The Anti-Terror Right’s Incentive Problem

The fact that voting behavior is so heavily driven by macroeconomic trends has some positive benefits. It means that incumbents have a strong incentive to implement policies that are conducive to growth. And the industrialized democracies of the world do, indeed, normally see economic growth.

Meanwhile, Ace of Spades doesn’t like the left’s take on terrorism:

The left has four political goals:

1) To reverse the public perception that they are a bunch of sissy-pants (not Sassypants, which is altogether different).

2) To de-emphasize terrorism as a media issue, because terror concerns play well for conservatives. (See Goal 1 and the sissy-pants problem.)

3) To sell the public, politically, on a hateful policy of treating terrorists nicely, because, like, Dostoyevsky said something like “you can judge a nation by the way it treats psychotic murder-cultists intent on killing as many innocent civilians as possible for no other reason except to masturbate in human blood.”

4) To actually reduce terrorism, because doing so achieves Goal 1 and Goal 2, and also would be a great selling point for Goal 3. (See?! It makes no sense but it works!)

This is all phrased in a pretty insulting manner, but I think it contains more than a grain or two of analytic truth. Which leads to the conclusion that left-wing politicians have strong political incentives to succeed in reducing the incidence of terrorism. Right-wing politicians, by contrast, have no such incentives.

The Ace, however, reaches a different conclusion:

Before getting any further, let us note the incandescently obvious that Goals 1–3 are Major Goals and Goal 4 is a sort of “Nice but Not Necessary” sort of thing. If they can accomplish Goals 1–3, in terms of politics, they’re all set. If they can sell the public on the idea that a little bit of mass-murder never killed anyone (except for the people it actually killed, of course), they can pretty ignore Goal 4.

This is obviously necessary in order for Ace to turn his analysis into a piece of liberal-bashing. But it really makes very little sense. It’s clear that if you want to accomplish the left’s political goals, the only reliable way to achieve that is going to be to in fact succeed in reducing the quantity and severity of terrorist attacks. Similarly, it’s clear that right-wing politics benefits from an increase in terrorist attacks. The most comprehensive research on this comes from Israel, where they have longer years of experience with terrorism, and it’s clear that terrorist violence boosts the fortunes of right-wing parties. This is why it’s easy for an issue that seemed close to a solution 10 years ago to devolve into the current mess — Palestinian violence brings right-wing Israelis to power, whose anti-Palestinian violence empowers right-wing Palestinian movements whose anti-Israeli violence empowers right-wing Israelis.


In America, it’s just the same. I have no doubt that conservative politicians and pundits have a subjective desire to see the country well-defended, but their objective interests point in the other direction. And objective incentives matter to people.