NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Questioning Links of Ignorance and Poverty to Terrorism

December 13, 2001

The assumption that lack of education and poverty breed terrorism has fueled arguments for more foreign aid and support for education as a means to combat terrorism. But the latest evidence, if verified, would throw cold water on such arguments.

Social scientists haven't had sufficient time to study the roots of terrorism. So researchers are substituting data on economic conditions and hate crimes to see if there is a link. So far, little to link the two has been discovered.

  • A study by Donald Green, Jack Glaser and Andrew Rich of Yale University, published in 1998, found that lynchings in the South weren't correlated to year-to-year economic changes, and didn't rise during the Great Depression.
  • The same team studied the incidence of hate crimes in New York City each month from 1987 to 1995 and found no correlation to the city's unemployment rate.
  • The fragmentary evidence on terrorists suggests that the common stereotype that they come from the ranks of the most uneducated and economically deprived is a myth.
  • The profile of the 19 terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks -- many of whom were college-educated and came from middle-class families -- may not be so atypical after all.

So there is little ground for optimism that more education and economic aid would greatly reduce international terrorism.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene: To Avoid Terrorism, End Poverty and Ignorance. Right? Guess Again. Debunking Conventional Wisdom About the Roots of Hate Crime," New York Times, December 13, 2001.

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