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Religion, Terrorism and Public Goods: Testing the Club Model

  • Eli Berman
  • David D. Laitin

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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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
Note: LS PE PR
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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  2. Robert M. Townsend, . "Risk and Insurance in Village India," University of Chicago - Population Research Center 91-3a, Chicago - Population Research Center.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  7. 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..
  8. Alan B. Krueger & Jitka Maleckova, 2002. "Education, Poverty, Political Violence and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?," NBER Working Papers 9074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. 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.
  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. Eli Berman & David Laitin, 2005. "Hard Targets: Theory and Evidence on Suicide Attacks," NBER Working Papers 11740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  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. Trajtenberg, Manuel, 2004. "Defense R&D in the Anti-Terrorist Era," CEPR Discussion Papers 4509, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  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. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521859646 is not listed on IDEAS
  18. 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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