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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. That would be the conservative "we". The liberal "we" would tend to point out that poverty is responsible for vastly more human suffering than terrorism. Of course, if poverty caused terrorism then conservatives would have to care about poor people. On the other hand, if terrorism caused poverty then liberals would have to care about terrorism. Fortunately for both conservatives and liberals, the data shows a lack of correlation so there is no causation in either direction. Underlying the question of whether poverty causes terrorism is the question of the relative resources that should be devoted to decreasing poverty versus decreasing terrorism (which is difficult to distinguish from the question of the extent to which a government should justify unrelated policies as decreasing terrorism). For example, people trust the Bush administration on "national security" because it claims to devote substantial government resources to decreasing terrorism. In particular, it claims that the hundreds of billions it is spending on the war with Iraq are decreasing terrorism. While it can not be ruled out that people in Iraq may at some point in the future have more freedom and more control of their government than they had before the war, this has no correlation with terrorism in the United States and, in fact, the main proveable effect of the war so far has been to provide lucrative business opportunities to companies like Haliburton that have close ties to the Bush administration and to give right-wing religious fanatics in the United States more (military) influence in the Middle East. On that note, it would be nice if the Democratic Party would get back to their liberal roots and admit that they don't care that much about terrorism (compared to things like poverty) and take the prinicpled stand that they will not use terrorism as a justification for the things that they do (or are at least supposed to) care about like poverty.


It seems the argument is that terrorism is to democracy as pollution is to industry. One is the necessary waste product of the other. I can't really disagree with that. It's probably also true that totalitarian/authoritarian states also breed resistance movements in quite the same way. It sounds a little slave/master-ish and class conflict-y. Maybe too much.


I cannot tell from either of today's posts what definition of "terrorist" is being used. Posner mentions the Bolshevik Revolution, McVeigh, Basque separatists, the Weathermen, and the generic term "subversive movements." If all those things are terrorists then the word has been broadened to mean "any enemy of the established state." I know of no less broad definition that would encompass them all.

I assume then that he would also include such famous subversives as Thomas Jefferson, Sam Adams, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammed, Robert E. Lee... all of whom advocated or used violence in the pursuit of subversive or separatist politics. Everyone looks like a terrorist to someone. I think the IRA would say it was the UK that was plauging them eh?

If you are going to call everyone who you don't like (or who doesn't fit the present day American status quo norms) terrorists... then congrats for bringing back the cold war. Bolshevik = terrorist... interesting bridge. How many terrorists did you say are in the state department?

"All the wealthy nations that have a terrorist problem are, with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia, politically stable."

Having a terrorist problem is a pretty clear indication of political instability. Viewing these countries as stable depends on an implicit mis-characterization of the problem as outside society rather than growing from discontent within society. (And yes, I consider someone in the third world hurt by American policy to be a part of our society, at least in the sense of having a claim.) The failure of logic is the assumption that just because the methods chosen are horrible and desperate and irrational, that the grievances which provoked that reprehensible response must also have been irrational. Which means of course that we don't have to address any causal grievances, and can simply blow the arms off children in Iraq until we hit enough "insurgents" so that people feel safe enough to invest again.

Your entire construct of the terrorist problem depends on exclusion and retribution. Americans are soo busy being suspicious of every dark skinned person they see at the airport and building imaginary fences to keep out a post-colonial dissent that has gone too far outside the rules of decency to be considered. The trouble with fences is you can't see OUT of them either.

To quote Bukowski, "We are all museums of fear."

One thing is correct, as a left liberal, I care about the causes of crime, terrorism, addiction, racism, and poverty more than the effects of any of them. The goal is to end them all. I find that taking asprin for the headache doesn't cure cancer of the brain. How's that Drug War going anyway?


"...as a left liberal, I care about the causes of crime, terrorism, addiction, racism, and poverty"

Look in the mirror.

Crime? Public housing ghettos, public so called education which is a mind destroying factory and employment racket for unions and government contractors. Terrorism, The Weather Underground, Black Panthers, Symbianese(( sp? ) Liberation Army, ELF, ... Addiction, try the 40 years of the Left's message of free love and drugs. Racism, like race hustler pimps like Jackson, Sharpton, race base/fundamental admissions, dorms, quotas..


Thanks, always good to know that I still annoy the racist right. I don't feel the need to respond to arguments that call Jesse Jackson a pimp or disparage every one of the tens of millions of public school educated Americans (including myself) as stupid. Have a nice day.


Paul, take your mindless warblings elsewhere. Corey doesn't need the goading. If you can't stay on topic, you can at least say something coherent instead of straying into ad hominem attacks on your faceless enemies.


What a totally biased and male-oriented conception of terrorism. Domestic violence is terrorism too!


"a nation’s per capita income is positively related to political stability"

Makes sense to me. But getting there involves - gasp - embracing free market capitalism. Always a deal with the devil for the left, as shown in Wes' comment:

"in fact, the main proveable effect of the war so far has been to provide lucrative business opportunities to companies like Haliburton that have close ties to the Bush administration and to give right-wing religious fanatics in the United States more (military) influence in the Middle East".

Funny how this subject always ends up here for the left.


If terrorism is related to poverty, wouldn't you expect to see a legion of terrorists emerging from the slums of Brazil? Wouldn't you expect to see terrorists from the poverty-stricken countries of sub-Saharan Africa? But I don't see it. Terrorists seem to come primarily, although not exclusively, from a specific cultural and economic background. I understand that Brazil has a terrible crime problem, but I think there is a major difference between localized violent crime and international terrorism. Violent crime is horrific and indefensible, but it is localized and geared to a specific purpose. Terrorism is global, indiscriminate and has, I would suggest, a rather unclear objective. But whatever the objective of terrorism is, it is not the eradication of poverty.


A difference between routine crime and terrorism is that, with terrorism, the government is often a party to the underlying conflict.

For example, if two guys get in a fight over a girl, the government does not have a direct interest in which guy gets the girl. On the other hand, if a government decides to create/support an ethnic homeland and a member of the losing ethnic group blows up one of the government's buildings, then government is very much involved in the underlying conflict of what form the ethnic homeland should exist in, if at all.

In particular, the government's conduct as a party to the conflict (in particular, it's willingness to cooperate to find a solution that addresses everyone's concerns in a fair way) can have a dramatic impact on whether the other side concludes that violence is the only option for advocating its point of view.


"For one thing, democracy and liberty encourage independent thinking, which may nourish Utopian fantasies that can breed violence."

Right now it seems that the prevailing sentiment in many anti-democratic countries is to "nourish Utopian fantasies that can breed violence." So I believe that independent thinking would more likely undermine the prevailing sentiment rather than reinforce it.


It is true that democracy and liberty, by encouraging independent thought, may increase terrorism. The Unabomber example is a good one.

However, democracy and liberty also provide lower cost means of pushing a political agenda, expressing emotions, and consuming various other forms of political expression. If you don't like a president in the US, you can try to vote him out of office, or his term will expire after 8 years.

On balance, the question is does this independent thought encouraged by liberty and democracy (which may lead to terrorism) sufficienty re-channel those impulses into legitimate political challenges to (net) reduce terrorism.


Saying poverty is a cause of terrorism is like saying wealth is a cause of imperialism. There is a major problem in this form of analysis. That is, mistaking an effect for a primary cause. In reality, terrorism is actually one of the effects (tactical & strategic)desired in a politico-military action against some perceived enemy.

Now it has been said on many occasions, "That poverty and degradation is a fertile field for social upheavel and revolution when those who are suffering are properly motivated and led." So where does this leadership come from? Usually from the intelligentsia and other malcontents.
hich is normally the educated middle and upper classes. Check out the backgrounds of the leaders of any social movement. So to say that poverty is a cause is a mistake. More like the case, "Rich mans war, poor mans fight".

As for what we today call terroists and terrorism, in the past was called anarchists and anarchism and further back piracy, banditry and outlawism. Political Extremism; wether it is leftist, rightist, centrist, politcal, religious, economic, has been around for ages. There is really nothing that can be done about it except to confront it and destroy it where ever it is found. That is if you accept the status quo.

For full blown analysis of this phenomenon may I suggets the works and essays of likes of Max Stirner, Pierre Proudhon, Micheal Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Albert Parsons, Lucy Parsons and thats just for the Anarchists. As for the "Red Menance"; try Lenin, Trotsky, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara and let us not forget Tom Jefferson, Tom Paine, and those other Rabble rousers in North America and the list goes on and on.... Depending on what side of the fence one stands on, an anarchist or terrorist is either a freedom fighter or the devil incarnate.

For a more modern take on the subject, pickup Seymour Lipset's and Ernst Raab's works and essays on Political Extremism and the "Politics of Unreason" and also Eric Hoffer's Classic, "The True Believer".

And no, I'm not a politcal extremist, Ive just been well inoculated against the viruses


I'm not really sure that I see the point of this post. Not many people who have studied Islamic extremism (and let's not kid ourselves, that's what everyone means today when they say "terrorism") argue that it has anything to do with poverty. The Persian Gulf countries that fund Al Queda, Hamas, etc., are rich from oil wealth. Bin Laden comes from a prominent Saudi family. Muhammed Atta was a disaffected middle class Saudi. Terrorism of the 9/11 sort is middle and upper class movement, spurred by dysfunctional politics. Not even Ted Kennedy advocates a "Marshall Plan" for the Persian Gulf. Making middle east politics more functional is the long-term solution; and of course, deporting and/or locking up the bad guys is the short-term solution.

The major debates between the political camps over "terrorism" are more about details: how much due process should we abandon in pursuit of the war on terror, and which countries are worth invading? Those questions have nothing to do with poverty.

gayla chandler

About who is a terrorist, I thought a group was terrorist if they intentionally involved innocents in their attacks to instill fear in a civilian population.


"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."

Respectfully to Judge Posner, this is a ridiculously unfair pot shot at liberals. Am I to assume that conservatives like force and poverty? Are they elated when they see slums, ghettos, and "Hoovervilles?" Do they delight in sending their sons and daughters to die in battle? I certainly don't think so.

Any rational actor, when faced with a recurring malady, would look to treat the underlying cause as well as the symptoms. If we could cure the common cold with a vaccine, why would be limit ourselves to Thera-flu?

If poverty were the cause of all crime, then a fortiori, eliminating poverty would eliminate crime, so a war on poverty would be the ultimate crime-fighting strategy (though a long-term one, making jails necessary only in the short term). However, greed is just as much a cause of crime (e.g., Ken Lay, Martha Stewart), so a war on poverty is insufficient. Crime itself must be targeted. I don't think any "liberal" holder of national office disputes that. The issue is the proper mix of strategies, not to mention questions of economic and social justice. Judge Posner dodges these complex questions with an uncalled-for pot shot at "liberals." This is more worthy of Rush Limbaugh then Richard Posner.

Alex Robbins

The terrorism-poverty connection is perhaps oversimplified and misleading, but let me suggest an alternative -- one not address by either Becker or Posner, although it's not particularly original and is currently being forwarded by everyone from Bush to Rice to Sharansky to Hitchens. It might be called the "neo-con" version of the classic "liberal" theory that Becker and Posner find little support for.

The thesis is that oppression causes terrorism. Or rather, that oppression causes the majority of the desire to terrorize, though is simultaneously somewhat effective at shielding itself from the terrorism it creates (as pointed out by Becker when he noted that the most highly oppressive regimes experience the least terrorism). This gets at the more important of what should be two distinct questions: first, what fosters terrorism, and second, what allows acts of terrorism. The fact that these questions are distinct also explains the contraditory data, specifically why semi-oppressive regimes have the most trouble with terrorism.

Organizational terrorism must itself function somewhat like a government -- it must control and direct its members without recourse to the surrounding legal system, for obvious reasons. On this basis we could hypothesize that, if people have a preference for stable, free, rule-of-law societies, they will generally avoid terrorist organizations unless there is no better alternative -- unless of course they'd be on top, but I'd also hypothesize that the more important factor is not whether there are potential terrorist leaders (these people likely exist in every society), but whether there are potential terrorist followers.

Thus the terrorist society only presents a viable alternative to the surrounding society to the extent that the surrounding society is itself oppressive -- this explains why most terrorism manifests itself inside oppressed minority groups within larger societies, OR within societies where the more powerful surrounding society has essentially withdrawn its protection of the minorities' rights, especially vis-a-vis other more powerful minorities. In these later societies, terrorism is particularly likely to have broad appeal -- the society itself is oppressive, but there is also an available external enemy. The more powerful surrounding societies find themselves in a particular bind: involvement in the minority society may result in oppression, but withdrawal cause even more oppression, only this time at the hands of other members of the minority group -- think Northern Ireland and Palestine in particular.


If you don't get given, you learn to take
And I will take you

Peter Gabriel's song Family Snapshot discusses a political assassination from the point of view of the shooter - I wanna be somebody, you were like that too - but in another context, it was all about something else: power.

In the song, the killer expresses his power over another by firing the shot. Like the killer, many people feel frustrated by their station in life - income be damned. And, like the killer, some of those people seek violent expressions of that frustration.

Terrorism isn't about poverty, it's about power. The terrorists don't want to kick Americans out of Iraq so much as they want to control it. America's size and economic influence has a wide ranging impact, and it's apparent wealth is seductive. And terrorists who attack US interests want to reduce its influence, so they can grab their share of the pie. Granted, there are the lone wolves who have their own agenda. But for the larger, organized groups, it's all about power.

Which brings me to another song quote, this one from a 1970's song: go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead an cheat a friend; do it in the name of heaven, you'll be justified in the end. That song, One Tin Soldier tells the story of valley people who lust after the riches of the people on the mountain. The people on the mountain are generous, and willing to share, but the valley people don't want to share; they want the riches all to themselves. So they attack the mountain people and kill them, and exault in their great victory.

But the victory is a Pyrrhic one: when they turn over the stone, all they find are the words Peace on earth, and good will toward men.

Terrorists care not for what we make or what we do. For all of their blather that America might be infidels, terrorists use American products regularly. All terrorism is about is greed, and power. And the 'martyrs' and the suicide bombers? Pawns in a chess game - expendible souls who are manipulated and used to achieve the sadistic ends of the leaders.


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