In the wake of the Bali bombing, Australians have confronted the
difficult question: "Why do they hate us so much?" while
politicians have asked, "What can we do to stop this happening
again?" Yet these questions are two sides of the same coin: to
determine how to respond to October 12, we must first understand its
While intellectuals have often claimed that hatred defies
comprehension, a recent study by Harvard economist Edward
Glaeser argues just the opposite – contending that the market for
hate is amenable to economic analysis.
Hatred, Glaeser argues, is supplied by political entrepreneurs to
satisfy demand from citizens. Extremist political figures sow hatred
against minority groups as a means of gaining political support. Why?
Because redistributive policies help one group, but harm others –
politics usually requires tradeoffs. Yet by fostering hate, politicians
can get credit for both those they help and those they hurt.
The supply of hate can be directed not merely against minority groups,
but also against powerful outsiders. As Glaeser points out, there was very
little anti-Americanism in the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s. But
following the US-backed coup in Iran, and subsequent support for the Shah,
opposition politicians were able to exploit anti-Americanism to undermine
their more moderate opponents.
How can hatred be tackled? Economics tells us that raising costs can
lower demand. Glaeser notes that hatred usually involves extreme
characterisations of the hated, and as such, repeated social interactions
can make the beliefs of haters both more costly and harder to sustain.
Another effective way of reducing hatred is by turning the very same
emotional mechanisms against the haters themselves – Glaeser terms this
"hating the haters". The images of Ghandi’s supporters being
clubbed by British troops in India, or of Martin Luther King’s followers
being attacked by hoses and police dogs, fuelled hatred against the
perpetrators of such violence. When these self-correcting forces are
absent, hatred is likely to prosper. Australia is an outsider in
Indonesian politics, and as Glaeser’s analysis predicted, hatred has
Since it appears likely that some element of anti-Australianism was
behind the attack in Bali, we believe that there are three lessons our
policymakers can draw from Glaeser’s research.
The first is that we should raise the "cost" of hating
Australians by increasing the number of interactions between ordinary
Indonesians and ourselves. While it may be prudent for some Australians to
leave now, it is in our long-term interest to foster closer social and
cultural ties between our two nations. This may also be an opportune time
to expand Radio Australia’s Indonesian language services.
Second, by eliminating arbitrary redistribution between groups and
requiring equal treatment, the rule of law reduces the scope for policies
that profit from hate. As the International Crisis Group pointed out in a
report released two days before the Bali bombing, rivalries between the
Indonesian army and police are rife. Australia should consider providing
resources to help build the troubled Indonesian police force, with the aim
of re-establishing the rule of law, and thereby reducing the scope for
The third lesson is perhaps the most counter-intuitive. Because of the
way in which hatred is fostered, Australia should avoid being seen to
publicly oppose fundamentalist Islamists. Doing so only makes it more
profitable for fundamentalists to exploit anti-Australian sentiment,
instead of seriously engaging the issues.
When we contacted him this week, Glaeser argued that Australia faced
the same challenge in Indonesia as the US does in the Middle East: "I
think that the worst thing that the US can do, from a hatred point of
view, is to embrace the moderate Iranians. As much as we in our hearts
applaud what they are doing, by publicly supporting them, we doom
them." For Australia, Glaeser’s view was that this meant that we
should be perceived as "supporting both sides". He suggested
that Australia might want to "publicly appear to radical Muslims and
talk about how while you condemn violence, you support their rights".
Thinking about the factors underpinning the supply and demand of hatred
is a complex and uncomfortable exercise. But we are now in a year of
living dangerously, and Australian policymakers must understand the
factors that produce hatred before they decide how to respond.