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05/29/2005

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» The Becker-Posner Blog: Terrorism and Poverty:Any Connection?BECKER from Ian's Blog
The Becker-Posner Blog: Terrorism and Poverty:Any Connection?BECKER This is an interesting debate! I have had this discussion previously and am very interested. I think the real question is the cultural and religious mix with poverty being a contribu... [Read More]

» ROOT CAUSES from Pejmanesque
Both Gary Becker and Richard Posner have excellent comments regarding the root causes of terrorism. Here is Becker: A former president of the World Trade Organization, the current British Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House of Bishops of the Episcop... [Read More]

» Poverty and Terrorism from AnalPhilosopher

Does poverty cause terrorism? See here and here.

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» Poverty and Terrorism from Democracy Project
Over at Becker-Posner, the gentlemen scholars are debating the connection, if any, between poverty and terrorism. In general, Becker argues that a connection exists to the extent that the growth of a nation's economy, and the concurrent expansion of po... [Read More]

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Kool

I think there is something you're overlooking here. Yes, perhaps the terrorists are from the not-so-poor levels of the societies, but they do have a strong feeling for their people that do live in such circumstances. Those poor people don't have the possibility to show the world how they really think about it, mostly being busy just trying to survive another day.

The main problem might not be just poverty, but rather the poverty that results from the unfair and disrespectful way of the western countries dealing with these people.

Disrespect for religion or culture is something that stings hard. Every culture and religion should at least be respected (some aspects could/should be debated in a normal fashion), and the people who have these religions or cultures should be given a fair place in the world.

Economic unfair trading should be banned immediately and debts of countries be nulified, it would be an important step in showing more respect for these peoples.

Don't you feel more respected when you get a normal slice of bread after a day of work instead of just some crumbs?

A. Banwo

Terrorists are usually educated because to be a terrorist you need an ideology. Poverty is not linked to terrorism at all. If that were the case, terrorism would be much more prevalent in places like Africa where poverty has been ridiculously persistent.

Terrorism has largely ceased in the Western Hemisphere because the ideological economic debates have ceased, except in regard to Venezuela and Cuba. For instance, there is no evidence that Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, exports young men willing to die for their beliefs simply because they are impoverished or because the U.S. has repeatedly become involved in their domestic political affairs. The reason: there isn't a cogent anti-Western ideology in Haiti or a educated middle-class to spread one.

For example in the Middle East, the economic freedom arguments only lightly colors the debate about terrorism. This is just to distract from the real issue, which is religion; poverty is only used as an additional validator for terrorist violence, which when viewed through the lens of religion, culture and belief, seems much more difficult to end to us in the West.

However, I believe we can significantly decrease terrorism as we have in the Western Hemisphere, but we can only do so if we use restraint. First, we must resist the temptation to mask terrorism of our own through covert military and intelligent operations as we did in Central and South America.

Second, we must resist the temptation to pick fights. We cannot involve ourselves in the self-determinative and democratic processes that are going on around the world simply because we don't agree with the political views of their leaders. Additionally, we need to regain our objectivity in the Middle East and around the world. Without it, despots like Kim Jong-Il will continue to thumb their noses at what they see as enormous hypocrisy, if only because much of the world will agree with them.

TheWinfieldEffect

If terrorism is an expression of political fanaticism, then economics should explain some of it, but not all of it. I don't think economic well-being can wholly eliminate fanaticism unless it is fanaticism for economic well-being.

tingting hu

There once was an emperor of Tang dynasty titled "Tang taizong "in china who governed hundreds of nations in the neighborhood of mainland and negotiated them quite well. When summerizing his achievements and experiences before he abandoned throne, he said:"to run a country with various religions and customs well, is to drain off conflicts among people". If every possible crimer has the opportunity to sooth his extreme emotion, terrorism would find less surviving ground.

monkyboy

Dr. Becker's post reminded me of a passage I read in T.E. Lawrence's (Lawrence of Arabia) book Seven Pillars of Wisdom that I read over 30 years ago. I don't understand why he isn't considered an "expert" on our current problems considering what he went through. Anyhoo, here is the passage:

The Wahabis, followers on a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim there was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes or ornaments. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical.

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise at intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbors' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness.

The Wahabis rule Saudi Arabia today. No doubt their influence is enhanced by their wealth. Lawrence says their type of religion can't take hold in wealthy cities. Fundamentalist Islam depends on poverty to spread just as Televangilists, Psyschic Hotlines and various other American scam-artists rely on poverty here to thrive.

I think the main audience for terrorists are their own people. A middle east with equitable wealth distribution would rob them of their audience...

TheSquirrelfish

I think that the link between terrorism and little growth is largely because of the lack of opportunity. Terrorists(as much as we can tell from the info) tend to be somewhat well off and educated. Where many people can see a hope for improving their situation through education or training these "wall leaners" feel more oppressed because they have it. They are qualified for jobs in government and business but those jobs are not there, or are filled with people from very specific groups. I think this illustrates that personal fulfillment requires more than money, for these people are the very open to claims of oppression. Perhaps they see the perils of foreign investment and nondemocratic rule more closely than we do for it is precisely these middle and upper level positions which are most vulnerable and stagnant.

Bruce M

Poverty leads to religion, and religion leads to terrorism. So, one step removed.

FeministVoice

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

Corey

You have to be clear what you mean by terrorism in order to talk about where it comes from. If we take terrorism to mean violence undertaken against a state by an opposition group, then we have to look at the grievance that lead to the opposition.

An ethnic nationalist group like the Basques or IRA feels marginalized in a plural society and blows up a building. Ethnic nationalism leads to terrorism. (Or was it marginalization?)

A marginalized economic underclass organizes and blows up a factory. Poverty leads to terrorism. (Or was it institutional racism)

A radical Shia cleric finds and recruits a depressed unemployed palistinian refugee whose little brother was killed in a helicopter attack in Gaza and she agrees to detonate a car bomb outside Baghdad... Its not so simple to make statements like "religion leads to terrorism" when you think about Arabs as actually having personalities and histories is it?

Tyrr

First, you've got to get the definition right. Terrorism is the use of force to commoditise trust in a target society for the achievement of some goal. Commoditisation of trust means exactly what it says; trust is destroyed through predatory action. In order to build trust back up you find ways of trading it so that you reach the point where you've got so much wealth of trust that it is immeasurable. Trust is the lifeblood of a society and if it goes, society degrades, meaning people trust eachother less, and it becomes easier to do whatever it is you want to do. Thus terrorism weakens societies by making it appear your neighbor will attack you.

Really, actions that are often defined with a terrorism label are other actions; criminals are not terrorists, they are criminals becuase we call them and consider them criminals. Warfare is not terrorism because we don't call it terrorism. Quite obviously, all these actions cause terror, and are terrorism because they commoditise the trust in a target society and infact have a goal. It isn't called terrorism because quite frankly, we have other terms to define these actions that are far more descriptive. Calling warfare terrorism ignores the reasoning for the war, actions done in war, and so on; it focuses only on a vastly small number of actions.

Now that the definition is correct, lets get another thing right. There is a very clear difference between terrorism, violent warfare, nonviolent warfare (protest, economic warfare, political warfare, democracy), and thugery that I think you, as a judge, have a far better understanding of than I do so long as you keep that first definition of terrorism clear.

With that said, why do people turn to terrorism? All terrorism is a action one society does to another society; you don't want to commoditise the trust of your own society becuase that is counterproductive. So there needs to be a hate of a certain society there first. This is the primary way of telling who the terrorists are; you figure out who they are targeting.

Who are the Bombs in Iraq targeting? Who are the bombs in Israel, Palestine, and so on targeting? Then you think, who has a reason to do that? By fallowing this logic we find that the Bombs going off in Iraq are located in markets, muslim temples, and so on are probably US made. Shrapnel hits everyone; children, women, men, regardless of religion, age, color, birthplace, societal standing, and so on. Who benefits from a segmented society that doesn't trust itself? The USA does; if you blow up some bombs in an area known for religous hatred and begin telling people some religous insergents did it, then you start up groups of angry people who then go blow up churches. Before you know it, nobody can trust anything; most importantly, they won't organize and when you're in an occupation vastly outnumbered with little or no way of expanding your troop size, especially coming from a country with a history of terrorism (although, I don't use that as proof but rather, a point that they'd be skilled enough to do it) it makes sense. Now then, look for cases of that very thing happening; there are many stories of bombs being placed on random trucks at checkpoints, being planted by american soldiers on foot, and so on. Weither or not these are true I do not know, but what I do know that bombs are going off, they're killing people of all religions even though the likes of CNN like to use the term "muslim neighborhood" I'm smarter than to think baghdad is one big muslim neighborhood. There are an auful lot of them and the bomb placement and target makes sense unless we're dealing with some really dumb terrorists. I'm pretty sure when you make a bomb and place it you want to make sure you aren't killing your own people.

In that case, terrorism is done by the very rich against the very poor. If you've listened to or read any Noam Chomsky he can fill you in on American Terrorism.

As far as religous terrorism goes, especially the strapping a bomb to your chest kind, you need to look at the mentality of the people doing it. Most of them, in the middle east, are children who has their parents killed by Americans, or Israeli's who have nothing to lose. More importantly, these children are raised by fanatical clerics who practice predatory religion. To them, these people are nothing more than tools that can be used to strike back against an enemy they do not like.

When was the last time you saw a prominent religous leader of any kind blowing themselves up for the cause? I'm sure the religous leaders don't get it, and think they're sending these kids off to the holy land, but it takes a very special and unique kind of mentality to strap a bomb to a 3 year old.

Therefor, these people will train these kids as tools primarily by training them in the art of ignorance; ignoring economic oppertunity, ignoring fact and logic, and ignoring love itself. To these kids, 60 virgins and Allah's love is a lot better than their perception of a fully screwed up world, and strapping a bomb to themselves and killing some people does some good in the world.

Alternativally, we've seen people in our own society who turn into terrorists as well. Predatory Christian religion itself is an extremly loosely organized non-violent terrorist organization which indoctrinates people and often tells them if they don't do what they say they are going to hell. Some of them are violent, especially the racist ones, and form outside organizations such as the KKK, Focus on the Family, and so on to deal with percieved threats. These people are middle, sometimes even upper middle class. They don't strap bombs onto their chests becuase they percieve a very different way to achieve the goal.

So, does poverty play a role in creating terrorists? No, it conclusivly does not. Desperation caused by poverty DOES have a role in creating terrorists, as well as placement. More importantly, fanaticism is what creats the suicidal terrorists, whereas rich people waging "low intensity warfare" for profit are what does most of the non-suicidal terrorism. Unless, of course, you find out they created the desperation and fanaticism in the first place. I could probably make a case that it is infact the world elite who are responsable for most of it because most of the terrorism that's gone on throughout human history certianly hasn't, cumulativly, been based on sex, age, race, creed, religion, hair or eye color, and so on, but it has been waged by the rich against the poor.

Quite frankly, the reason the bomb-strapping terrorism is rare isn't due to any other factor accept the single factor that after you blow yourself to smiterines, that's it. You get a christian church of suicide bombers who believe god will send them to heaven for blowing up some blacks and I'll give you a very short-term revolution. Literally, they blow themselves out of existance and therefor, after the explosion, are no longer a threat.

As for the other "terrorists" you may have mentioned, desperation plays a GARGANTUAN role in crime, protesting, participation by the people in government, and war. I'd go so far as to call it the number 1 reason for it going on. Crime happens in all of the classes; in the lower class people need bread, in the middle class people participate in predatory actions to sustain themselves but most crime is egologically or psychologically based, and in the upper class and elites who wage war against the classes to get what it is they want which, often, is total domination. I'v often listened to the really crazy, foaming at the mouth so to speak conspiracy theorists who talk of lucifer and the illumanatti and so on. I don't agree with these people on many logical grounds (they obviously want to believe what they want to believe) but I do wonder how an investment banker, or an elite banker, sleeps at night knowing they're money goes into destroying the world. These are not stupid people because they are in a position of immense power and privelage and in order to keep that top spot, they have to be intuitive.

Protesting is triggered by desperation because protestors are protesting because they believe there is no other way to change government but do not want a civil war. Really, protesting is the last step before rioting and civil war and our youth, who do protest, have thankfully found modest success using technology to organize and change government.

The difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is that the freedom fighter has tried every viable alternative but violence, whereas the terrorist uses violence first to achieve their own ends. This reflects the goal; if the goal is fundementally predatory you want to use the most effective means first and terrorism is arguebly the most effective means. If the goal is fundementally freeing (even if flawed) then the person will not attempt to dominate through violence first, but will only dominate once provoked. If peaceful means are not productive, it is then you get war. If you leave people with no other alternative but violence, they will use violence. It's that plain and simple.

clarification please

"Poverty is not linked to terrorism at all."

Might be useful to distinguish between the motivations for terrorism and the response to terrorist acts, the incidence of terrorism.

It is likely not provable that poverty causes individuals and groups to conceive of, undertake and condone terrorist acts. (all definitions of terrorism apply). At minimum, poverty may be a necessary but not sufficient explanation.

However, what about the links between poverty and weak and/or dysfunctional states, which by definition are less able to effectively combat terrorism, not only within their borders, but committed abroad by groups based within their borders? ...Ineffectiveness both in terms of application of police force and support of the population in providing intelligence and signing off on illiberal tactics. What is the relationship between poverty and legitimate, cabable governments?

So, fighting poverty might not only be a strategy (if flawed) to minimize terrorist recruiting and motivation, but also part of strategy to strengthen governments and thus assist in the fight against terrorism.

Just a thought.

Bill

If one controls for poverty, the distinction you might actually find is between repressive regimes (there is probably less terrorism in that society because the state holds the power and guards it well), and states which have no power (Afghanistan prior to 9/11 in which internal and external terrorist activities flourished. Excluding both those extremes, what is the role of poverty as a source of internal conflict in countries with fledgling democracy or developing democratic institutions. I don't have to be a liberal to answer this question. If people can't advance, they take action and develop a culture that explains their poverty based on "repression" by economic elites. If they are poor, they also rely on religion and religious leaders to explain their life and situation. Neither seem to me to be the fertile spawning grounds of grounds of rational, democratic institutions.

In short, the discussion fails to distinguish between poor countries with repressive regimes (who can prevent terrorism, or sponsor external terrorism) and poor countries without a state infra structure and doesn't address at all the role of poverty in states which do not fall between these extremes.

Nathan Kaufman

An author named Michael Cunninghman wrote a book, Specimen Days, that is to be available in the near future (next week?). The book may have insight into terrorism.

Nathan Kaufman

The spelling is "Cunningham" (not Cunninghman)

Freelance

Here in Spain we really know that poverty is not a cause of terrorism. The independentist terrorism in Basque Country was not a consequence of poverty, as Basque Country has always been one of the top rich regions all over Spain, and many of the founders of the ETA were well educated people, coming from the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the ETA influence has led Basque Country into recession and nowdays its wealth is only guaranteed because the money transfers and fiscal benefits provided by Central Spanish Government. Some thing is true however: now, terrorists recruit the young activists (here called "the cubs") from the lower stratus of the Basque society, because is easier to make fanatics of them. But the reason is never economic, but ethnic in a nazi-like way.

Linus

Besides Judge Posner's insight on why liberals like to blame poverty on a variety of societal problems including terrorism, I think it is important to recognize or study how class affects political views in general.

What Becker and Posner seem to be challenging is the cause and effect hypothesis of terrorism, ie poverty causes terrorism. I think that is a worthwhile, but current studies are in the preliminary stages and it is far too early to judge its results. Obviously the biggest problem is that Poverty is a "first" cause, meaning that Poverty may not directly cause terrorist activity (ie i am poor so i'll blow buildings up) but that it can lead to other destablizing forces which in turn can cause extremism and terrorism.

Despite Prof. Becker and Judge Posner's declaration, the debate on poverty's relationship with terrorism is far from over.

Linus

Linus

As a follow up, one area of study that may worthwhile is to look at economic disparities within these societies as well. Simply looking at per capita GNP doesn't do much in terms of examining how some countries which may in fact be rather wealthy overall may still breed class contempt which may in turn lead to extremist philosophy and terrorism.

Bill

Headline--Professors Posner and Becker Expose CIA Program as Fraud and Liberal Hoax

It has been widely reported that the CIA uses a software program to forecast social unrest, and that it considers unemployment by age, income distribution, and other similar factors now the subject of a Blog. After coming under attack for its intelligence on WMD, the CIA has received a broadside attack--this time being identified as a liberal institution. More details on this waste of taxpayer's money on tonight's Fleecing of America on NBC.

SanAntonioNeuroscience

From a social science experimental perspective, analyzing whether poverty causes terrorism - or, for that matter, whether any event that cannot be directly controlled by an experimenter causes another event (Do earthquakes cause sustained increases in cortisol? Do genes cause variation on IQ?) - presents some significant problems of inference. In order to make cause-effect inferences about poverty and terrorism - or about any two events - three conditions must hold (a) correlation: there must be a correlation between poverty and terrorism; (b) temporal precedence: poverty must precede the terrorism; and (c) nonspurious: the relation between poverty and terrorism must not be accounted for by a third variable (i.e., religion).

Condition a - a relationship between poverty and terrorism - could, in theory, be demonstrated. Becker alludes to such a relationship when he suggests that spikes in economic growth (which could be assumed to decrease poverty) are related to declines in terrorism. Condition b - temporal precedence - could be met, if, for example, changes in economic policy produced poverty (or affluence), which, in turn, led to increases in terrorism (or decreases in terrorism). This seems possible, even plausible, though I have no evidence to support it. Condition c - nonspurious - would require that an experimenter *randomly assign* people (or, I suppose, countries, or any other unit of study) to poverty or non-poverty conditions. This condition cannot in practice be met, because an experimenter cannot randomly assign people to poverty or non-poverty conditions. Consequently, the question at hand cannot be decisively resolved through experimentation, and so whether poverty causes terrorism (or vice versa) or whether some third variable (religion) causes poverty, which causes terrorism, cannot be resolved.

Keep it up Corey, Logicnazi (interesting moniker), Palooka, TheWinfieldEffect, and others. The discussion on this blog is usually pretty darn good.

Paul Deignan

Step back a bit and ask, "What is terrorism about?" and then we can approach the question, "How is terrorism related to poverty?"

What does terrorism seek to achieve? It varies by situation. The drivinf force behind the Islamofacists in Iraq are egotistical goals similar to the facist goals expressed in Mein Kampf. They imagine a world where they are heros with power, wealth, and respect. Since they are disconnected (intentionally) from those they seek to have as subjects, their ideas of method are also disconnected. They exist in a realm of imagination and propaganda.


Cultures where the linkage between social reward and productivity are weak are the very same cultures that breed this dysfunction. Young males seek esteem and power. How are they to achieve it in cultures where work does not bring prosperity? Alternatively, cultures with a strong work-prosperity linkage are seen as intrinsically just. Those societies shun destructive behaviors while provided reward for constructive acts. They tend to have distribusted wealth (and more of it) than the idiosyncratic cultures of the ME.

It would be strange if the 9/11 terrorists did not come from SA and Egypt.


Remember, people are far more alike than different. The human drive that is most fundamental is also most common.

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