Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Economic growth and terrorism

Ok, I made a massive comment at the Becker-Posner Webpost and since it was session sized and I haven't talked of politics for a while, here's the comment.

It's based on a post by the Becker-Posner Webpost:

Here's the Becker part (it was the original post)

Here's the Posner part

I agree that grievances (not poverty) are at the core of terrorism, but the relationship between grievances and economic growth I think is complex and contradictory, ultimately I think economic growth and political freedom undermines terrorist impulses in the long term, but in the short term the effects are uncertain.

Take for example on result of economic growth that Becker noted, the reduction of the extended family. The reduction of the extended family is actually greater than Posner suggested because economic growth tends to increase migration as the ability to become mobile arises before a local job market capable of satisfying the population growth of local youth becomes possible (if it ever becomes possible as some areas are good for raising populations but bad for jobs (for example suburbs and cities)). When the young move away, extended families become weaker, they tend not to disappear as they did with migrants of earlier eras since the mobility allows people to go both ways, but still there's never the same grip to extended families as there were in previous years.

But the effect of the reduction of extended families is uncertain on terrorism. Families often provide the recruitment network for terrorists and supply safe grounds (notice the interplay of tribe loyalties and terrorist networks in Iraq). Family deaths also provide for motivations for terrorism and motivation for the support of terrorism or at least for the apathy to anti-terrorist efforts. Strong family ties also reduce individualism and increase the chances of someone taking up collective grievances.

But on the other hand, the lack of a strong family grip reduces the in-built ideologies of a society and opens the grounds for radical ideologies. Take for example Muslim youths in Britan who tend to be more radical than their immigrant parents. The reduction of family ties also sends youth searching out for authority figures and thus more likely to be taken by charismatic radicals.

Thus there is a mixed picture.

However, other effects of economic growth further complicate the picture. Economic growth tends to progress unevenly, either in terms of pure money or in terms of the power acquired by the government and its officials through economic growth. This tends to breed grievances based on people realizing how much better life could be and perceptions of unfairness.

However lack of economic growth also helps terrorism. To manage in the modern world, every country requires an intellectual class, and without sufficient economic growth this intellectual class is often idle or their partially educated children are idle and likely somewhat unemployed, and thus ripe for radicalism. Also, lack of economic growth tends to support the idea that the nation has fallen behind as a great power. People always like to feel like their part of a great power and economic growth makes people feel like if they are not part of a great power they are becoming part of one. Much of the discontent in the Muslim world is from the idea that the Muslim world has fallen behind the West and thus it must become a great power by any means necessarily.

However, ultimately, I think economic growth and political freedom tend to undermine the radical grievances that spawn terrorism by providing avenues for moderate grievances to be satisfied (unsatisfied moderate grievances have a tendency to breed radicalism, for example, the demands of early 19th century Russian radicals were largely moderate liberal ideas, but left unsatisfied they either reversed themselves into radical conservatism or they concluded that change required society overthrow so they turned to radicalism). Furthermore, economic growth tends to A. keep people busy by giving more jobs and more stuff to do, and B. allow more materialism to spread (materialism can spawn terrorism if unsatisfied, take for example gangs, but in an environment where society allows material improvement, materialists support stability because it protects their economic opportunity, take for example many businessmen in coastal China).

I could go on more, but I think it's not that economic growth has no effect on terrorism, but rather it has mixed effects, although ultimately it undermines terrorism. It's hard to prove such a claim though, since long term can be 100+ years, and historical examples may have key differences from the modern world, but if I were to try to prove it I would probably trace the historical amount of terrorism in currently rich countries in comparison to their historical economic growth (as a case study (which is not a conclusive proof by any means) take the United States, the US only achieved massively widespread economic growth in the '50's, the radical change in society and new intellectual class which often lacked opportunities or sense of belonging (especially amoung minorities) took to arms in the 60's achieving some minor support among lower classes, however over time this amount of terrorism died down, although there still are terrorists most of their demands are society related rather than economic related (cultural reform, inequality rather than poverty, ultra-nationalism, non-economic political issues (such as abortion))).

Sorry for the long comment, I got carried away.

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