. The oppressed, economically speaking, are willful and good candidates for becoming terrorists. The poor, say the experts, are ripe for becoming suicide bombers, members of Al Qaeda, militants, etc.

Apparently, the link is spurious, at best.
A comprehensive study of 1,776 terrorist incidents (240 international, the rest domestic) by Harvard professor Albert Abadie, who was sympathetic to the poverty-terrorism idea at first, found no such thing. "When you look at the data," he told the Harvard Gazette, "it's not there."
Importantly, there is an economic link between terrorists:
Consider a chilling, but compelling recent paper by Efraim Benmelech of Harvard and Claude Berrebi of Rand. The two ask, in effect, what makes someone become a suicide bomber? Their answer: "Since there are returns to human capital in both the productive and the terror sectors, high-ability individuals will become suicide bombers if the expected payoff from suicide bombing is higher than their skill-adjusted expected lifetime earnings in the productive sector."
Kind of scary stuff, if you ask me. All those things I learned at college about economics are applicable. Except that there's a gruesome twist to this one. I guess you have to think outside the box to be a terrorist.