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Religion, terrorism and public goods: Testing the club model

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  • Berman, Eli
  • Laitin, David D.

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • 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:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:10-11:p:1942-1967
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Terrorism Economics of religion Club goods Public goods Insurgency Sects Middle East Suicide attacks Development economics;

    JEL classification:

    • D2 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War
    • H68 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt - - - Forecasts of Budgets, Deficits, and Debt
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • O17 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Formal and Informal Sectors; Shadow Economy; Institutional Arrangements
    • O24 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Trade Policy; Factor Movement; Foreign Exchange Policy
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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