NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 18, 2008

By opening up our market to Muslim countries, we could not only help American consumers, but also serve a larger strategic goal: that of boosting the economies which now produce large pools of unemployed, embittered youth.  We can make trade an effective weapon against terrorism, says the Wall Street Journal.

However, our tariff regime puts many nations in the Middle East, whose young people are susceptible to the sirens of Islamic fundamentalism, at an unintended disadvantage.  Apart from oil, very little comes from the Muslim world; the 30 majority-Muslim states of the Middle East only provide one percent of our manufactured imports, and an even smaller fraction of our farm imports, says the Journal.

In our global economy, these countries should be thriving; instead, they are experiencing a period of economic disaster:

  • Between 1980 and 2000, their share of world trade fell by 75 percent, and their share of investment fell even faster.
  • The region's unemployment rate became the world's highest, rising to an average of 25 percent for young people.
  • With the region's population rising by nearly a quarter-billion, the high unemployment rates mean a pool of perhaps 25 million jobless and sometimes hopeless young people, often easy targets for fundamentalists.

But will oil -- now selling at record prices -- put these legions to work?  Historical experience is not promising.  Oil can bring in money, but it also centralizes wealth and power.  A comprehensive solution to Middle East economic problems will require efforts to stamp out corruption, improve schooling and end political oppression, says the Journal. 

However, few things could do more to combat terrorist recruitment than draining the pools of angry and unemployed youth spread across the region.  Fixing American trade policy would be the best place to start, says the Journal.

Source: Edward Gresser and Mark Dunkelman, "Free Trade Can Fight Terror," Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2008.

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