“We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists!” … Sometimes

It’s an old adage, and official policy of many governments. In fact, some upstart terrorist groups count on it in order to pump up their troops and escalate things with the governments they hope to agitate.

But while governments are hesitant to talk to them at first, the more terrorism a terrorist organization does, the more likely the government caves and comes to the table. That also may not actually be a bad thing when you crunch the numbers on it, as it tends to end conflict faster when everyone is able to get together and hash things out.

See the studies below for more details:

Image By BLAKE R. BORSIC, CIV, USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When the weakest rebels make demands from the government, they make large demands, ensuring that sufficiently weak types of government reject, preserving their optimism about their chances of victory. As these weakest rebels grow stronger, they are freed to demand less from the government, because the credibility of their threat to fight is no longer in question; they no longer need to believe that the government is very weak in order to credibly threaten to fight. Thus, we show that some common results from the standard approach to crisis bargaining, which assumes the credibility of threats, do not hold when credibility is an issue for uninformed players.
http://www.jakanathomas.com/uploads/2/7/1/6/27169143/final_rebel_credibility_dilemma_io.pdf (The Rebels’ Credibility Dilemma, Jakana L. Thomas, William Reed, and Scott Wolford, International Organization)


Using the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the southern Philippine region of Mindanao as illustrations, the article argues that the legitimation of `terrorist’ groups through talks can be a means to transform a conflict away from violence, while complexity may in fact open up new possibilities for engagement. The article concludes by examining how the naming of a group as `terrorist’ can and is often designed to forestall nonviolent responses to terrorism.
http://sdi.sagepub.com/content/39/4/407.short (`We Don’t Negotiate with Terrorists!’: Legitimacy and Complexity in Terrorist Conflicts, Harmonie Toros, Security Dialogue)


Using new monthly data on the incidence of negotiations and the number of concessions offered to groups involved in African civil wars, this paper demonstrates that rebel groups are both more likely to be granted the opportunity to participate in negotiations and offered more concessions when they execute a greater number of terror attacks during civil wars.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajps.12113/abstract and https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/04/22/actually-sometimes-terrorism-does-work/ (Rewarding Bad Behavior: How Governments Respond to Terrorism in Civil War, Jakana Thomas, American Journal of Political Science, reported on by the Washington Post)


Take a look at some of the most glaring – as well as some of the least well known – examples of U.S. negotiations with terrorists throughout history. [Iran Hostage Crisis, Iran-Contra Affair, Bill Clinton and the IRA, GW Bush and the Abu Sayyaf, Meetings with Hamas, Prisoner Exchanges in Iraq].
http://sotu.blogs.cnn.com/2014/06/07/timeline-of-u-s-negotiations-with-terrorists/ (Timeline of U.S. negotiations with terrorists, CNN)

Sesame Street was, by the Numbers, a Great Investment

Education is important for reducing long-term poverty.

Sesame Street has done a great job improving test scores and education outcomes in children, which a study by the National Bureau of Economics Research was able to tell by mapping out where the show rolled out over time, and looking at statistics before and after in each school district.

While it alone can’t miraculously solve poverty, the show did have a small effect on future wages as well, and was incredibly cheap to roll out compared to other programs aimed at poverty reduction.

Image By Staff Sgt. Dijon Rolle (United States Army)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It cost pennies on the dollar relative to other early childhood interventions. Well-designed research studies conducted at that time, reviewed in detail below, indicate that the show had a substantial and immediate impact on test scores,
[…] Our analysis takes advantage of the county-level variation in viewer’s ability to watch Sesame Street generated by these technological constraints that existed when the show was introduced in 1969
[…] The small estimated impact on wages in adulthood, though, is consistent with forecasts based on the estimated improvements in test scores and grade-for-age status brought about by the show’s introduction.
http://www.nber.org/papers/w21229.pdf (paywall) (Early Childhood Education by MOOC: Lessons from Sesame Street, Melissa S. Kearney, Phillip B. Levine, National Bureau of Economics Research)

The Lottery Has Held Back a More Effective Type of Savings Account for Years

Nearly half of the population of the US doesn’t have enough savings to come up with $2,000 dollars in 30 days, and in 2015 the US spent over 70 billion dollars on the lottery.

While lotteries are good for raising state money, savings rates are even more critical (saved money doesn’t just sit around). Some groups have created a sexier alternative to traditional savings accounts (and their practically 0% interest rates), an alternate form of banking that leaves your principal alone and lumps together everyone’s interest. Occasionally, it pays out those lumps of interest to some lucky saver.

This basically trading a guarantee of tiny payments for a tiny chance of huge payments. It has been incredibly successful in enticing people to open savings accounts where it has been tried, but has been held back by government regulations. They were determined to be a form of lottery, which are often illegal for private organizations to organize. The states were in no rush to change that, either, given that competition to their own lotteries isn’t something they’re eager to allow.

Still, prize-linked savings accounts are starting to build steam despite the resistance, and legislation designed to make them easier to implement have been passing through legislatures across the US.

Lawsuits from government lotteries arguing that this is technically a form of lottery have blocked them in the US so far, despite success overseas. Not that any legislatures intentionally targeted this program, but it happens to run foul of lottery laws almost by accident. Consensus is building on it, though. A federal law was passed on the federal level on 2014 and some state legislatures have taken action to pave the way.
MAMA attracted more than a million new customers to Keip’s bank. Other banks in South Africa took note — and they complained to regulators. And then the Keip’s bank heard from someone else: the South African National Lottery.
So this preference for highly skewed payoffs or, you know, the kind of payoffs that are usually present in gambling or lottery products when combined with savings turned out to be tremendously effective around the world, but it was completely absent for legal reasons in the United States.


While prize-linked savings accounts were previously legal only at credit unions in a handful of states, federal legislation passed at the end of 2014 will make the practice legal for big banks and credit unions in any state that does not prohibit it.
The bill, which flew through both houses with rare bipartisan support, removed federal hurdles across several laws and will allow institutions to copy successful programs in Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington. At least six other states have recently passed laws explicitly allowing similar programs.

How “Sugar Daddy Training” Saves Lives

The power imbalance and age imbalance in “sugar daddy” relationships – where a better-off older male has a sexual relationship with a young woman – are particularly bad for STD transmission rates and unplanned single-parent pregnancies.

The women don’t have the power in the relationship to demand safe sex, and the man is more likely to have multiple partners. A simple program implemented in Kenya, and since replicated elsewhere, lowered teenage pregnancies from relationships with adult men by more than half just by replacing existing abstinence training with training that specifically pointed out the dangers of going out with older men.

This is a big deal. And all it takes is telling teenagers at risk “hey, maybe date someone your own age.”

Image Source: By Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All these types of asymmetries are associated with nonuse of condoms. Increasing women’s power within asymmetric sexual relationships could improve their ability to negotiate safer sexual behaviors, such as condom use.

We use a randomized experiment to test whether and what information changes teenagers’ sexual behavior in Kenya. Providing information on the relative risk of HIV infection by partner’s age led to a 28 percent decrease in teen pregnancy, an objective proxy for the incidence of unprotected sex. Self-reported sexual behavior data suggests substitution away from older (riskier) partners and toward same-age partners. In contrast, the official abstinence-only HIV curriculum had no impact on teen pregnancy.

An information campaign that provided Kenyan teenagers in randomly selected schools with the information that HIV prevalence was much higher among adult men and their partners than among teenage boys led to a 65% decrease in the incidence of pregnancies by adult partners among teenage girls in the treatment group relative to the comparison. This suggests a large reduction in the incidence of unprotected cross-generational sex. The information campaign did not increase pregnancies among teenage couples.

It shows that 43 percent of men over 40 years of age in Botswana carry HIV, far higher than the 4 to 5 percent infection rate of men in their teens and early 20s.
Jaws drop. “Oh my gosh!” blurts out one girl.

The Largest Global Cause of Death Is Being Neglected Because of Headline-Grabbing Infectious Diseases

Seven of the top 10 causes of death are from chronic diseases, like obesity, heart problems, and cancer. But chronic diseases get the lowest research funding donated out of any health conditions. Most development agencies don’t invest in it at all, and most donors choose to spend their money fighting flashy infectious diseases like Malaria and HIV, which are more engaging to the public.

As a result, some really simple concepts have gone without funding to develop them, like a universal “generic risk pill,” or cheaper heart disease pills. Because of how interconnected health, economics, and poverty are, this whole mess was recently identified by the Copenhagen Consensus as one of the top things holding back global development.

But according to a recent review of donor health funding, chronic disease receives the smallest amount of donor assistance of all health conditions, having lost ground since 1990 relative to infectious diseases. Donor assistance for health was estimated at almost $26 billion in 2009. The amount allocated to chronic disease was $270 million, or about 1% of the total. Yet cardiovascular disease in low- and middle-income countries killed over twice as many people in 2001 as did AIDS, malaria, and TB combined.

Ten of the sixteen most cost-effective solutions were health related; seven of these focused on R&D innovation. These included new innovations, such as the development of a ‘generic risk pill’ for vascular diseases which would avert 1.6 million deaths per year and deliver $4 worth of benefits for every dollar spent.

Seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were chronic diseases. Two of these chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer—together accounted for nearly 48% of all deaths.