The Economics of Suicide Bombing

An instructive – and admittedly interesting – example of the proclivity of economists to reduce almost everything to rationalist explanations.

Attack Assignments in Terror Organizations and The Productivity of Suicide Bombers

  Efraim Benmelech, Claude Berrebi

NBER Working Paper No. 12910
Issued in February 2007
NBER Program(s):   LS    POL

This paper studies the relation between human capital of suicide bombers and outcomes of their suicide attacks. We argue that human capital is an important factor in the production of terrorism, and that if terrorists behave rationally we should observe that more able suicide bombers are assigned to more important targets. We use a unique data set detailing the biographies of Palestinian suicide bombers, the targets they attack, and the number of people that they kill and injure to validate the theoretical predictions and estimate the returns to human capital in suicide bombing. Our empirical analysis suggests that older and more educated suicide bombers are being assigned by their terror organization to more important targets. We find that more educated and older suicide bombers are less likely to fail in their mission, and are more likely to cause increased casualties when they attack.

One comment

  • Yah I needed an econon course to tell me that older more skilled workers do a better job and thus are given bigger responsibility–I bet they cost more.

    Never mind that taking ones life is fundamentally irrational from neoclassical point of view as the individual receives no benefit from their choice of all choices. Perhaps the econs that wrote this believe in the after-life if so then they could say that suicide bombing was rational from an individual’s point of view. I am not sure how an economist would go about verifying the existence of the after-life –at least and be alive to tell us about it—perhaps we should encourage more empirical investigations on their part.

    Of course, the defence might be that as long as the individual believes there is an after life then committing suicide is rational. However, once rationality is given such a broad interpretation then it applies to all domains and thus to a null explanatory domain. That which explains everything explains nothing. Silly explanations precisely stated remain exactly that: precisely stated, silly explanations.

    Unless of course we speak here of god:

    Ego sum Alpha et Omega principium et finis dicit Dominus Deus qui est et qui erat et qui venturus est Omnipotens

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