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Religion, Terrorism and Public Goods: Testing the Club Model

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  • Eli Berman
  • David D. Laitin

Abstract

Can rational choice modeling explain why Hamas, Taliban, Hezbollah and other radical religious rebels are so lethal? The literature rejects theological explanations. We propose a club framework, which emphasizes the function of voluntary religious organizations as efficient providers of local public goods in the absence of government provision. The sacrifices religious clubs require are economically efficient (Iannaccone (1992)), making them well suited for solving the extreme principal-agent problems faced by terrorist and insurgent organizations. Thus religious clubs can be potent terrorists. That explanation is supported by data on terrorist lethality in the Middle East. The same approach explains why religious clubs often choose suicide attacks. Using three data sources spanning a half century, and comparing suicide attackers to civil war insurgents, we show that suicide attacks are chosen when targets are "hard," i.e., difficult to destroy. Data from Israel/Palestine confirm that prediction. To explain why radical religious clubs specialize in suicide attacks we model the choice of tactics by rebels attacking hard targets, considering the human costs and tactical benefits of suicide attacks. We ask what a suicide attacker would have to believe to be rational. We then embed that attacker and other operatives in a club model. The model has testable implications for tactic choice and damage achieved by clubs and other rebels, which are supported by data on terrorist attacks in the Middle East: Radical religious clubs are more lethal and choose suicide terrorism more often, when they provide benign local public goods. Our results suggest benign tactics to counter terrorism by religious radicals.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13725.

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Date of creation: Jan 2008
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Publication status: published as Berman, Eli & Laitin, David D., 2008. "Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(10-11), pages 1942-1967, October.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13725

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  1. Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2004. "Defense R&D in the Anti-Terrorist Era," CEPR Discussion Papers 4509, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Townsend, Robert M, 1994. "Risk and Insurance in Village India," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(3), pages 539-91, May.
  3. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Soss, Neal M, 1974. "An Economic Theory of Suicide," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 83-98, Jan.-Feb..
  4. Breton, Albert & Wintrobe, Ronald, 1986. "The Bureaucracy of Murder Revisited," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(5), pages 905-26, October.
  5. Iannaccone, Laurence R, 1992. "Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-Riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(2), pages 271-91, April.
  6. Eli Berman & David D. Laitin, 2008. "Religion, Terrorism and Public Goods: Testing the Club Model," NBER Working Papers 13725, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Claude Berrebi, 2003. "Evidence About the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism Among Palestinians," Working Papers 856, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  8. Eli Berman & Laurence R. Iannaccone, 2005. "Religious Extremism: The Good, The Bad, and The Deadly," NBER Working Papers 11663, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Eli Berman, 2003. "Hamas, Taliban and the Jewish Underground: An Economist's View of Radical Religious Militias," NBER Working Papers 10004, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Eli Berman, 2000. "Sect, Subsidy, And Sacrifice: An Economist'S View Of Ultra-Orthodox Jews," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 905-953, August.
  11. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi, 2007. "Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 223-238, Summer.
  12. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi, 2007. "Attack Assignments in Terror Organizations and The Productivity of Suicide Bombers," NBER Working Papers 12910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Wintrobe,Ronald, 2006. "Rational Extremism," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521859646, April.
  14. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  16. Eli Berman & David Laitin, 2005. "Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks," NBER Working Papers 11740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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