The Corner

National Security & Defense

Don’t Worry: Thomas Piketty Has the Answer to ISIS and the War on Terror

Here is a confession: I tend to look at every policy issue through the narrow lens of small government, government’s interference with the market, freedom, and cronyism. But I guess you knew that. But let’s face it, no one is as committed to explaining the world around us through one — and only one — factor as French economist and American darling, Thomas Piketty.

In a new piece in the French newspaper Le Monde, Piketty makes the case that income inequality is behind ISIS and the recent Paris attacks. Over at the Washington Post, Jim Tankersley explains:

Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality.

Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population. If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70 percent of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10 percent of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he’s talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16 percent of the region’s population in 2012 and almost 60 percent of its gross domestic product.)

This concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.”

Piketty goes on to blame the West for the persistence of the oil monarchies, and hence, the inequality in the region. The solution, according to Piketty, is to make sure that everyone is sharing in the oil-money profit.

As for France, and its homegrown terrorists, he blames the discrimination in the hiring of immigrants and high unemployment. I don’t disagree. Big government policies do create slow growth and high unemployment. His solution, however, is for the French government to turn its back to austerity and embrace higher government spending.

Whether Piketty’s assessment of inequality in the region is accurate, and whether it is the “real” root cause of terrorism and ISIS, those following his work will find themselves on very familiar territory. I guess that’s what happens when you have a convenient one-size-fits-all explanation for all problems.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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