What Makes a Terrorist? Ask Alan Krueger

President Obama has nominated Princeton University’s Alan Krueger to be chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“As one of this country’s leading economists, Alan has been a key voice on a vast array of economic issues for more than two decades. Alan understands the difficult challenges our country faces, and I have confidence that he will help us meet those challenges as one of the leaders on my economic team.”

As our government continues to label patriots who stand up for our founding principles as terrorists, what makes a “terrorist”?  The following excerpt from a purpose driven study “What Makes a Terrorist” from Mr. Krueger gives us some insight.

What Makes a Terrorist

Despite these pronouncements, however, the available evidence is nearly unanimous in rejecting either material deprivation or inadequate educa­tion as important causes of support for terrorism or participation in terrorist activities. Such explana­tions have been embraced almost entirely on faith, not scientific evidence.

Support [for terrorism] turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For exam­ple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per­cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent.

Why are better educated, more advan­taged individuals more likely than others to join terrorist groups? I think of terrorism as a market, with a supply side and a demand side. Individuals, either in small groups or on their own, supply their services to terrorist organizations.

However, in the case of the supply of terrorists, while consideration of opportunity cost is not irrel­evant, it is outweighed by other factors, such as a commitment to the goals of the terrorist organi­zation and a desire to make a statement. Political involvement requires some understanding of the issues, and learning about those issues is a less costly endeavor for those who are better educated. I argue that better analogies than crime are vot­ing and political protest. Indeed, better educated, employed people are more likely to vote.

Consistent with the work on international terrorist incidents, countries with fewer civil lib­erties and political rights were more likely to be the birthplaces of foreign insurgents. Distance also mattered, with most foreign insurgents com­ing from nearby nations. The model predicted that the largest number of insurgents—44 percent—would have emanated from Saudi Arabia, a nation not known for its protection of civil liberties but with a high GDP per capita.

The evidence suggests that terrorists care about influencing political outcomes. They are often motivated by geopolitical grievances. To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means? Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it.

Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War” to know your enemy before going into battle.

 If “you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

Is this appointment an attempt by the president to understand the Tea Party?

David DeGerolamo

      
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