The Supply Curve of Viking Raids

The new exhibition on the Vikings at the British Museum illustrates behavior along supply curves.  The local Anglo-Saxons decided that the best way to keep Viking raiders at bay was to buy them off—to pay tribute.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this extra payoff merely induced a movement up the supply curve of Viking raids, as more raiding parties realized that there was money to be made by raiding English villages. Perhaps this is a lesson for modernity: don't negotiate with terrorists!

Why Does the Likelihood of Terrorism Increase After Natural Disasters?

In a new RAND working paper, authors Claude Berrebi and Jordan Ostwald use international data to argue that countries which experience a major natural disaster are more likely to have an increase in terrorism activity afterward. In the abstract they write:

...Using a structured methodology and detailed data on terrorism, disasters, and other relevant controls for 167 countries between 1970 and 2007, we find a strong positive impact of disaster-related deaths on subsequent terrorism deaths and incidence. We find that, on average, an increase in deaths from natural disasters of 25,000 leads to an increase in the following year of approximately 33 percent in the number of deaths from terrorism, an increase of approximately 22 percent in the number of terrorist attacks, and an increase of approximately 16 percent in the number wounded in terrorist attacks, holding all other factors constant.

FREAK-est Links

This week, why being a king is the most dangerous job in history, an etiquette group in Germany wants to ban workplace air-kissing, Jonathan Stark's social experiment with a Starbucks card, anti-technology terrorists attack in Mexico, and why Google and Wikipedia are bad for our memory.

What to Make of the Unabomber Auction? And What Should I Do With My Own Unabomber Artifacts?

It seems so coincidental that I wonder if indeed it's a coincidence: the FBI requests a DNA sample from Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. Unabomber, just as the government's court-ordered auction of Kaczynski's possessions gets underway (it closes on June 2). The FBI is still trying to solve the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, and Kaczynski is presumably a person of interest.

If nothing else, the news has brought a lot more attention to the auction. It can use it. As of this writing, most of the 58 items could be had for a few hundred dollars. Exceptions are Kaczynski's Smith-Corona typewriter ($8,025) and his hand-written Manifesto ($16,025).

How Big Will the Osama Halo Effect Be for Obama?

Think back to high school. The quarterback on the football team had a legendary game over the weekend, and made everyone associated with the school so proud they could split their pants. On Monday, he's treated like a hero.

But, interestingly, people find themselves thinking better of him not only for his athletic exploits. Suddenly, everything about him seems a cut above.

The Latest Terrorist Threat

The best strategy I have found for reducing the aggravation of security screening is to pretend I am a terrorist and think about where the weaknesses are in security, and how I might slip through. I think I figured out a way to get a gun or explosives into the White House during the George W. Bush administration. I only got invited to the White House once, however, so I never got a chance to test my theory for real on a return visit.

Forensic Accounting and Al Qaeda

A new RAND study of captured documents from al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) reveals some interesting facts about the organization. It found that "AQI was a hierarchical organization with decentralized decisionmaking; AQI in Anbar was profitable enough to send substantial revenues out of the province in 2006; AQI relied on extortion, theft, and black market sales to fund its operations in Anbar; AQI needed large, regular revenue sources to fund its operations, but its administrative leaders did not hold much cash on hand."

Fighting Suicide Bombers: What Works?

Efraim Benmelech, Claude Berrebi and Esteban F. Klor have already argued that a bad economy equals deadlier terrorists. Now, the three economists have turned their attention to the effects of house demolitions on terrorism.

SuperFreakonomics Book Club: Ian Horsley Answers Your Questions About the Terrorist Algorithm

In the SuperFreakonomics Virtual Book Club, we invite readers to ask questions of some of the researchers and other characters in our book. Last week, we opened up the questioning for "Ian Horsley," a banker who's been working with Steve Levitt to develop an algorithm to catch terrorists. His answers are below. Thanks to Ian and to all of you for the questions.

Bad Economy = Deadlier Terrorists

Here's yet more evidence that a good economy is good news all around.