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Bad Jobs and Terrorism


We will likely never know what turns an individual into a murderer. But we do know that poverty and hopelessness can lead people toward violence. It’s worth taking this Joe Allen piece seriously, as he considers the work life of Sayfullo Saipov, the man who killed 8 New Yorkers with a van last week, and how it consistently frustrated him and destroyed his dreams.

If we had a large union movement that couldimprove the truckers’ working conditions, would Sayfullo Saipov have led an obscure but reasonably happy life? Would his eight victims have gone on with their lives?

We will never know.

We do know that Saipov worked in an industry designed to keep its employees dependent on their bosses. From the old-fashioned trucking companies to the start-ups like Uber, drivers earn less and work harder now than they did just forty years ago.

I can’t help but wonder if Saipov was more like the perpetrators of workplace violence — who have characterized this country since the Reagan presidency — than like an Islamist terrorist.

Obviously, one cannot legitimately make the claim that good jobs will end terrorism. We know that’s not the case. But we can say that when people have hope for the future, they are less likely to turn toward violent movements. One way to help people have that hope is to make their jobs a dignified way to earn money, allowing them to live an upwardly mobile life. Maybe, just maybe, that might have helped save the lives of those New Yorkers.

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