It turns out that the "poverty causes terrorism" meme is quite widespread, and also quite wrong:
"Each time we have one of these attacks and the backgrounds of the attackers are revealed, this should put to rest the myth that terrorists are attacking us because they are desperately poor," he says. "But this misconception doesn't die."
Less than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush said, "We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror." A couple of months later, his wife, Laura, said, "Educated children are much more likely to embrace the values that defeat terror." Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn has argued, "The war on terrorism will not be won until we have come to grips with the problem of poverty, and thus the sources of discontent."
Sounds good, but turns out to be wrong. Krueger's research shows that terrorists are better-educated and wealthier than non-terrorists. Krueger's research shows that Palestinian suicide bombers are less likely to be from poor familes and more likely to have finished high school. And it also shows that terrorism rates aren't linked to worsening economic conditions.
So Krueger has exploded one theory. Does he have an alternative? He does, but I'm not sure it fits the facts, either:
Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. "When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed," he says, "malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics."
It strikes me that Krueger is just replacing on pious hope with another. His theory makes sense when we're talking about guys from Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- you know, like the people who attacked the US on September 11. But how does it explain British Muslim terrorists? Britain is a political democracy, with free speech, open elections, and a full panoply of civil rights. British Muslims are no more rights-impoverished than they are economically impoverished. His new theory doesn't explain why British Muslims in particular seem willing to go out and kill random civilians. Or at least some of them do. (This point is made in some of the comments here.)
Let me propose one possible explanation. I don't have any actual evidence for these explanations, but hey, I'm a blogger in my PJs, so I don't need no stinkin' evidence.
I would call it the envy theory. These guys have a religion which tells them "you ought to be top dog." And what happens when they went to medical school? They studied advances made by people with names like Pasteur, Lister, Fleming and Salk. A quick glance at the list of Nobel Laureates in Medicine does not reveal even a single winner named Muhammad. Every single day these guys went to work, they were applying a set of techniques and principles developed by another culture. Every single day at work was a reminder of their own civilizational incompetence. Being technically-trained and well-educated just rubs in the message of how far behind West the Muslim World is.