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Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model

  • Berman, Eli
  • Laitin, David D.

Can rational models, once theological explanations are discredited, explain why certain radical religious rebels are so successful in perpetrating suicide attacks? The fundamental barrier to success turns out not to be recruiting suicide attackers; there is a rational basis for volunteering. Rather, the barrier is the danger of other operatives defecting. A club model, portraying voluntary religious organizations as efficient providers of local public goods, explains how they weed out potential defectors by requiring sacrifices as signals of commitment. They are thereby able to succeed in risky terrorist attacks. The model has testable implications for tactic choice and damage achieved by clubs and other rebel organizations. Data spanning a half-century on both terrorists and civil war insurgents, much from Middle East sources and Israel/Palestine, reveal that: a) missions organized by radical religious clubs that provide benign local public goods are both more lethal and are more likely to be suicide attacks than missions organized by other terrorist groups with similar aims and theologies; and b) suicide attacks are chosen when targets are "hard," i.e., difficult to destroy. Our results suggest benign tactics to counter radical religious terrorism and insurgency.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 92 (2008)
Issue (Month): 10-11 (October)
Pages: 1942-1967

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:10-11:p:1942-1967
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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  1. 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.
  2. Eli Berman, 2000. "Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice: An Economist's View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 905-953.
  3. 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.
  4. Townsend, Robert M, 1994. "Risk and Insurance in Village India," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(3), pages 539-91, May.
  5. 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.
  6. 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..
  7. Daniel L. Chen, 2010. "Club Goods and Group Identity: Evidence from Islamic Resurgence during the Indonesian Financial Crisis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(2), pages 300-354, 04.
  8. 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.
  9. Wintrobe,Ronald, 2006. "Rational Extremism," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521859646, June.
  10. 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.
  11. Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2004. "Defense R&D in the Anti-Terrorist Era," CEPR Discussion Papers 4509, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. Berrebi Claude, 2007. "Evidence about the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism among Palestinians," Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 13(1), pages 1-38, December.
  13. repec:pri:indrel:dsp01bk1289895 is not listed on IDEAS
  14. Michael Spence, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-374.
  15. 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.
  16. Eli Berman & David Laitin, 2005. "Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks," NBER Working Papers 11740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. 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.
  18. repec:pri:rpdevs:krueger_maleckova_education_poverty_political is not listed on IDEAS
  19. 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.
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