Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

July 11, 2005

The Economics of Terrorism

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:35 pm

Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek is normally an excellent economist, but he makes a fundamental economic error when thinking about terrorism. I suspect he made this error because when thinking about terrorism, he forgot to take economics — that is, the science of incentives — into account:

[T]hese people terrorize western nations not because we are free, rich, or morally degenerate. They terrorize us because of our foreign policies.

The best way to prevent these people from terrorizing us is for Uncle Sam to pull his troops out of the middle east.

Even though I disagree with the premise, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that terrorism really is a response only to our foreign policies. In that case, if we change our policies in response to terrorism in a way that the terrorists like, we are — to put it in economic jargon — increasing the payoff to terrorism. We are doing something that increases the realized value of the terrorists’ utility function. Assuming the cost of terrorism is constant (which Prof. Boudreaux asserts a few paragraphs before the above claim), then we would be increasing the payoff of terrorism while keeping its cost constant — in effect subsidizing terrorism.

Boudreaux is, like me, precisely the kind of economist — that is, a market-oriented, libertarian-leaning economist — who knows that when you subsidize something, you will get more of it. And terrorism is, in this respect, no different from anything else. If you subsidize terrorism, you get more of it — and getting our troops out of the Middle East in response to terrorism would be subsidizing terrorism, and asking for more.

One might ask, if terrorists want us to change our foreign policies, how it is possible that changing our foreign policy could not end terrorism? I mean, it might be a high price to pay if you agree with our current foreign policies, but shouldn’t we weigh that against the price of continuing to suffer from terrorism?

The problem is, behind that question is the unspoken assumption that changes in foreign policies are the only things the terrorists want — and not only that, but that those terrorists are the only potential terrorists anywhere in the world. However, once it is established that one particular American and British foreign policy (troops in the Middle East) can be changed by terrorism, why stop there? Every economist knows that insatiability is part of human nature, and it won’t take long before the terrorists think of some other policy they want changed, or something else they want. And even if they don’t, someone else will decide they want something else, and realize that terrorism is the way to get it. Want more foreign aid money? A price floor for oil? How about a U.S. or British ban on importing some product from any country but yours? Well, blow up a couple of airplanes or buses or restaurants, and it’s yours!

I leave, at least for now, to others to debate if such a move would be ‘giving in to terrorists.’

No, Don, you can’t take that dodge — by claiming that terrorism is a response to our foreign policies and therefore we should change precisely those policies, you are advocating such a move precisely because it is ‘giving in to terrorists.’ By your own logic, if such a move were not actually ‘giving in to terrorists,’ then it wouldn’t work.

I content myself here merely to point out that if a government has any legitimate functions, surely the most central of these is to protect its people from violence inflicted by foreign invaders. If Uncle Sam’s current foreign policies promote such invasions of terrorists (as Pape’s evidence suggests), then Uncle Sam’s first duty – if it truly puts the welfare of Americans first – is to have its garrisons and guns scram from the middle east ASAP.

I agree completely, 100%, with the statement that “if a government has any legitimate functions, surely the most central of these is to protect its people from violence inflicted by foreign invaders.” However, changing policies to satisfy the desires of terrorists does not protect the people — it rather promotes more of the same invasions, by subsidizing them.

Furthermore, there is every indication that that the Iraqi people suffered greatly under Saddam, and polls show the vast marjority to believe Iraqi is better off now than it was under Saddam. Now, if we pull out of Iraq — in response to Arab terrorism of course — and Saddam or someone else like him takes power, who’s to say that Iraqis angry at us for pulling out don’t embark on terrorism to get us to come back? Imagine a large public bombing, followed by statements sent to the media claiming the attacks were punishment for “betraying the Iraqi people” by withdrawing and allowing a totalitarian dictatorship to take power. After all, if terrorism is the way to change American policies, why not?

Would the U.S. be obligated to intervene in every foreign conflict, as soon as one side says they will commit terrorist attacks if we don’t? That sounds insane, and it is — but it’s exactly what we’ll get if we decide that avoiding terrorism is a valid reason to do what terrorists want us to do. And once you start, there is no end to it.

Imagine, if you will, a smaller-scale version of Don’s argument — Imagine someone from another country comes to Don’s home town, murders a few children, and demands the mayor pay him a million dollars, otherwise he will murder more. Well, Mayor Boudreaux reasons, the murder did it for money. If a government has any legitimate functions, the Mayor’s first duty is to protect his people from violence inflicted by foreign invaders. The murderer is interested only in money — he doesn’t care how people in the town live their lives or anything like that. And surely, the safety of the town’s children is worth way more than a million dollars — no one can argue with that! Not to mention that starting a small military to fight off this guy would cost a lot more! So, to protect the children of his town, the Mayor gives the murderer a million dollars from the town’s treasury. They murderer goes on his merry way and never bothers anyone again, right? No, the murderer pretty soon decides that, what with the price of real estate, HDTV, and Learjets, he’d really rather have $10 million than $1 million. And meanwhile, some other people hear the news, and conclude that you can get whatever you want by shooting children in Mayor’s town. Pretty soon, he has not only the first guy wanting more money, but dozens of others coming into town, shooting people, and demanding money. Far from fulfilling his most central governmental duty of protecting his citizens, the Mayor has actually put them in far greater danger than they were in before — and certainly more danger than if he had sent in a team of snipers to get rid of the first muderer, notwithstanding the risks and expense involved.

(Pejman has a different, but compatible argument here.)

Why do they hate us?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:46 pm

Remember all the handwringing in some quarters after 9/11/01 asking, of the Islamic exgtremists prone to terrorism, why do they hate us? The question mostly came from left-wing media personalities, left-wing pundits, and left-wing academics — most left-wing politicians being too in touch with the polls to wallow in that sort of self-absorbtion. And the answer, stated or implied, was invariably exactly the same as that of the questioner’s main grievance against American society in particular or Western society in general. (They should have phrased it, “Why do I hate us?”)

Few actually address the actual grievances of the actual terrorists and their actual supporters. But in the of last week’s attack in London, Christopher Hitchens — not someone I usually agree with on anything — took on that question, and got it right:

We know very well what the “grievances” of the jihadists are.

The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London. The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won’t abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals. The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor’s liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.

For a few moments yesterday, Londoners received a taste of what life is like for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose Muslim faith does not protect them from slaughter at the hands of those who think they are not Muslim enough, or are the wrong Muslim.

It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on “our” values or “our” way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation.

As for the claim that this is all Bush and Blair’s fault because of Iraq War (which as I like to remind people, came after 9/11/01), Hitchens says:

I know perfectly well there are people thinking, and even saying, that Tony Blair brought this upon us by his alliance with George Bush.

A word of advice to them: try and keep it down, will you? Or wait at least until the funerals are over. And beware of the non-sequitur: you can be as opposed to the Iraq operation as much as you like, but you can’t get from that “grievance” to the detonating of explosives at rush hour on London buses and tubes.

Don’t even try to connect the two. By George Galloway’s logic, British squaddies in Iraq are the root cause of dead bodies at home. How can anyone bear to be so wicked and stupid? How can anyone bear to act as a megaphone for psychotic killers?

Simple — they think we in the West are the psychotic killers. They think Osama bin Laden builds day care centers, and they think that George W. Bush is a terrorist.

The grievances I listed above are unappeasable, one of many reasons why the jihadists will lose.

They demand the impossible – the cessation of all life in favour of prostration before a totalitarian vision. Plainly, we cannot surrender. There is no one with whom to negotiate, let alone capitulate.

I wish I shared his “optimism.” I believe we “must not” surrender and I expect and pray that we “will not” surrender, but I do not believe we “cannot” surrender. If people like U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and British M.P. George Galloway ever get control, we will surrender — regardless of whether there is anyone with whom to negotiate or to whom to capitulate. They will simply stop fighting, and — maybe — plead with the terrorists to be nice and with the rest of us to “understand their point of view.” Which, they will persistently deny, is exactly how Christopher Hitchens described it.

(Hat tip: Instapudit.)
(N.B.: Christopher Hitchens is a Briton currently living in Washington, DC.)

Thoughts on 9/11/01 and 7/7/05

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:13 pm

Romy of Incidents and Allegations (and a regular commenter here) has some insightful thoughts and reflections on the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington (almost) four years ago, and on London last week — and on the reactions of Europeans.

(Omitted background information: She is an American who was living in France four years ago.)


Romy clarifies in this post that the above characterisation is perhaps misleading. Note that “reactions of Europeans” means “reactions of a few individuals in the author’s social circle in Lyon, France.” It does not mean “reactions of all Europeans.” Lyon, France is in Europe, so my original statement is true on its face, but generalize at your own risk.

Having said that, I think it is useful to note that most of us live in only one country, and when we hear views from other countries we usually hear only the views coming from those countries’ governments or media elites. Having a sampling — even a small, restricted sampling — of views of so-called “ordinary” people can provide a valuable perspective on what the rest of the world is thinking. I would not want someone in Lyon to think that the New York Times speaks for me, and I imagine the 48% of American voters who voted for John Kerry would not want someone in Lyon to think that George W. Bush speaks for them. Likewise, I imagine that most people in Lyon would not want me to think that Le Monde and/or President Chirac speaks for them. Of course the people in one church choir in Lyon don’t speak for all Europeans either, but if we combine view of “ordinary” people, when we can find them, with what we hear through the media, we will have a better picture of European opinion (if such a thing exists) than if we use the media alone.

In addition, a person from one country living in another often has a different, and broader, perspective than a person who only lives in one or the other. Which is why I linked to Romy’s post. As an American who lived in France for several years, she has a perspective most Americans and most French do not have.

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