My colleague Lawrence Iannaccone is the world’s leading researcher on the economics of religion. His work fascinates me, but at the end of the day, I wonder how much of it is true.

One juicy tidbit:

In “The Market for Martyrs,” Larry argues that there is an ample supply of people willing to die for a cause. The limiting factor, contrary to popular opinion, is demand. There usually aren’t many organizations that want to recruit suicidal terrorists. At times, Larry’s goal is simply to get us to stop neglecting demand. But as best as I can tell, his main point is that anti-terrorism policies would be more effective if they focused on demand.

Interesting, but is he right? Toward the end of his paper, he poses a deep question: How come American opponents of abortion engage in almost no terrorism, much less suicidal terrorism? My knee-jerk answer is: Despite their fiery rhetoric, almost no Americans want to go to jail or die just to stop abortion. (Yes, Arnold Kling has a point – deeds – and lack thereof – sometimes speak louder than words!)

Not so, says Larry:

[M]any millions view the act of abortion as murder… [T]ens of thousands of anti-abortion “true believers” already devote substantial portions of their time and money to anti-abortion activities. Thus, the potential supply of militant anti-abortion “martyrs” is vast.

So why aren’t abortion clinics blowing up every day?

But the actual supply remains effectively zero, because no Christian organizations have entered the business of recruiting, training, and launching anti-abortion militants… [C]ontemporary realities make religiously-sponsored violence unprofitable for American religious “firms.” Any church or preacher advocating anti-abortion killings, much less planning them, would suffer huge loses in reputation, influence, membership, and funding, not to mention criminal prosecution…

So let me get this straight. There are lots of people willing to sacrifice their lives to stop abortions, but not enough sympathizers to sustain one splinter church that blesses their jihad? I can see why Jerry Falwell doesn’t want to lose his social position, but surely some hungry religious entrepreneur would be happy to lead a small church for people who admire suicide bombing of abortion clincs.

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.