French economist Thomas Piketty is no stranger to controversy, thanks in part to his best-selling writing about income inequality. But he may have just floated his most controversial theory yet, one about the rise of the Islamic State, writes Jim Tankersley in the Washington Post. As first laid out in the French paper Le Monde, Piketty argues that income inequality driven largely by Western policies is a huge factor why ISIS has become so popular. A handful of states—think Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman—have a disproportionate share of wealth, so much so that the region is the "most unequal on the planet." These "oil monarchies" are propped up by the West, which makes it hardly surprising that the vast majority of Mideast youth want no part of Western lessons about democracy and social justice.
Tankersley summarizes: "The clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region's residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a 'powder keg' for terrorism across the region." And if terrorism has its roots in inequality, then Western nations would do well to fight back economically. For example, they could try to make sure that oil money goes into broader social development, including education, rather than into the coffers of a few families. Piketty argues that income inequality is notably worse in the Mideast than in the US and elsewhere, though Tankersley points out that the region's economic stats are shaky. If Piketty is right, however, the income level disparities there are "jarring," writes Tankersley. "Whether they are a root cause of the Islamic State is a debate that is very likely just beginning." Click for the full post. (Read more Thomas Piketty stories.)