Trust Among Thieves

A new paper by Federico Varese and Paolo Campana looks at police-intercepted phone data on the Italian and Russian mafia to study how criminals cooperate. In  "Cooperation in Criminal Organizations: Kinship and Violence as Credible Commitments" (abstract; PDF), they find that sharing information on violent acts increased cooperation. Varese writes to us in an email: "The idea is that criminals might trust each other more after they have shared compromising information on themselves and especially have used violence together, an insight from Thomas Schelling that we test and found to be correct."

The abstract:

The paper argues that kinship ties and sharing information on violent acts can be interpreted as forms of ‘hostage-taking’ likely to increase cooperation among co-offenders. The paper tests this hypothesis among members of two criminal groups, a Camorra clan based just outside Naples, and a Russian Mafia group that moved to Romein the mid-1990s. The data consist of the transcripts of phone intercepts conducted on both groups by the Italian police over several months. After turning the data into a series of network matrices, we use Multivariate Quadratic Assignment Procedure to test the hypothesis. We conclude that the likelihood of cooperation is higher among members who have shared information about violent acts. Violence has a stronger effect than kinship in predicting tie formation and thus cooperation. When non-kinship-based mechanisms fostering cooperation exist, criminal groups are likely to resort to them.

How Politicians Plug Electric Cars

A new study by Bradley W. Lane, Natalie Messer-Betts, Devin Hartmann, Sanya Carley, Rachel M. Krause, and John D. Graham on why governments promote electric vehicles finds that the environmental benefits of the vehicles have little to do with politicians' motives for supporting the industry. Perhaps not surprisingly, "Government Promotion of the Electric Car: Risk Management or Industrial Policy?" (gated) finds that the economic benefits of the industry are the primary motivator for most governments. From the press release:

Contrary to common belief, many of the world’s most powerful nations promote the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles primarily for reasons of economic development – notably job creation – not because of their potential to improve the environment through decreased air pollution and oil consumption.

This is among the main findings of a study by researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental (SPEA) and University of Kansas that analyzed policies related to electric vehicles (EVs) in California, China, the European Union, France, Germany, and the United States – political jurisdictions with significant automotive industries and markets for EVs.

“Billions of dollars are being invested despite doubts that some express about the viability of electricity as a propulsion system,” said John D. Graham, SPEA dean and co-author of the study. “The objective of many of these national and sub-national governments is to establish a significant position – or even dominance – in the global marketplace for these emerging, innovative new technologies.”

The History of Obesity Revisited

We've blogged before about the obesity epidemic, and whether or not it is a recent phenomenon; John Komlos and Marek Brabec have argued that obesity rates actually began rising in the early 20th century. A new study (abstract; PDF) by Paul von Hippel and Ramzi Nahhas looks at 60 years of data on child obesity and finds that the increase in obesity rates started with children born in the 1970s and 1980s. Von Hippel wrote to us in an email:

Intrigued by the conflicting extrapolation results, Ramzi Nahhas and I decided to look at measurements that were actually taken before 1960. We analyzed the heights and weights of children in the Fels Longitudinal Study, an ongoing study that since the 1930s has measured children from shortly after birth until age 18. Most of the children come from the area near Dayton, Ohio, which is not a mirror of the nation but has an obesity rate that is close to the national average.

Is a Factory Outlet Good for the Bottom Line?

A new working paper (gated) by Yi Qian, Eric Anderson, and Duncan Simester looks at how a factory or outlet store affects a retailer's regular-priced products. Using 12 years' worth of data from a U.S. apparel retailer, they found that the factory store contributed positively to the business: 

We study how the opening of a factory store impacts a retailer’s demand in its other channels. It is possible that a factory store may damage a retailer's brand image and lead to substitution away from its higher quality core channels. Alternatively, the opening of a factory store may have positive effects as it may attract new buyers and serve as a form of brand advertising. In this paper, we use a natural experiment that arises from a retailer introducing a factory store in 2002. We analyze data that spans all customers and all channels from 1995 to 2007. This allows for careful pre and post analysis of the factory store opening. We find that the introduction of the factory store led to substantial positive spillovers to the core channels that lasted for multiple years. Customers purchase more items from the higher priced, higher quality channels after the factory store is opened. These positive spillovers represent approximately 17% of all of the incremental sales that result from the factory store opening (the other 83% are contributed by sales in the factory store itself).

The Data on Bar Fights

What happens when a fight breaks out at a bar? A Penn State sociologist gathered data from nightlife venues in Toronto to find out. From BPS Research Digest

Michael Parks and his colleagues trained dozens of observers who analyzed 860 aggressive incidents across 503 nights in 87 large clubs and bars in Toronto, Canada. Aggression was defined as anything from a verbal insult or unwanted physical contact to a punch or kick. Incidents were twice as likely to involve one-sided aggression as opposed to mutual aggression. The most common incident involved a man making persistent unwanted overtures or physical contact towards a female. Male on male aggression was the next most frequent category. All-female aggression was rare.

Third parties intervened in almost one third of these situations, and they were more than twice as likely to intervene in a non-aggressive way than to be aggressive themselves. Eighty per cent of third parties who got involved were men. Drunk third parties were more likely to be aggressive. Surprisingly perhaps, the most frequent kind of aggressive incident (male on female) was the least likely to provoke third party involvement. One-sided aggression between men also provoked few interventions. Parks and his team think this is probably because such incidents are judged to be non-serious and unlikely to escalate.

FREAK-est Links

1. Is male fertility declining? Or do we need more data?

2. The internet industry is considering adding over 1,000 new domains, but some are worried about infrastructure effects.

3. Harry Potter novelist J.K. Rowling's crime novel hits #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, less than a week after she was revealed as the book's author.

4. So you want to invest in the (legal) marijuana industry?

5. How long is the average PhD dissertation? Econ lands on the short side.  (HT: Eric Jones)

6. The new era of music: how much does Spotify pay its artists? Next to nothing.

Can You Change Your Destiny With Palm Surgery?

The Daily Beast reports that palm surgery is on the rise in Japan:

In Japan, where palm reading remains one of the most popular means of fortune-telling, some people have figured out a way to change their fate. It’s a simple idea: change your palm, change the reading, and change your future. All you need is a competent plastic surgeon with an electric scalpel who has a basic knowledge of palmistry. Or you can draw the lines on your hand with a marker and let him work the magic you want.

Missing a marriage line? That can be fixed. Wedding bells may ring.

Need some good fortune? Add a money-luck line and you might win the lottery or be promoted to vice president in your firm. For the smart shopper—one willing to undergo palm plastic surgery—the future isn’t what it used to be.

The surgery is evidently so popular that clinics don't need to advertise.  In fact, one clinic's brief advertising campaign resulted in so much demand they found themselves unable to keep up. "Maybe changing your palm won’t change your fate," says plastic surgeon Takaaki Matsuoka, "but if you have that much determination to try to change it—and are willing to endure a little pain for that chance—maybe you can change your life.”

(HT: Isabel McCann)

What Happens When You Teach Parents to Parent?

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Paul Gertler, James Heckman, and several other co-authors examines the impressive long-term effects of a Jamaican program that taught low-income parents better parenting skills.  Here's the abstract:

We find large effects on the earnings of participants from a randomized intervention that gave psychosocial stimulation to stunted Jamaican toddlers living in poverty. The intervention consisted of one-hour weekly visits from community Jamaican health workers over a 2-year period that taught parenting skills and encouraged mothers to interact and play with their children in ways that would develop their children's cognitive and personality skills. We re-interviewed the study participants 20 years after the intervention. Stimulation increased the average earnings of participants by 42 percent. Treatment group earnings caught up to the earnings of a matched non-stunted comparison group. These findings show that psychosocial stimulation early in childhood in disadvantaged settings can have substantial effects on labor market outcomes and reduce later life inequality.

Do Rappers Exaggerate Their Wealth?

In his new album, rapper Jay-Z expresses skepticism about some of his colleagues' claims of extraordinary wealth, saying, "The truth in my verses, versus, your metaphors about what your net worth is."  So are your favorite rappers lying about how rich they are?  Bloomberg Businessweek straightens out the confusion with a great graphic comparing alleged vs. actual wealth.  Here's a preview: Nicki Minaj is not "mak[ing] a billi like a big goat." (HT: The Big Picture)

The Face of a CEO

We've blogged before about the influence that beauty can have on earnings and career choices. But what about the shape of a face? A new paper in the British Journal of Psychology looks at the faces of U.K. executives. Researchers Shuaa Alrajih and Jamie Ward found that CEOs have greater than average facial width-to-height ratios. The abstract:

The relative proportion of the internal features of a face (the facial width-to-height ratio, FWH) has been shown to be related to individual differences in behavior in males, specifically competitiveness and aggressiveness. In this study, we show that the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the leading UK businesses have greater FWHs than age- and sex-matched controls. We demonstrate that perceivers, naive as to the nature of the stimuli, rate the faces of CEOs as higher in dominance or success, and that ratings of dominance or success are themselves correlated with the FWH ratio. We find no association with other inferred traits such as trustworthiness, attraction or aggression. The latter is surprising given previous research demonstrating a link between FWH and ratings of aggression. We speculate that the core association may be between FWH and drive for dominance or power, but this can be interpreted as aggression only in particular circumstances (e.g., when the stimuli are comprised of faces of young, as opposed to middle-aged, men).