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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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2004. "Defense R&D in the Anti-Terrorist Era," CEPR Discussion Papers 4509, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Townsend, R.M., 1991. "Risk and Insurance in Village India," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 91-3, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  7. 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.
  8. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  9. Eli Berman & David Laitin, 2005. "Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks," NBER Working Papers 11740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521859646 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. Alan B. Krueger & Jitka Maleckova, 2002. "Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?," Working Papers 203, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  12. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  13. 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.
  14. Eli Berman, 1998. "Sect, Subsidy, and Sacrifice: An Economist's View of Ultra-Orthodox Jews," NBER Working Papers 6715, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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..
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
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