It's the Weather, Stupid

We've written in the past about how weather can have a surprisingly strong effect on things like civil war and riots. (Short story: rioters don't like getting rained on and droughts can start a war.)

The political scientist Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard has a new paper on the topic in Public Choice (abstract; PDF) called "It's the Weather, Stupid! Individual Participation in Collective May Day Demonstrations." The bolding is mine:

“We investigate the possible explanations for variations in aggregate levels of participation in large-scale political demonstrations. A simple public choice inspired model is applied to data derived from the annual May Day demonstrations of the Danish labor movement and socialist parties taking place in Copenhagen in the period 1980–2011. The most important explanatory variables are variations in the weather conditions and consumer confidence, while political and socio-economic conditions exhibit no robust effects. As such accidental or non-political factors may be much more important for collective political action than usually acknowledged and possibly make changes in aggregate levels of political support seem erratic and unpredictable.”

FREAK-est Links

1. First-year medical residents made more mistakes when they were required to work fewer hours.

2. Automated education: EdX offers classes online, marks essays and tests.

3. Telemedicine has doctors in Texas treating patients in Antarctica.

4. The history of capitalism is all the rage in history departments.

5. More Nutella thieving: this time it's not Columbia University students.

Does a "Baby Bonus" Mean More Crime?

That's the question asked by an Australian reader named Peter Gartlan:

In 2004, the Australian government introduced a $4,000 lump sum payment for having a baby, known as the Baby Bonus. [Note: it was judged to be somewhat effective.]

The anecdotal evidence is that this instantly created a huge wave of young unmarried teenage mothers from lower socioeconomic communities who saw the BB as a great big "free money" sign.  At the time it was also referred to as the "Plasma TV" bonus. Anyway, many teenage mothers had many babies, and received many payments. But obviously the motivation was money, not family. And $4,000 does not go very far when bringing up kids, as you know.

So after I read your "Abortion Reduces Crime" study, I wondered whether the BB would demonstrate the inverse scenario.

As you will note in this article from my local newspaper, it appears there is now evidence of the beginnings of a new juvenile crime wave.

It is easy to see how a baby bonus, like a variety of bounties we've explored, can have unintended consequences. It is a good research question, to be sure. (Australia is hardly the only country to have tried this.)

Adventures in Ideas: Sex Workers of the World, Unite! An Interview With Maxine Doogan

Freak Readers, It is my distinct pleasure to introduce Maxine Doogan, from the Erotic Service Providers Union. I won’t offer a lengthy introduction —I’d embarrass Maxine! — because her words below say it all. Maxine has taught me a lot about prostitution and the sex trade in general. She has been instrumental in helping me craft my own research. Together, we hope to launch the first multi-city comprehensive research study of the sex economy. In a subsequent post, I’ll ask you for some feedback on that project. For now, I want to share her insights about the sex economy today. 

Q. Our readers might be interested in understanding exactly what you are seeking that might improve the economic conditions of sex workers? By the way, how you do you define "sex worker"?  

A. To improve one’s economics is to improve their lives and the larger communities. 

An Economic Analysis of "Stop and Frisk"

A new working paper (gated) from Decio Coviello and Nicola Persico:

We analyze data on NYPD's "stop and frisk program" in an effort to identify racial bias on the part of the police officers making the stops.    We find that the officers are not biased against African Americans relative to whites, because the latter are being stopped despite being a "less productive stop" for a police officer.


New York City’s stop-and-frisk program disproportionally impacts minorities. The New York Civil Liberties Union makes this point forcefully by documenting that, in 2011, 52.9 percent of stops were of blacks, 33.7 percent were of Latinos, while whites accounted for only 9.3 percent of the stops. This disparate impact is unfortunate, but should not be surprising if we believe that crime and therefore policing are disproportionally concentrated in minority-rich neighborhoods.

However, mere disparate impact is not the same as impermissible behavior. Discrimination law in the United States generally does not prohibit disparate impact, as long as it does not reflect an intent to discriminate. Therefore, if one is interested in impermissible behavior, it is helpful to have an empirical strategy which goes beyond merely documenting disparate impact, and can detect racial animus on the part of the police.

"Is Everything We Know About Password-Stealing Wrong?"

The next time your bank or credit-card company frantically calls and texts and e-mails you (all at the same time) to say it has noticed "suspicious activity" on your account -- like buying gas in a ZIP code a bit poorer than your own -- and says it has suspended your account "for your protection," tell them to read this paper, by Dinei Florencio and Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research. A key passage:

We show that, in spite of appearances, password-stealing is a bad business proposition. ... It is worth, at the outset, dispelling a widely-held misapprehension about password-stealing. Thieves certainly steal passwords, and money is certainly a large part of their motivation, but when they successfully extract money from financial accounts individual consumers do not pay. In the US, Regulation E of the Federal Reserve limits consumer liability, in the event of fraud, to $50 (this is separate from the $50 limit for credit-card fraud, Regulation CC) and covers "any electronic transfer that is initiated through an electronic terminal, telephone, computer or magnetic tape." In the US banks, brokerages, and credit unions are governed by this regulation and most go beyond it and o ffer a zero liability policy to consumers.

(HT: Peter Baehr)

What's the Real Crime Rate in China?

Official statistics would certainly suggest that crime in China is extremely low.  Murder rates in China are roughly one-fifth as high as in the United States.  According to the official crime statistics there, all crimes are rare.  China certainly feels safe. We walked the streets in rich areas and poor and not for a moment did I ever feel threatened.  Graffiti was completely absent.  The one instance where I thought I finally found some graffiti near a train station in the city of Shangrao, the spray painted message on a bridge turned out not to be graffiti, but rather a government warning that anyone caught defecating under the bridge would be severely punished.

Yet, there were all sorts of odd behaviors that made it seem like some crimes were a big problem. 

First, there seemed to be an obsession with the risk of counterfeit money.  Our tour guides felt the need to teach us how to identify fake money.  Whenever I bought something with currency, the shopkeeper went through a variety of tricks to validate the legitimacy of the bills. 

Patience and Crime

A working paper by Sergio BeraldoRaul Caruso, and Gilberto Turati looks at time preferences and their relation to crime over a five-year period in Italy. Using proxies for patience (some of which may strike some people as rather far-fetched), they found more crimes in areas where residents are more impatient and discount the future more:

In this paper we propose a first empirical test on the relationship between time preferences and crime using as a sample the whole set of Italian regions observed over the period 2002-2007. We consider both property and violent crimes. We proxy time preferences employing: 1) the amount of short-term debt to finance consumption (the consumer credit share); 2) the prevalence of obese people according to their body mass index (obesity); 3) 5 the willingness of individuals to engage in stable relationships (the marriage rate). In line with the theoretical prediction by Davis (1988), we find that where people are more impatient and discount the future more heavily, property and violent crimes are higher. In particular, the correlation between crime rates and time preferences is especially robust when time preferences are proxied both by the obesity and the marriage rates.

Are Corporate Fines High Enough to Make a Difference?

The last three months have seen several large corporate fines levied in response to various high-profile financial scandals, but an article in The Economist asks if fines are still not high enough to actually deter crime:

The economics of crime prevention starts with a depressing assumption: executives simply weigh up all their options, including the illegal ones. Given a risk-free opportunity to mis-sell a product, or form a cartel, they will grab it. Most businesspeople are not this calculating, of course, but the assumption of harsh rationality is a useful way to work out how to deter rule-breakers.

Extremely high and extremely low fines both carry costs, so The Economist suggests a middle ground: fines that offset the benefits of the crime itself.

Religion, Crime, and Television

A new survey study by Amir Hetsroni (who has also studied the difference between real doctors and TV doctors) and Hila Levenstein looks at the relationship between TV viewing and crime perception. The study, to be published next year in Psychological Reports, found a difference between religious and non-religious participants. From Ynetnews:

Yet the data collected from the 778 residents of northern Israel who watched channels 2 and 10 during prime time viewing hours in 2009 revealed some unexpected information. 

It soon became clear that among secular viewers there was a certain connection between television viewing and fear of falling victim to a crime. Whereas a situation called Counter-Cultivation was diagnosed among religious viewers. This means that the more they watched television, the less they feared becoming a victim of a crime.