Negotiations with hostage-takers

Looks as if Obama & Company have RTFM.

… such as Boehner and McConnell, operate by their own set of rules. The Democratic Strategist offers some useful reflections, along with an actual law-enforcement guide to dealing with the more ordinary variety of extortionist, referred to as a “hostage-taker” (HT).

Key points:

* The first priority is to isolate and contain the HT.

*Set the standard of mature, adult conversation from the outset.

* Allow productive venting, but deflect dangerous escalation of speech tone and content … Allow [the HT] to freely express his frustrations and disappointments, but don’t let venting become ranting or spewing, which can lead to further loss of control.

* Hostages represent power and control to the hostage taker, so try not to do anything that will remind him of this fact.

* Make the HT work for everything he gets by extracting a concession … don’t give anything without getting something in return.

* Don’t solicit demands; don’t give anything not explicitly asked for; and don’t deliver more than absolutely necessary to fulfill the request. The conventional wisdom is to never say “no” to a demand, but that’s not the same as saying yes. The negotiator’s job is to deflect, postpone, and modify.

* Always be looking ahead to the next incident.

So far, looks as if Obama & Co. have been reading the manual. But the nature of the GOP will make a couple of points really hard:

* Compliment the HT for any positive actions he’s taken so far. If the HT does something constructive, reinforce it. The aim here is to establish a pattern of constructive actions that allow the HT to reap repeated positive reinforcement, leading ultimately to his surrender with no further injuries to anyone.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

25 thoughts on “Negotiations with hostage-takers”

  1. Boehner is not a hostage-taker; he is a hostage of his caucus. I’m not sure that there is a precedent for this–the hostage negotiating for the benefit of the hostage-takers.

    I’m not trying to imply that Boehner is a nice guy. It’s just that he cannot be viewed as anything other than as an agent for some very restive principals.

    1. I wonder if Boehner realizes that, sans his caucus, Mitt Romney could possibly (probably?) be President-Elect, Mitt Romney?

    1. James,
      You assume that the hostage-taker does not view the Book of Revelation as an instruction manual. That is true for most hostage-takers, so is generally sound advice. It is certainly true of John Boehner, who worships nothing but his tan. I’m not sure it is true of the Republican caucus, to which Boehner must answer. Apocalypse is the goal, not the risk.

      1. C’mon, Eb. These are the same guys who yelled, “Get the government off my Medicare!” They talk big about going over the cliff, but run to the ER if they happen to get a splinter when waving their placards.

  2. Ebs’ view is more fruitful here: “HT” is NOT a unitary actor. Boehner has to herd his cats behind anything he is going to deliver. Obama needs to come up with something which will let Boehner get a majority within his caucus – or somehow peel off a number of Reeps to vote with Dems, while Hell freezes.

    Obama’s position is difficult: there’s not that much money in the top 2, other sources have to be gotten. And the other sources are things (higher taxes on lower income people?! diminish the charitable deduction!? tax people on the value of their employer-provided health plans??) which will make Reeps and Dems grumpy.

  3. *Shouldn’t* we tax people on the value of their employer-provided health plans, or at least allow unemployed or part-time people to deduct the cost of their privately bought health plans? Don’t we want to separate out responsibility for providing healthcare from the employer businesses, large and small? Won’t our businesses become much more competitive when the cost of employee healthcare is no longer their responsibility, because it’s tax-supported instead? Wouldn’t they be more competitive with their European counterparts, for example? Won’t they’ll be more likely to hire new employees, because the costs of employees will be lower without expensive healthcare? Couldn’t bright employees take the risk of signing onto a great start-up company, say, without worrying that their family might lose health insurance if the company fails?

  4. This seems to assume that your party is somehow entitled to prevail, in the same sense a hostage is entitled to go free. And that the situation is not symmetric. A game of chicken would appear to me to better describe the situation.

    1. Brett, if you dislike the image of hostage-taking, please write to Sen. McConnell. Here are his words from the last round of this silly game:

      “I think some of our Members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage worth ransoming.”

      A game of chicken is played by mutual consent. In a hostage situation, one side threatens damage to an innocent third party in order to coerce concessions from the other side. (The hostage-taker often believes those concessions are his by right.) In that case, the innocent third party was the full faith and credit of the United States. This time it’s just the American economy. But the mechanism is the same: the Republicans refuse to do what the whole country needs – paying its debts when due, avoiding a second economic disaster – unless the Democrats offer them ransom in the form of policies that rob the poor to feed the rich.

      1. And the Democrats refuse to do what Republicans think the whole country needs: Reduce expenditures to a scale matching sustainable revenues. Both sides are willing to risk the “crash” to get the other to blink, it IS a game of chicken.

        1. And by that definition, all hostage situations are games of chicken. You haven’t refuted Mark’s point, merely defined it.

        2. Funny how that $2 trillion that Mr. Bellmore’s fellow travelers from the Republican Party borrowed, spent, and committed the United States to spend to conduct a war of choice just gets forgotten in the wind (along with the many other questions that Mr. Bellmore refuses to answer in this forum). Personally I think it is the obligation of the citizens of the United States to tax themselves to pay for wars they support, as we did in WWI, WWII, Korea, and even Vietnam, but apparently Mr. Bellmore prefers that the money just be stolen from the Social Security Trust Fund and as a result double-taxed from the members of our society least able to pay (and who obtained the least benefit from Iraq II, and plenty of disbenefit). Very… conservative, I guess.


  5. As I understand the situation, both players have a major, and a minor, goal.

    For Democrats, the major goal is to retain as much as possible of the increase in government spending represented by the “stimulus”, turning it into a permanent increase in the size of government. A minor goal, if it is a sincere goal at all, is to reduce the size of the deficit. These goals combine to produce a preference for massive tax increases coupled with only slight spending cuts, put off to the out years where they can ideally be canceled.

    For Republicans, the major goal is to keep taxes as low as possible, (This used to be a tactic to reduce the size of government by “starving the beast”, but the tactic has displaced the nominal goal as the actual objective.) while the minor goal, if is at all sincere, is to reduce the size of the deficit. These goals combine to produce a preference for NOT raising taxes, combined with spending cuts far too modest to have a real impact on deficits.

    It seems to me the most likely outcome when these goals collide is that Democrats ‘buy’ from Republicans a maintained level of spending, by not raising taxes, and the deficits continue to exceed a trillion dollars for the foreseeable future.

    1. ¨… turning it into a permanent increase in the size of government.¨ We´ve been here before, but this really doesn´t fit. Government is instrumental for American liberals, who are not Clause 4 socialists. Universal health care is an objective: it requires an increase in the size of government. A defence establishment based on objective risks: leads to a smaller Pentagon budget. An energy transition: requires a shift to carbon taxes (neutral in terms of government size), regulation of coal emissions and vehicle efficiency standards (bigger government), and an end to fossil fuel and car commuting subsidies (smaller government). Effective guarantees of civil rights for women and non-whites require more government, transitionally; but equal rights for gays does not. (The wage gap between white men and women and non-whites narrows steadily; I don´t think there is one between gays and straights). Full employment: requirtes more activist government in a depression, but again only transitionally. Less incarceration: smaller government.

      Where you are right is that American liberals, strangely to European eyes, want an expansion of federal power against the states, to overcome the long shadow of Jefferson´s slave-owning half-democracy. When Mississippi has a black governor, then liberals can be decentralising federalists.

      1. Or when Georgia replaces Senator Chambliss with Senator Cain? Or when Louisiana or South Carolina elects a nonwhite to be Governor?

      2. Are you implying, perchance, that American liberals would reject an expansion of federal power against states which don’t have a long shadow of slavery? Or maybe that the federal government, itself, is not equally implicated in that history?

        Surely not. No, you just want more federal power, period. “the long shadow of Jefferson” falling into the category of “any excuse that serves”.

  6. I’d like to see the Administration propose explicit cuts to tax loopholes — for specific income money — sufficient to add up to the amount the Republicans claim they can find.

    Keep all the breaks for people who earn less than, oh, $200,000 for an individual
    — mortgage, health insurance, etc. etc. should stay untaxed as they are for most people.
    Include stocks and bonds as subject to sales tax — or else tax them like real estate, take either one.
    Same tax deductions for low income people, none above the gray zone.

    Tax income starting to taper it in that $200,000-250,000 range — have the deductions taper down to nothing.
    Income above that amountyour own mortgage and health insurance and can afford to make big donations to charities without getting a tax break for it, no?

  7. I’d like to see the House propose spending cuts down to the Clinton levels. I suspect we’re both going to be disappointed.

    1. i’d like to see the house propose spending increases up to the inflation-adjusted clinton levels. i am confident i will be disappointed.

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