This week’s podcast is called “The Perfect Crime”: in it, Stephen Dubner describes a way to kill someone without any punishment. (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) But let’s be clear: Dubner isn’t suggesting that anyone actually try this. In fact, the problem is that too many people are doing it already.
So what’s “the perfect crime”? It turns out that if you are driving your car and run over a pedestrian, there’s a good chance — especially if you live in New York — that you’ll barely be punished. Why?
We hear from Lisa Smith, a former prosecutor and now a law professor, who tells us that just 5 percent of the New York drivers who are involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian are arrested. As it happens, New York has particularly narrow standards for conviction in such cases; there is a lot of variance among states. Read More »
New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy has been the subject of major debates and several lawsuits in recent months. A new paper (gated) by Stephanie A. Wiley and Finn-Aage Esbensen analyzes the relationship between “police contact” and future attitudes and actual criminal acts among children and teens:
Current police policies are based on assumptions that proactive policing strategies will not only deter crime but will also improve police–community relations. Deterrence theorists argue that general and specific deterrence can be achieved through such policing strategies. Labeling proponents, however, maintain that juveniles stopped and/or arrested by the police, rather than be deterred, will actually engage in more delinquency as a result of this contact. Research to date has provided mixed evidence. The current study seeks to inform this debate by examining the effect of being stopped or arrested on subsequent delinquent behavior and attitudes. Relying on three waves of data from a multisite sample of youth, we use propensity score matching to control for preexisting differences among youth who have and have not experienced police contact. Our findings reveal that being stopped or arrested not only increases future delinquency but also amplifies deviant attitudes.
The BPS Research Digest elaborates:
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The key finding is that with participants matched for propensity, those who had contact with the police at time two (compared with those who didn’t) said at time three that they’d feel less guilt if they committed various offences from theft to violence; they expressed more agreement with various “neutralisation” scenarios (e.g. it’s OK to lie to keep yourself out of trouble); they were more committed to their deviant peers (e.g. they planned to continue hanging out with friends who’d been arrested); and finally, they said they’d engaged in more offending behaviour, from skipping classes to taking drugs or being violent. This pattern of results differed little whether police contact involved being arrested or merely being stopped.
Anthony Weiner is still running for mayor of New York as I write this, though that status may soon change. Not coincidentally, a reader named Jon Creem (an unfortunate aptonym in this case?) writes in to say:
I took the explanation as people’s unwillingness to give up due to the amount of investment (time, money, etc) they have already made.
Then, when catching up on the latest Anthony Weiner mayoral saga, I couldn’t help make a connection.
Is this guy refusing to remove himself from the race because he feels he has done too much already to drop out now? In my opinion the odds are stacked against him regardless of how good a politician he is.
I assume continuing to campaign will only cost him more time and money. Is it worth it for him to continue?
Insofar as pride and ego are components of sunk cost, I guess Jon is right. On the other hand, it doesn’t strike me that Weiner’s continuing to run is really about sunk cost. Modern politics is so often an exercise in ego, hubris, and narcissism — and if I were to armchair-analyze Weiner, I’d suggest that these factors are much more important than the sunk costs of time and money. Read More »
In a recent New Yorker column, one of our best economics journalists, James Surowiecki, discusses Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban sales of soft drinks in containers exceeding 16 ounces. Mayor Bloomberg clearly believes, and Surowiecki seems to agree, that people would consume smaller amounts of soft drinks and fewer calories if a ban were enacted.
But would the effect result from behavioral considerations—many people will drink only one serving whether it is 8 oz. or 32 oz.? Or would it result from the second drink costing more time—the effort to get up and order a second 16-oz. drink after buying one—and more money—because the per-ounce price reflects the additional cost of serving two 16-oz. portions instead of one larger portion? Outside the laboratory, what many argue is evidence for behavioral economics can often be explained by standard neoclassical considerations of money and time costs in demand.
Fascinating article in today’s Times, by Anne Barnard:
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Starting next year, New York will become the first state to require lawyers to perform unpaid work before being licensed to practice, the state’s chief judge announced on Tuesday, describing the rule as a way to help the growing number of people who cannot afford legal services.
The approximately 10,000 lawyers who apply to the New York State Bar each year will have to demonstrate that they have performed 50 hours of pro bono work to be admitted, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. He said the move was intended to provide about a half-million hours of badly needed legal services to those with urgent problems, like foreclosure and domestic violence.
A reader named Xavier Fan writes:
Would love to see some commentary on the Jeremy Lin phenomenon in the NBA. Is this not a classic Moneyball-style “undervalued player”? Indeed, one of the best parts of the whole feel-good story (and there are many) is how consistently teams and coaches at the college and NBA level overlooked him before his breakout week. Even the Knicks were ready to release him a few days before his first big game against the Nets. Was he overlooked because he didn’t “look the part”? Will this impact how scouts and coaches evaluate players? What is the current status of sabermetrics for basketball?
Our recent podcast “Weird Recycling” looked at ways to reuse things that most people don’t think are reusable, like chicken feet and nuclear waste. This week, we’re taking our own advice, and updating a program we did a while back. It’s called “How Is a Bad Radio Station Like Our Public-School System?” and it focuses on what you might call the thrill of customization — that is, how technology increasingly enables each of us to get what we want out of life. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)
What do New York City and Arizona have in common? No, this is not a trick question; there is one thing: currently, they are the only jurisdictions in the country that require food stamp recipients to register their fingerprints in an electronic database. California and Texas recently lifted their fingerprinting requirements.
Not surprisingly, this has touched off a debate over social utility and costs in New York. Proponents say that the resulting fingerprint database saves the city millions of dollars a year in duplicate fraud. Last year, the Human Resources Administration said it found 1,900 cases of duplicate applications for 2010, with savings of nearly $5.3 million.
Detractors claim this estimate is unproven and that fingerprinting keeps a certain amount of needy people out of the system through intimidation. Read More »