Although purporting to be a post about the “economics of religion,” EconLog’s Bryan Caplan discusses what is really the “economics of martyrdom,” or, to be even more accurate, the “economics of a particular type of ‘martyrdom,’ suicide terrorism.” Caplan’s comments are in reaction to a paper by Lawrence Iannaccone, “The Market for Martyrs.”
The pressing question, according to Caplan, is “How come American opponents of abortion engage in almost no terrorism, much less suicidal terrorism?” And his answer is, “Despite their fiery rhetoric, almost no Americans want to go to jail or die just to stop abortion.” Apparently self-interest is at work. Not an all-together surprising reaction from an economist.
Both Caplan and Iannaccone engage in a supply/demand analysis of the situation, both agreeing that there is very little demand for such martyrs, but disagreeing over whether there is a supply.
The discussion to me seems to miss a much larger point, that is, the Christian teaching about civil disobedience. There’s a long line of literature in the Christian tradition that talks about the complex theological and ethical considerations of taking up arms, either against the State or in place of the State that has abandoned its responsibilities.