Chris Blattman

Poverty does not breed support for extremism?

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Another blow to the folk theory.

Contrary to expectations, poor Pakistanis dislike militants more than middle-class citizens. This dislike is strongest among the urban poor, particularly those in violent districts, suggesting that exposure to terrorist attacks reduces support for militants. Long-standing arguments tying support for violent organizations to income may require substantial revision.

A new paper.

45 Responses

  1. I am not interested in discussing and citing studies on this, since it’s an inherent impossibility in any complex argument to not devolve into endless speculations on moot issues. You build a case with “logical” but not irrefutable bricks, and then people can decide whether or not the edifice is sound. There are no definitive answers. Make your best guess and DO!

    I consider this self-evident. Creating a global middle class as a LONGTERM goal, where the majority of citizens have a basic and decent quality of life, de-acidifies the soil that breeds extremism. We cannot possibly extinguish all fires, but there is no better pathway morally, cost-effectively or pragmatically towards this eventual goal. I’m sure we spend more stanching fires than we would towards working as one world together with this purposeful belief in mind.

    Implementing this in an effective way is a matter worthy of vigorous discussion, but the actuality that it

  2. There’s an awful lot of confounding variables floating around. What sort of extremism? What sort of poverty?

    High inequality breeds support among the poor for violence against those they perceive as rich, which should be obvious. Why would it cause them to support any other form of extremism?

  3. It is interesting to see Alberto Abadie’s evidence in his 2006 “Poverty, Political Freedom and the Roots of Terrorism” AER paper replicated in a within country study.

  4. The paper does not provide causal evidence that “poverty does not bread support for extremism”. As it says in the conclusion “The poorest respondents in our survey are already less supportive of militant groups than others (at least those living in urban areas). While this is not direct evidence of a causal effect, it begs the question of why past changes in socioeconomic status, which are reflected in current incomes, did not have those effects.”

    One way to interpret the results is: The poor and the middle class both dislike extremism. Despite having little direct exposure to violence, the middle class dislike voilence. But the dislike of the middle-class is less than that of the poor suggesting that experience matters more than lack of income in determining dislike for extremism.

  5. I haven’t read the whole paper, so this may be clarified by it, but it seems the authors are conflating “negative externalities of extremism” with poverty.

    If the authors are looking for the effect of the former on support for extremism, then that seems to be relatively self-apparent: of course those who are exposed to something negative are more opposed to that negative thing.

    And if its poverty they’re interested in as the independent variable, why are they conflating it with exposure to extremism?

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