Silviu Dochia at Corner Solution has an insightful critique of my recent post on Larry Iannaccone and the market for martyrs. In the conclusion of my original piece, I wrote:

In other words, for every person willing to die, there must be at least one hundred sympathizers who would join a church that advocated suicide bombing. If you can’t get one hundred people to join a church that preaches suicide bombing, you probably can’t find anyone willing to practice suicide bombing.

So why don’t American opponents of abortion do suicide bombing? My story, anyway, is that (a) Larry is right that there is little demand, but (b) Contrary to Larry, this virtually implies that there is vastly less supply.

Silviu sensibly replies:

Contrary to Bryan Caplan’s claim, knowing something about demand does not necessarily tell you much about supply. Lots of things could be supplied cheaply, but we rarely observe them. (When is the last time you found men’s pink dress suits at the local store? Are tailors unwilling to supply them, or are they rationally responding to a lack of profit opportunities?)

In general, of course, Silviu’s right. Just because people want their garbage hauled does not imply the existence of people who like the smell of refuse in the morning.

However, my argument is not that demand necessarily implies supply, but that in “religious markets” the two are unusually connected. Think of it this way: Who are the suppliers of religion – priests, nuns, and such? Empirically, they are basically just very intense demanders of religion – people so into the product they start making more.

Religion isn’t the only example – lots of social activities fit the same model. Consider gaming. Who are the suppliers of games – organizers, referees, and such? Empirically, they are the die-hard players – people whose demand for games is so strong that they seize the initiative to make their hobby happen. I spent virtually every Saturday in high school (including Prom Night) refereeing a Dungeons and Dragons game. Why? Because I liked playing the game so much that I supplied not only my own demand but the demand of my fellow dateless wonders.

Yes, I too was a martyr for my creed… but the only victims were imaginary.