Bryan Caplan  

If You Want Peace, Work for ???: Part 1

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A Health Care Experiment... If You Want Peace, Work for ??...

How many times have you seen the bumper sticker "If you want peace, work for justice"? And what do you think the person who pasted that sticker had in mind by "justice," anyway? If you use the other stickers that share the bumper to triangulate, "justice" seem to mean either (a) the abolition of extreme poverty, (b) the abolition of extreme ethnic prejudice, or both.

I've recently read two good books that dissect these stories. The first is Alan Krueger's What Makes a Terrorist? Economics and the Roots of Terrorism; the second is Harvey Pekar and Heather Roberson's Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War? People who don't know my tastes may think I'm slighting Krueger's work by comparing it to a graphic novel, but that's the furthest thing from my mind. Both books are quite good, and each deserves a post.

I'll start with Krueger. What Makes a Terrorist? takes a standard social science look at the hypothesis that poverty causes terrorism. He has a very one-handed answer: No. Individual terrorists are, on average, well-to-do for their societies. They are neither desperate nor lacking in years of education.

If terrorist organizations are small, they tend to be composed of the elites who care deeply about the cause. They are the first ones to join. For the movement to grow past a certain point, it must recruit a wider pool of members because the truly committed are already involved. Beyond a certain size, the additional recruits tend to be motivated more by pay and less by ideology; these tend to be people of lower socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, Krueger finds little evidence to support what he calls the macro-level "Robin Hood" theory that terrorists are "motivated by inequality in their societies or by the poverty of their countrymen." Krueger says that the data suggest that it is lack of civil liberties, not lack of income, that predicts terrorist activity (though in the Q&A he admits that reverse causation may be at work).

Krueger is a little quick to dismiss some vague but plausible popular claims about terrorism. Case in point: "[A]ssuming those who attack us do so because they are desperate or because they hate our way of life provides a reassuringly simple answer to a disturbingly complex question." But hold on a second. "Desperate" doesn't just mean "hungry," and there's a lot more to "our way of life" than our income. I daresay that terrorists hate something important about our way of life, and that you have to be desperate in some important way (e.g. "desperate to win") to sacrifice your life for a cause.

One last point: Unless I've missed something, Krueger pays little attention to a very different "reassuringly simple answer" to the problem of terrorism - namely, that terrorists hate us because they don't like our interventionist foreign policy. (He does include "Occupier" and "Occupied" dummy variables in some regressions, but these just scratch the surface of interventionism). And frankly, I suspect that if we checked the correlation between "satisfaction with U.S. foreign policy" and either support for terrorism or terrorist activity, it would be highly significant and negative for both individuals and countries.

It wouldn't surprise me if satisfaction with U.S. foreign policy decisively beat Krueger's measures of civil liberties in a terrorism prediction horserace. But even if our stories had to share the glory, it wouldn't matter that much in terms of policy advice. After all, there is a lot that the U.S. can do to make other countries more satisfied (or at least less dissatisfied) with its foreign policy. And there is very little the U.S. can do to bring civil liberty to Saudi Arabia.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
James D. Miller writes:

If you want peace work for monogamy because polygamy creates a surplus of young men who need to prove themselves.

Dennis Mangan writes:

The well-educated, above-average terrorist hates "something" about us because, being well-educated, etc., he is alienated from his own society. So he uses terrorism and hatred to make himself more of a true member of his own society. People who live in physical borderlands are often more patriotic or nationalist than the average because of their own status as marginal to their culture, Hitler being a classic example.

Billy writes:

Iraqis who join terrorist cells or those who flock to Iraq to fight Americans are definitely motivated by U.S. foreign policy. Terrorists in Saudi Arabia or Egypt are motivated by the actions of their governments (as Krueger suggests with the civil liberties argument). Of course, some believe the main reason they haven't defeated their governments as home is because the U.S. helps keep them in power.

TGGP writes:

The bumper sticker reminds me of Mencius Moldbug's The Mystery of Pacifism.

John Thacker writes:

Of course, terrorists are likely upset at some policy somewhere. It's not always US foreign policy, is it? Are the IRA (and Real IRA), the Tamil Tigers, the ETA, various Chechen groups, the PKK, the AUC (which was right-wing and fought the FARC but was listed as a terrorist organization by the US), the FARC, Shining Path, Aum Shinrikyo (Japan), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the anti-Iranian terrorist groups all motivated by US foreign policy originally?

Speaking of reverse causation, is it not possible that US foreign policy tends to oppose groups that use terror? Of course, groups that the US government lists as terrorist organizations are more likely to be opposed by US foreign policy for a variety of reasons, including causation in both directions.

However, as a piece of evidence, note that several of those groups named as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the State Department struggle against states that are not US allies, and at least one organization, the AUC, fought "objectively" on the side of US foreign policy by fighting FARC.

John Thacker writes:

And there is very little the U.S. can do to bring civil liberty to Saudi Arabia.

The US can support economic development and free trade, which supports civil liberty in the long run. South Korea has more civil liberty than it would if the DPRK had defeated it in war.

The thing is most people in the US would prefer that there be a strong correlation between support for terrorism and dissatisfaction with US foreign policy, because they want US foreign policy to oppose terrorists. If you think that the correlation is strong and negative, that means that you're rejecting, e.g., the claim that US supports paramilitary groups just as bad as terrorist ones.

John Thacker writes:

I suspect that if we checked the correlation between "satisfaction with U.S. foreign policy" and either support for terrorism or terrorist activity, it would be highly significant and negative for both individuals and countries.

Are we including people who don't have "satisfaction with U.S. foreign policy" because they feel that U.S. foreign policy is not interventionist enough, or doesn't oppose the regime they dislike enough, or doesn't take their side against another country enough? Because they feel that the U.S. freely trading with their country is supporting that dictatorship? (On other levels, because the US isn't Marxist/socialist/Islamic/religious enough?)

For example, the IRA and ETA officially support independence for Kosovo, something that would not have happened if not for interventionist US foreign policy.

Edna Knight writes:

The person who pasted the bumper sticker probably had in mind much what the author of the aphorism did. Way back in 1999, John Paul II challenged America with, "If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life." when visiting St. Louis, MO.

John Paul II also said in his speech:

At the end of this century - at once marked by unprecedented progress and by a tragic toll of human suffering - radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be for the world an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.

...power is responsibility: it is service, not privilege. Its exercise is morally justifiable when it is used for the good of all, when it is sensitive to the needs of the poor and defenseless.

America first proclaimed its independence on the basis of self-evident moral truths. America will remain a beacon of freedom for the world as long as it stands by those moral truths which are the very heart of its historical experience.

U.S. foreign policy has not risen to the challenge during the Bush administration.

Kyle Hollasch writes:

Was Zawahiri motivated to form al Jihad by the desire for more civil liberties, or by the desire to implement a pure Islamic state in Egypt, which by definition, crushes civil liberties? I think Krueger gives them too much credit.

Nathan Smith writes:

It's not necessarily so easy to make foreigners happier with America's foreign policy, because they want lots of different things. Also, running away makes some people madder: think of the US retreat from Lebanon in 1983, which inspired a whole generation of terrorists, or inter-war Europe, where US isolationism both left an opening for, and may even have helped to inspire (by illustrating the cowardice of the "bourgeoisie" and/or or democracies) Hitler.

TGGP writes:

I don't think modern terrorism can be laid at the feet of the U.S retreating from Lebanon. Reading the "Harmony" documents shows that al Qaeda is primarily inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was actually a disastrous failure (aQ of course hopes to avoid their mistakes). Furthermore, don't blame U.S isolationism for WW2, instead look at its intervention in WW1. I defend Charles Lindbergh's position here.

Justin Bowen writes:
People who live in physical borderlands are often more patriotic or nationalist than the average because of their own status as marginal to their culture, Hitler being a classic example.

Isn't the same argument being used about Hillary and what she would (or would not) do with the military (because she's an outside in the political realm of the presidency as it relates to national defense and gender, she would try to prove herself by adopting a tougher stance than what a male in her position might adopt)?

or inter-war Europe, where US isolationism both left an opening for, and may even have helped to inspire (by illustrating the cowardice of the "bourgeoisie" and/or or democracies) Hitler.

I'm sure the implementation and enforcement of the Treaty of Versaille had nothing to do with a very disaffected German populace electing a man who promised to do away with the restrictions that were placed on the Germans by the prevailing powers. Using US (and other nations') foreign policy as one of several factors that leads to terrorism, it would only be logical that it could also lead to less desperate people choosing to do things that they might not otherwise do, like elect a man who harbored sick ideas and had a penchant for world domination.

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