Economics - General

Homegrown Terror

On 60 Minutes this week, I saw a piece called “Uncovering the Roots of Homegrown Terrorism” which documents the rise in the number of American citizens who are receiving training in Pakistan for Terrorists operations.  Many of these ‘homegrown terrorists’ are ethnically Pakistani, though certainly not all.  The story also documents a similar problem with some young Somalis in Minneapolis.

This leads to the natural (often unasked) question: What are the odds that the Pakistani-looking individual walking down the street is in fact a suicide bomber or terrorist.  The answer, is very low.

To illustrate, let’s assume that 70% of all terrorists are of Pakistani decent.  If there are 1000 American-born terrorists currently on U.S. soil, then this implies that there are 700 Pakistani-American terrorists.  [I made up the 1000 figure.  This figure might be too low, especially if we define a terrorists as a young men with anti-establishment beliefs; if one were to apply this definition, however, it would include almost every teenager in the country.  On the other hand, I doubt that there are 1000 American citizens who would actually blow themselves up to prove a point, despite the number of people on the internet claiming they would do so.] Since there are about 210,000 Pakistani-Americans in the U.S., the chance than any one of them is a terrorist is only 0.3% (700/210,000). This means that if you see 100 Pakistanis in a day, the chances even one of them is a terrorist is very low.

To make a comparison, the incarceration rate in the U.S. is 0.7%.  In fact, 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents (or 1 in every 31 adults) will be on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end.  Thus, it is more likely that you know an American-born criminal than a Pakistani-American terrorist.

While terrorism is a serious concern to American security, the chances the Pakistani man sitting next to you on the plane is a terrorist is in fact extremely low.

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