Public Choice

, Volume 128, Issue 1–2, pp 91–107 | Cite as

Terrorism: The relevance of the rational choice model

  • Bryan CaplanEmail author
Original Article


Terrorism in general, and suicidal terrorism in particular, is popularly seen as “irrational,” but many economists and political scientists argue otherwise. This paper distinguishes three different senses of irrationality: unresponsiveness to incentives, deviation from narrow self-interest, and failure of rational expectations. It concludes that an intermediate position on the rationality of terrorism is appropriate. The typical terrorist sympathizer deviates only slightly from homo economicus. But active terrorists arguably stray from narrow self-interest and rational expectations, and suicidal terrorists probably violate both. Deterrence remains a viable anti-terrorism strategy, but deviations from rational expectations increase the potential of persuasion and appeasement.


Terrorism Irrationality Paradox of revolution 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Center for Study of Public ChoiceGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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