[Econ Talk] Anja Shortland on Kidnap

Anja Shortland on Kidnap

17/06/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=73660985
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/Shortlandkidnap.mp3

Anja Shortland of King’s College London talks about her book Kidnap with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Kidnapping is relatively common in parts of the world where government authority is weak. Shortland explores this strange, frightening, but surprisingly orderly world. She shows how the interaction between kidnappers, victims, and insurance companies creates a somewhat predictable set of prices for ransom and creates a relatively high chance of the safe return of those who are kidnapped.

Start Date: 2019-09-03

Finish Date: 2019-09-04


  • What an episode! Totally fascinating.
  • Many years ago, I had seen a movie in which Russel Crowe is a kidnap insurance specialist who goes rogue (but for good and not evil). This episode kept reminding me of that. Searching now, and it turns out that the movie was named Proof of Life. I think that may also have been the first movie I ever saw in Patiala’s Mini Tagore theatre.
  • The way in which insurance makes kidnapping possible, but also orderly and regulated and not too out of hand, seems to be the closest the real world has come to the Pratchettian Thieves’ Guild.
  • But is the orderliness a sort of survivorship bias? I mean, there could be local outbursts of completely rapacious kidnapping, that would then collapse on itself, but not get noticed by researchers or even kidnapping insurers because of how short lived it was. And then also get classified not as kidnapping but as murder. Open question, I think.
  • This episode also reminded me of The Little Nugget, and aren’t there a bunch of old-time sexist jokes about wives who are kidnapped and the husband begs the kidnappers to keep the wife? The whole bit about the cost of keeping the hostage in particular brought that back. And wasn’t there a movie in which Cameron Diaz is a more competent kidnap victim than her kidnapper? A Life Less Ordinary.


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