Edited by Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers
Chapter 8: Terrorism in Rational Choice Perspective
William F. Shughart II 8.1 INTRODUCTION In the economist’s model of rational human behavior, all individuals are assumed to be motivated by self-interest. They seek to maximize their senses of personal well-being, or utility, an objective that includes not only the satisfaction derived from consuming goods and services purchased on the market, but also the psychic pleasure associated with the attainment of any other desired end. What is of chief importance here is that self-interest is not to be understood narrowly as selfishness; the aim of economically rational economic man (or woman) is not solely to maximize private income or wealth. Other-regarding preferences indulged by actions such as providing aid and comfort to family and friends, bestowing charity on strangers or supporting a revolutionary cause fall within the ambit of the rational-choice model. So, too, does striving to gain entrée to a believed-in afterlife. Faced with a limited budget and unlimited wants, the problem confronting abstract economic man simply is to select the particular combination of market and non-market goods that, in the chooser’s own judgment, yields the greatest possible level of satisfaction. Terrorists are rational actors on that definition. Rationality in the spirit of Homo oeconomicus is not necessarily to be found in terrorists’ stated intentions, though. Indeed, living in a “fantasy world” (Laqueur 1999, p. 28), the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Group), Italy’s Brigate Rosse, France’s Action Directe and other left-wing terror groups of the 1960s and 1970s generally had no well-articulated purposes beyond “destruction of the...
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