Practical steps after the Paris attacks

By now you’ve no doubt heard of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and you’ve no doubt heard the rumblings about “what we should do now”. Neocons whose Iraq war set the rise of ISIS in motion see it as further proof that the Western powers should never have eased up on the hard line. The anti-immigration factions are having a field day. Cooler heads remind us to remain calm but it’s not very clear what exactly we’re supposed to do once we’ve calmed down. What kinds of policies would help here?

It’s very hard to stop people once they are committed to doing violence. What sends them down that path? How can they be deterred earlier? We always read that a major recruiting pool for attacks like these are the young, the disaffected, the unacculturated, the unsuccessful. Often these are second- or third-generation sons of immigrants who immigrated at great cost to themselves. What long-term policies would remove the appeal of joining terror networks? (The short term is another question, one that is outside the scope here.)

The major question is why, given the choice between ordinary life in the new country and terrorism, some people choose terrorism? How does policy move the people who might choose terrorism into the category of people who don’t?

One thing that would surely help is to radically scale back the social programs that Europe is famous for. If merely existing in a country entitles immigrants to housing and other necessaries paid for with tax funds, incentives to learn the local languages and customs enough to get along with the natives are greatly reduced. Incentives should encourage staying in school and in the workforce, where people are acculturated to their host countries, much more than they do now. I note that the very successful acculturation of immigrants to the US throughout almost all of its history happened in times when, for the most part, he who did not work did not eat.

It’s not just welfare policies, it’s labor policies too. Europe in general and France in particular have extremely tight labor policies committed to preserving the status quo that strangle dynamism in the cradle. Supposing the social safety net were scaled back dramatically, sending immigrants en masse into the workforce, it would be very difficult to fit all of them into it given that labor policies are what they currently are. Because firing is so difficult, hiring is a big risk and is undertaken at much less than its natural level. Many workers, especially unskilled immigrant workers, don’t (yet) have the productivity to justify being paid very high minimum wages and aren’t legally allowed to contract to work for less. (Thus the artificial need for the welfare state.) This is bad for everybody who isn’t part of the protected classes, and it prevents acculturation of newcomers.

The obvious rejoinder is that these policies exist for the benefit of current Europeans, though the points still stand. The discipline of interacting with other people in productive ways is good for immigrants and for natives, and the disincentives to do so in overly intrusive policy systems affect both immigrants and natives.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that the immigrants should completely abandon their traditional cultures. One of the most attractive things about American culture, for example, is the mix of influences from all over the world. But cultures that are successful are successful due to widespread tacit agreement on very basic, nonsectarian things. These are the things that productive interaction teaches and reinforces and that too much government assistance doesn’t.

The effect of this would be to reduce the terrorist recruiting pool very sharply, even holding violence in the Middle East constant. Of course, it would not be eliminated entirely. Short of incredibly draconian police state measures nothing will, and I think the argument against the draconian police state doesn’t have to be restated here.


Author: rfmcelroyiii

Student and instructor of economics.

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