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The Myth That Poverty Breeds Terrorism

Robert J. Barro

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So far, the U.S. war on terrorism has focused on military action against identified terrorists and on improvements in domestic and international security....many argue that longer-term improvements depend on lessening the root causes of terrorism, especially poverty and low education.

But is this view correct?....A recent study at Princeton University by Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova, called "Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?" argues this point.

One piece of the Krueger-Maleckova evidence involves 129 members of Hezbollah who died in action, mostly against Israel, from 1982 to 1994...Biographical information from the Hezbollah newspaper al-Ahd indicates that the fighters who died were, on average, more educated and less impoverished than the Lebanese population of comparable age and regional origin.

A similar finding applies on the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Israeli Jewish extremists who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank in the late '70s and early '80s...A list of 27 of the Israeli terrorists reveals a pattern of high education and high-paying occupations.

The same patterns apply outside of the Middle East. For example, a study by Charles Russell and Bowman Miller (reprinted in the 1983 book Perspectives on Terrorism) considered 18 revolutionary groups, including the Japanese Red Army, Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang, and Italy's Red Brigades. The authors found that "the vast majority of those individuals involved in terrorist activities as cadres or leaders is quite well-educated. In fact, approximately two-thirds of those identified terrorists are persons with some university training, [and] well over two-thirds of these individuals came from the middle or upper classes in their respective nations or areas."

Robert J. Barro is a professor of economics at Harvard University.

This article was published in "Business Week" magazine. Read this entire article on the CFPM website.



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