How to Combat Extremism Using Markets

Terrorists, political extremists, and other violent groups are certainly a problem in the world.  Although the world has become a safer place, there remains many hot spots in the word, especially in Africa and the Middle East.  While a good amount of this violence is government against its own people, some is committed by violent groups such as ISIS, The Lord’s Resistance Army, or Hezbollah.

So, where do markets fit in here?  How can voluntary trade combat violence?  By combating their recruitment ability.

Extremists have long been able to prey on poverty and vulnerability to gain recruits.  History is full of such examples: 1920’s Germany, 2015 Greece, 1930’s America, 1910’s Russia, present day Middle East.  When people are poor and out of work, that feeling of helplessness is easily exploited.  The extremists can come up with all kinds of scapegoats to blame for the problems (the Jews, the Rich, the West, for example).  Preying on the despair, the extremists can offer easy solutions (Come fight with us!  We’ll take care of you and we’ll get back at the bad guys!).

Markets can help combat this by enriching the people.  Markets have an amazing ability to make people wealthier, even the poorest members.  By enriching the population through free and open markets, it would reduce poverty levels and make recruitment by extremists that much harder (as an aside, this is part of the reason why trade embargoes do not work well to end conflicts).

Would this solve the problem of extremism completely?  Of course not.  There are many factors that go into this problem, but I humbly offer my method to combat the problem, not through force, but through peace.  If the Middle East were richer, ISIS would likely still be around somewhat, but their ability to recruit would be severely hamstrung.

2 thoughts on “How to Combat Extremism Using Markets

  1. “Markets can help combat this by enriching the people.”

    Absolutely no doubt of that; but, market of the order to enrich people’s lives in such places as the USSR or the old Red China, are not too likely. Might as well say Magic can help combat this by enriching the people.

    Solutions only work when a people will implement them, and most often the rulers do not want to implement your logical solutions because it reduces their personal power and profit making potential.


    • Indeed, freer markets and trade will enrich the lives of people making them less susceptible to taking up violent extremist activities. Opportunity costs arise and trading death and despair for ambitions, dreams, comfortable living, and wealth built is less likely.

      For people living under current regimes that do not allow enough market freedom for wealth building of that region except for those in the regime or friends of the regime, they will remain impoverished, with less opportunities, and susceptible to charismatic individuals offering purpose through violence. Those susceptible individuals can only hope the next generation will have more opportunity through the sacrifices made by those rise up violently.

      What to do, in the present, other than wait out the regime? That has been where things get messy. The broad range of ideas and practices have been to wage war, under mine regimes, impose sanctions and embargoes, arm insurgencies, destabilize currencies, distort market pricing of the regimes main source of income from trade, and to wait out regimes, continue trade to allow for meager existence at the behest of the regime.
      So far, all of these options have done little to improve the lots of anyone except those who build the weapons, those who benefit from subsidies in market distorting, currency hedgers with insider info before manipulations arise, and violent, extremist, idealistic groups looking to impose their own oppressive authority in a quest for power.
      The least short term consequences have been to continue trade and wait out regimes. Some of the best long term results have been in waging war. Examples have been in Korea, Japan, Germany. But, the price paid was extremely high. Hundreds of million of lives were harmed in doing so. It’s not a solution. And, it’s not guaranteed as the results of WW1, Middle East, and Asia can attest to.
      You are young, Jon. Keep thinking.


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