A new study explains why people join ISIS (with unexpected answers)

Summary: Insurgencies can’t be fought like conventional wars. Patton’s Third Army didn’t need to know what motivated the NAZIs. The nations of the Middle East cannot defeat ISIS without understanding it, while America’s ignorant efforts (invading, occupying, bombing, and assassinations) have helped destabilize the region. But academics have begun to provide answers, puzzling though they are. Here is one useful new paper.

ISIS spreading the word

Beheading of James Foley on 19 August 2014.

What Explains the Flow of Foreign Fighters to ISIS?

A paper by Efraim Benmelech (Prof Finance, Northwestern U)
and Esteban F. Klor (Prof of Economics, Hebrew U).
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), April 2016.

Les Picker describes the paper in the June 16 NBER Digest.

“As of December 2015, approximately 30,000 fighters from at least 85 countries had joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Although the great majority of ISIS recruits come from the Middle East and the Arab world, there are also many from Western nations, including most member-states of the European Union, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Thousands of fighters from Russia and hundreds from Indonesia and Tajikistan also have joined. ISIS’s recruitment of foreign fighters is a global phenomenon that provides the organization with the human capital needed to operate outside the Middle East.

“{The paper explores} how country characteristics are associated with ISIS recruit flows. They discover more about what does not motivate the foreign fighters than what does.

“They find that poor economic conditions do not drive participation in ISIS. Rather, the number of ISIS fighters from a given country is positively correlated with that country’s per capita gross domestic product and its place on the Human Development Index. Many foreign fighters originate from countries with high levels of economic development, low income inequality, and highly developed political institutions.

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Warning! We’re depressing biodiveristy below safe levels.

Summary: We have been shaping Earth’s biosphere for millennia, but increasing population and technology have exponentially increased our impacts. Research has begun to quantify our net impact and establish levels beyond which the damage becomes serious or terminal. Here’s the latest study. This problem will grow worse as population and incomes grow during the next several decades.

Track human impacts on Earth, setting safe planetary boundaries

By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa.

By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa. By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa. Click to enlarge.

The latest study warning us is “Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment.” — by Tim Newbold et al in Science, 15 July 2016. Gated; here’s the abstract…

“Land use and related pressures have reduced local terrestrial biodiversity, but it is unclear how the magnitude of change relates to the recently proposed planetary boundary (“safe limit”). We estimate that land use and related pressures have already reduced local biodiversity intactness — the average proportion of natural biodiversity remaining in local ecosystems — beyond its recently proposed planetary boundary across 58.1% of the world’s land surface, where 71.4% of the human population live. Biodiversity intactness within most biomes (especially grassland biomes), most biodiversity hotspots, and even some wilderness areas is inferred to be beyond the boundary. Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development.”


“Land use and related pressures have been the main drivers of terrestrial biodiversity change and are increasing. Biodiversity has already experienced widespread large net losses, potentially compromising its contribution to resilient provision of ecosystem functions and services, such as biomass production and pollination, that underpin human well-being.

“Species-removal experiments suggest that loss of ecosystem function accelerates with ongoing species loss beyond which human intervention is needed to ensure adequate local ecosystem function (8, 9). The loss of 20% of species — which affects ecosystem productivity as strongly as other direct drivers — is one possible threshold, but it is unclear by which mechanism species richness affects ecosystem function and whether there are direct effects or only effects on resilience of function.

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Stratfor: generals strike for tyranny in Turkey. Why they failed.

Summary: Francis Fukuyama predicted the triumph of liberal democracies in The End of History and the Last Man. Some of Turkey’s generals disagree; their coup attempt represents a bold strike for well-intentioned tyranny. Here Stratfor explains what’s happening, and the likely outcome.


Why the Turkish Coup Will Likely Fail

Stratfor, 16 July 2016

Update: Turkey’s PM Binali Yildirim said that the coup attempt was a “black stain on Turkish democracy” — but it failed, and that 2,839 soldiers and officers have been arrested.

Turkey’s coup plotters certainly had the element of surprise working in their favor. The speed in which the military deployed in major cities and took control of critical power nodes showed a high degree of organization and efficiency. However, the coup attempt is already starting to fray, and its chances of failing are high because a polarizing faction is leading it.

What went wrong

The mutineers have yet to accomplish two important components of a successful coup, at least at the time of publication.

(1)  Popular Support

The ingredient that will determine who comes out on top in Turkey is popular support. Countercoups in support of Erdogan have already begun, their participants expressing support for the president and his party. The military prepared for resistance by bolstering security in major public areas such as Taksim Square, but now the countercoup presence there is strong. Riot police have joined countercoup protesters, shooting guns in the air and asking the army to leave. Now that there are reports that the military is firing on protesters on the Bosporus Bridge, those who instigated the coup are clearly battling for public support.

(2)  Unity of Force

Last, a successful coup needs a critical mass of security forces that acts in support of the cause; remaining forces, especially those that are weak or sidelined, can be managed. In Turkey, it is unclear where everyone’s loyalty stands, but there are signs of conflict among the various branches of the military.

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Causes and effects of the Nice attack

Summary: The Nice incident was the latest in a long series of jihadist attacks in Europe. Here we look at the mass immigration which made it almost inevitable, and the likely effects. The resulting political destabilization will make mitigate (there is no cure) more difficult — and more attacks are coming.

French Muslims burning French flag

The attack in Nice is just the latest in a long series of attacks by Islamic terrorists in Europe since 2010. This is not just a shock like 9/11 was to America because it results from a long-standing, bipartisan (i.e., both Left and Right), and unpopular policy: allowing mass immigration. The cumulative effect of these attacks might discredit much of western Europe’s political leadership. That might prove more significant the death toll from these incidents.

“What does the word ‘enough’ mean? Is Sweden full? Is the Nordic region full? Are we too many people? We are 25 million people living in the North. I often fly over the Swedish countryside. I would recommend more people to do the same. There are endless fields and forests. There’s as much space as you can imagine. Those who claim that the country is full, they must demonstrate where it is full.”
— Fredrik Reinfeldt (Prime Minster of Sweden from 2006-2014), expressing views of EU’s elites.

The WaPo reports that “The refugee crisis could actually be a boon for Germany.” Pushing wages down! Higher corporate profits!

“‘…this country, which eighty years ago was responsible for the worst crimes of the century, has today won the applause of the world, thanks to its open borders.”
— Merkel, Chancellor of Germany since 2005. Applause of the world’s elites.

In August 2015 this EU poll asked people to list the most important issues facing the EU. What would this look like if run today? Click to enlarge.

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A Harvard Professor explains the populist revolt against immigration & globalization

Summary: I try to bring readers useful and interesting expert opinion. Here’s a mother lode of insight about immigration — articles by Harvard professor George Borjas. His work is essential reading to understand the rise of populism in the US and Europe (it’s not just racism and xenophobia, as our elites would like you to believe), providing both insights and data-based analysis.

“…low growth, rising inequality, and a lack of jobs have combined with social and geopolitical concerns to fuel the rise of populism and inward-looking forces. The greatest challenge we face today is the risk of the world turning its back on global cooperation – the cooperation which has served us all well.”
— IMF managing director Christine Lagarde speech “Redoubling Our Resolve For Global Development“, 14 July 2016. What does she mean by “us”?


Two articles by George Borjas
(Professor of economics, Harvard). Excerpts from his website.

(1) From “Brexit, Immigration, and the Experts“, 25 June 2016

“Having hung around the expert class my entire adult lifetime, there’s one little secret I have learned that I wish was more widely known. The experts pretend they know a lot–their income and reputation depends on getting others to buy into their pretention. Many of them, in fact, are  so articulate that they can make hour-long speeches about things they know absolutely nothing about. (I will never forget a meeting where a leading older luminary haughtily dismissed all of popular music by claiming that composing and producing a hit song was a trivial exercise that anyone with half a brain could replicate).

“But, in fact, practically all so-called experts know almost nothing outside their very narrow field of expertise. And much of what they know within that narrow field is colored by both self-interest and by the ideological lens through which they view the world. If the experts gain from living in a globalized world (which they do!), then expert evidence will tend to confirm that a globalized world is good.

“Experts know and have told us many times that immigrants do not make anyone worse off. And how do they know that? By buying lock, stock, and barrel into any evidence that points in that direction. By nit-picking apart any evidence that lies outside the narrative. And, as David Frum himself pointed out a few months ago, by engaging in ‘data dredging on an industrial scale’ when an unpleasant result needs to be utterly destroyed.

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