NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poverty Isn't the Cause of Terrorism

October 31, 2001

Most liberals believe that poverty is the root cause of crime and terrorism, says Bruce Bartlett, and that if poverty were eradicated, crime and terrorism would largely disappear.

If this theory were true, crime and terrorism would rise during economic depressions and fall during boom times. Crime should also be higher in places where poverty is worst, and least where living standards are highest. In fact, the opposite tends to hold.

The recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. confirm this observation.

  • Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked planes on Sept. 11 were from Saudi Arabia, a wealthy country.
  • The hijackers were highly educated and from well-to-do families.

However, in the Middle East, largely socialistic and state-centered economic systems do not provide sufficient opportunities for work and wealth creation. Unable to channel their energies into jobs, businesses and entrepreneurship, many well educated young Arabs look for an outlet among radical groups like al-Qaeda.

The Saudi economy is dominated by the state-owned oil and petrochemicals industry, and there is little entrepreneurship. Oil wealth provides a good education for any Saudi male who wants one, but lacking opportunities for careers outside government, few study business, economics or engineering. Many pursue degrees in Islamic studies and are unemployed more or less permanently after graduation. Generous government benefits provide for their needs and foreigners do most of the manual labor, leaving large numbers of Saudis with nothing to do.

That system deserves some blame for the events of Sept. 11.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, October 31, 2001.

 

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