Each is driven to better understand just what keeps poor countries in poverty, and they are willing to try some pretty amazing research strategies to figure it out.
They have traveled far and wide — both geographically and intellectually — and in their beautifully written book Economic Gangsters, they shine a well-honed statistical spotlight on the twin evils of corruption and violence.
The book is a dead-set page turner, and there’s nothing more fun than feeling like you are next to them as they travel the world in search of the scoundrels responsible for so much suffering.
Ted and Ray are the Briscoe and Logan of economic development, and you can’t help but cheer them as they try to figure out just whodunit. These guys are passionate about development, about economics, and about explaining just why the new wave of development economics is so darn interesting. Their excitement and passion is contagious.
Neither Ted nor Ray are strangers to readers of this blog. In fact, some of the stories in their book have been touched on by my fellow freako-bloggers. These are the guys who:
• Documented crony capitalism in Indonesia, by showing how the stock prices of various firms rose and fell with President Suharto’s health.
• Illustrated the presence of a culture of corruption, by showing that U.N. diplomats from corrupt nations were also more likely to run up (and not pay) hundreds of parking tickets in New York. And it also turns out there’s a culture of war — and soccer players from war-torn nations are more violent, earning more yellow cards.
And there are many more interesting stories: how statistical discrepancies in trade data recorded by different countries tell us about smuggling; how rainfall patterns can help uncover the linkages between economic failure and war; and even how a bad economy leads to more witch killings.
Beyond these stories, Ray and Ted illustrate the power of the new movement toward “forensic economics,” in which painstaking data analysis can help us better understand just who the bad guys are, what they are doing, and why.
And there’s more good news: the authors have also set up a blog to go with the book (Dubner and Levitt can tell us about how that works out!). Here’s Levitt’s cover blurb for Economic Gangsters: “Rarely has a book on economics been this fun and this important.”
Steve’s right. (O.K., I’m a somewhat-biased observer — Ray and Ted are friends of mine from graduate school.)