By Scott Gehlbach
Every two years, SIOE hands out the Douglass North Best Book Award for the best book in institutional and organizational economics published during the previous two years.
During last week's (virtual) annual conference, the award committee, consisting of Maria Guadalupe (INSEAD), Mark Ramseyer (Harvard), Jared Rubin (Chapman), and Scott Gehlbach (Chicago, chair) announced this year's winner: "Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business" by Anja Shortland (King's College London).
In her book, Anja Shortland addresses a puzzle: how could kidnap insurance possibly work?
Shortland investigates one of the world's trickiest markets through rich data collection, tireless fieldwork, and a deep understanding of the theory of private-order institutions. Her institutional analysis makes sense of what the market's participants themselves only vaguely understand—that a handful of insurers at Lloyd's of London organize the ransom industry to make crime insurable and kidnap rare. She shows not only how the market works but—just as important—how it fails when actors skirt its organizing principles. Shortland weaves it all together with an enviable combination of skills: she is part Sam Spade, part economic theorist, and part prose master.
"Kidnap" is an outstanding and gripping work of social science in the tradition of Douglass North's work and a worthy recipient of the award that bears his name.