Prediction: Terrorism in the Middle East Will Decline By Half Between 2020 and 2040
Why? Kevin Drum explains at Mother Jones:
I’m going to make an obvious point about this, but I want to make it carefully. Ever since I wrote my piece about the link between violent crime and leaded gasoline, I’ve gotten periodic questions about whether lead might be responsible for other things. The most common answer is maybe—but it’s unlikely we’ll ever have the data to prove it. For that reason, I try to stay pretty restrained about exactly what lead might and might not be responsible for.
That said, there’s a lot of evidence that leaded gasoline produced a wave of violent crime between 1960-1990 in the developed world, and that the introduction of unleaded gasoline eliminated that wave and eventually brought crime rates down nearly to 1960 levels. In most developed countries, leaded gasoline was phased out starting around the mid-70s, which benefited children born after that. When those children reached their late teenage years in the early 90s, they were much less prone to impulsiveness and aggression, which led to lower crime rates.
But not every part of the world followed that timetable. In particular, leaded gasoline continued to be used in the Middle East up through the late 90s. Egypt began phasing it out in 1998, and most other countries followed over the next decade or so. Only a few—including Iraq and Afghanistan—still sell significant amounts of leaded gasoline.
Since lead poisoning affects infants, its affects show up about 18-20 years later. What this means is that in the bright red countries, the cohort of kids who reach their late teen years around 2020 should be significantly less aggressive and violent than previous cohorts. Around 2025 the countries in lighter red will join them. Around 2030 the countries in pink will join. By 2040 or so, the process will be complete.
Obviously this means that crime rates in the Middle East should decline steadily between 2020-40. But there’s more. Given the effects of lead, it seems almost certain that reducing lead poisoning in teenagers and young adults should lead to a decline in terrorism as well.
This is where I want to be careful. Obviously terrorism, like crime, has a lot of causes. What’s more, you could eliminate every molecule of lead in the world and you’d still have plenty of crime and plenty of terrorism. But you’d have less.
Continue reading. He includes an interesting speculation.