Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Are All Suicide Bombers So Young?
Are All Martyrs Young?

I have been struck by the age of suicide bombers; they all seem so comparatively young. I do not recall having seen any stories of 65-or-70-year-old suicide bombers (or martyrs to other causes, for that matter). I expect the comments will soon be replete with counter examples, but certainly in a general sense my observation is typical. Why is that?

It seems terribly wasteful for young people to give their lives for a cause, even if you agree with the cause. Surely it would be a much better use of a society's scarce resources if its suicide bombers, martyrs, and even some soldiers, were its senior citizens, who are more likely to be a drain on the economy in the near future if they aren't already.

My colleague, Ron Wintrobe, has a paper forthcoming in Public Choice and a book forthcoming from Cambridge University Press on the economic rationality of extremism. His argument, basically, is that suicide bombers rationally choose this role because they get immense utility from the sense of membership and belonging that comes with being a suicide bomber.

His work is compelling. And it helps explain why we do not see senior-citizen martyrs. It seems that a sense of belonging is much more important to young adults than it is to senior citizens.

But is that always the case? Have there been absolutely no cases of senior-citizen suicide bombers or martyrs for any cause? I find it difficult to believe, difficult to imagine, and difficult to accept that there isn't a sufficiently high variance of personalities that not even one senior citizen has been used as a suicide bomber.

Further, I find it implausible that are not at least some senior citizens who, expecting that their heirs would receive handsome bounties, would be willing to become suicide bombers. Is it just that the thought of 72 virgins in heaven means so little to old guys or is it something else? What am I missing?

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