The Economics of Terrorism and Counterterrorism: What Matters, and is Rational-Choice Theory Helpful?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


What is the relationship between terrorism and such potential root causes as poverty, education, religion, and mental health? Is it useful to discuss cause-effect relationships in terms of a rational-choice model? The questions are related in the following way. First, many have sought to explain terrorism in terms of various structural factors such as those mentioned, without reference to issues of choice. In this case, the factors are thought of as preconditions; the imagery is then of the form “Because of such-and-such powerful factors, people are driven to or drawn into terrorism.” The empirical evidence has tended to disconfirm such approaches, as decisively as one finds in social science. An alternative approach is to explain terrorism as the result of what individuals and groups perceive (whether or not correctly) as rational choices. It seems clear that simple-minded rational-choice models do not work well (models such as those that limit considerations solely to monetary reward benefits and costs). However, I shall argue that more-sophisticated rational choice models appear to have substantial explanatory power.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationSocial Science for Counterterrorism
Subtitle of host publicationPutting the Pieces Together
EditorsPaul K. Davis, Kim Cragin
Place of PublicationSanta Monica, CA
PublisherRand Corporation
Number of pages58
ISBN (Print)9780833047069
StatePublished - 2009


  • Terrorism
  • rational choice
  • suicide terrorism
  • poverty
  • education


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