The excellent Akos Lada, a graduate student at Harvard, has a new paper on why countries sometimes invade their neighbors, it is called “The Dark Side of Attraction,” the abstract is here:

I argue that the diffusion of domestic political institutions is a source of wars. In the presence of an inspiring foreign regime, repressive elites fear that their citizens emulate the foreign example and revolt. As a result, a dictator starts a war against an attractive foreign regime, seeking to destroy this alternative model. Such wars are particularly likely when there are strong religious, ethnic or cultural ties between the dictator’s opposition and the inspiring country – connections that allow citizens to draw easy comparisons. My posited mechanism explains three case studies. The first describes the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1849. The second case study analyzes the origins of the First World War (1914-8), where Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The final case study discusses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). In all three cases, a dictator started a war in order to extinguish the foreign flame that fueled his domestic opposition.

Akos occasionally writes blog posts here.  Here is our previous coverage of Akos Lada — he stands a good chance of being one of the significant new “big picture” thinkers in economics.

Scott Sumner directs us to this passage from Michele Martinez Campbell:

A fascinating new national poll from Quinnipiac University shows that men and women disagree markedly on the question of marijuana legalization.  While men surveyed strongly favor legalization by a margin of 59 to 36 percent, women oppose it by a clear majority of 52-44 percent.  This 15-point gender gap in support for marijuana legalization –let’s call it the “pot gender gap” — is not quite as large as the 20-point gender gap in support for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but it is striking.  What’s most interesting, though, is how it confounds the expectations set by the voting gender gap.  In voting, women trend more liberal and Democratic, while men trend more conservative and Republican.  Yet with the pot gender gap, we see women taking the more conservative, law-and-order approach.

The article is here, Scott’s post, with commentary, is here.

China ghost markets in everything

by on November 6, 2014 at 1:03 am in Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

Two officials in China’s southern Guangdong province were arrested after it emerged that they had bought corpses from local grave-robbers and had them cremated in a bid to fulfill state-mandated quotas for such funeral practices. The incident is yet another reminder of the awkward tension between Beijing’s edicts and entrenched traditions in parts of rural China.

The arrested duo were officials responsible for local funerary practices, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. One allegedly paid a grave-robber $489 each for 10 exhumed corpses. The officials needed to meet expected quotas for cremations reported in their jurisdictions (towns that state media has not specified). Many locals entomb their kin in secret to skirt state laws regarding burial, which probably made the officials’ job rather difficult.

“Pushed to meet their quota, the two officials sought to purchase the corpses and send them to funeral parlour for cremation,” Xinhua reported.

And here is a rather vivid two paragraphs:

Body-snatching is, therefore, a lucrative, illicit business, involving bribe-taking local officials who look the other way, specialists capable of dressing up cadavers, and middlemen willing to connect desperate families to organized rings of grave-robbers and body-snatchers.

The practice of burying “ghost brides” also remains very much in the headlines. The old ritual involves burying a deceased young female alongside a dead bachelor, so the male will not be without a companion in the afterlife.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

The world’s urban population is growing very rapidly, especially in the developing world. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that in India alone such an expansion will require the building of, in essence, a new Chicago every year for the next several decades. The problem with these numbers is not the expense. The problem is political and organizational. Many currently less-developed countries, including India, remain high in corruption and low in efficiency, especially in the administration of their towns and cities. It would be wonderful if foresighted and public-spirited government planners would provide India and other developing nations with wise urban planning but it seems unwise to rely on what has historically been rare for this massive transformation. Is there an alternative?

In Lessons from Gurgaon, India’s private city (working paper) found in a new book Cities and Private Planning  Shruti Rajagopolan and I explore this question. Gurgaon, which I have written about before, shows both the successes and failures of private development. On the surface, Gurgaon is a gleaming, modern city built nearly overnight on wasteland. Gurgaon was built, however, without benefit of planning and its failures–most notably poor and inefficient provision of  water, sewage, and electricity–are a warning. The failures all stem from high transaction costs, Gurgaon’s private developers have simply not managed to Coasean bargain and internalize externalities. It’s clear from Gurgaon that cities need advance planning–a reservation of rights of way for water, sewage and electricity at the very minimum–but does the planning have to be provided by government which is often incapable of such foresight?

The lessons of Jamshedpur, India, suggest another approach. Jamshedpur is a private township, planned from the beginning by visionary businessman Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, who, after travelling to the United States to see Pittsburgh, returned to India to found Tata Iron and Steel. Jamshedpur has been run by a single, integrated entity for over 100 years and as it is integrated it has internalized externalities. As a result, Jamshedpur, India’s other private city, has some of the best urban infrastructure in all of India.

Gurgaon shows the benefits of competition. Jamshedpur the benefits of integration. Can we get the best of both worlds?

If the rights to develop Gurgaon had originally been sold in very large packages, some five to seven proprietary but competitive cities could have been created in that region. Within this system the role of the state is to make it possible to auction large parcels of land. Once such parcels and associated rights to develop the land are created, private developers will provision public goods and services up to the edge of their property.

As proprietary communities, the competitive cities would have every incentive to invest in and especially to plan for appropriate infrastructure. Moreover, with five to seven communities in the same region, competitive pressures would keep rents low and at efficient levels for maximizing net benefits (Buchanan and Goetz 1972, Sonstelie and Portney 1978). Within the larger city, subdivisions on the order of neighbourhoods and business districts could be sublet and run by competitive firms with the overarching city establishing rules to internalize externalities. Competitive private governments would also generate experimentation and innovation in new rules that would then spread through intercity learning (Romer 2010).

Thus, Rajagopolan and I conclude:

In the next five decades many entirely new cities with populations in the millions will be built in places where today there is little or no population or infrastructure. Most of the urban development will occur in the developing world where government resources are stretched thin and planning is in short supply. Gurgaon illustrates the scope and the limits of private sector provisioning when the state machinery fails to provide essential public goods. The lesson of Gurgaon, Walt Disney World, and Jamshedpur is that a system of proprietary, competitive cities can combine the initiative and drive of private development with the planning and foresight characteristic of the best urban planning. A proprietary city will build infrastructure to attract residents and revenues. A handful of proprietary cities built within a single region will create a competitive system of proprietary cities that build, compete, innovate, and experiment.

It is hard to know what to say — Gordon was a colleague of ours for many years and we all were very fond of him.  He was one of the most creative thinkers of his time.  His contributions include not just the seminal chapters of Calculus of Consent, but a wide range of ideas ranging from law and economics to monetary theory to the economics of insect societies.  Many of Gordon’s best ideas remain somewhat unmined, such as his analyses of jury trials, or his question why there is so little money in politics, relative to what is at stake.  Almost everything Gordon wrote was worth reading and he was also a wonderful critic of the work of others.  He knew a remarkable amount about history, including Chinese history, and was one of the quickest people I ever have met.  Just about everyone has his or her favorite Gordon Tullock story.  Gordon, by the way, took only one class in economics in his life, from Henry Simons, he was otherwise entirely self-taught.

Daniel Schneider, Kristen Harknett, and Sara McLanahan have been working on this topic.  The result is not surprising, but nonetheless worthy of note:

In the United States, the Great Recession has been marked by severe negative shocks to market conditions. In this study, we combine longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study with Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local area unemployment rates to examine the relationship between adverse labor market conditions and intimate partner violence between 1999 and 2010. We find that rapidly worsening labor market conditions are associated with the prevalence of violent controlling behavior in marriage. These effects are most pronounced among whites and those with at least some secondary education. [emphasis added]  Worsening economic conditions significantly increase the risk that white mothers and more educated mothers will be in violent/controlling marriages rather than high quality marital unions.

The working paper is here (pdf).

For all the chatter about that recent video where the woman walks through New York City and is repeatedly harassed, I thought it worth mentioning there is a systematic study of this question going on at MIT economics (and elsewhere), conducted in part by job market candidate Sara Hernández, with numerous co-authors.  The paper isn’t ready yet, but here is the abstract:

This study seeks to document the frequency of street harassment and preventive measures women take to avoid it. It explores the association between experiences of street harassment and perceptions of social cohesion among women currently presenting for health care at public health clinics. The study was conducted in Mexico City, the most populous city in North America, which has a high documented prevalence of gender-based violence against women, ranging from 20-30% in a woman’s lifetime. Despite the pervasiveness of gender-based violence in the city, little is known about experiences related to street harassment. Data were drawn from a baseline survey among women currently participating in a randomized controlled trial in Mexico City (N=952). Current findings underscore the needs for programs and policies to promote the safety and well being of women and addressing community and structural-level forms of gender discrimination and violence.

I believe this issue will continue to receive more attention in the future.  The “flexibility” of the behavior of men — depending on social expectations for one thing — remains an underexplored topic in economics.

From Diana Carew at the Progressive Policy Institute:

…the number of ‘restrictions’ on drug companies increased by 767, or 40% since 2000. This represents a substantial rise in the overall regulatory burden of pharmaceutical companies, which must allocate resources to ensure regulatory compliance. The word “restriction” refers to command clauses such as “shall” and “must,” as contained in sections of the Code of Federal Regulations related to the FDA.

The full study is here (pdf).

There is a new paper (pdf) by Nicola Gennaioli and Hans-Joachim Voth, forthcoming in The Review of Economic Studies:

Powerful, centralized states controlling a large share of national income only begin to appear in Europe after 1500. We build a model that explains their emergence in response to the increasing importance of money for military success. When fiscal resources are not crucial for winning wars, the threat of external conflict stifles state building. As finance becomes critical, internally cohesive states invest in state capacity while divided states rationally drop out of the competition, causing divergence. We emphasize the role of the “Military Revolution”, a sequence of technological innovations that transformed armed conflict. Using data from 374 battles, we investigate empirically both the importance of money for military success and patterns of state building in early modern Europe. The evidence is consistent with the predictions of our model.

The pointer is from Mark Koyama.

Oakley, Mi. is barely a town at 300 people, only one streetlight and, until recently, one police officer. The one cop was good at his job, reports Vocativ’s M.L. Nestel, until he was forced to step down after getting caught stalking a teenage girl.

In 2008, new chief Robert Reznick made some changes: he hired 12 full-time officers and started an enormous volunteer officer program which allowed lawyers, doctors and football players (from other towns) to work toward upholding the law.

One qualifies for this prestigious program simply by paying $1,200 to the police department. In return, you’ll get a uniform, bullet-proof vest and gun. For an additional donation, you’ll get a police badge and the right to carry your gun basically anywhere in the state, including stadiums, bars and daycares.

There is more here, via Larry Rothfield.

Some Good News on Patents

by on October 29, 2014 at 12:45 pm in Economics, Law | Permalink

Further evidence of a dramatic slowdown in patent litigation activity in the United States is provided today in data published by Unified Patents, the entity whose business is based on helping SMEs fight frivolous patent suits. According to the research, which covers the third quarter of this year (June to September),  there was a 23% drop in the number of suits filed compared to the second quarter, and a 27% year-on-year reduction.

The findings come just weeks after data released by Lex Machina showed that there had been a 40% fall in patent suits in September 2014 as compared to the same month in the previous year. Commenting to IAM on the reasons for the decline, Lex Machina founder Professor Mark Lemley claimed that much of it could be attributed to the Supreme Court’s Alice v CLS decision. The Alice judgment was handed down towards the end of June.

More here.

Alice has made a difference as well as the cheaper post-grant challenge procedure in the AIA. Once the first software patents make it through, however, there will be an uptick as people learn the new system. Still this is good news especially for software patents but we have a way to go on the larger issue of IP, including copyright.

Here is the updated “Tabarrok curve“.

Tabarrok Curve

The theme of a study by Melanie Manion is that China’s approach to fighting corruption hearkens back to Maoist campaigns of the 1950s, with the same undesirable effects: campaigns are too frequent, do not last long enough to enlist public confidence, and undermine the growth of long-term institutions of surveillance and enforcement…

That is from Alan Heston and Terry Sicular in this very useful 2008 book.  The Melanie Manion book is here.

While American universities debate whether “civility” is an appropriate way to evaluate faculty members, a British institution has faced intense criticism for punishing a faculty member for sighing, unfriendly body language and the use of irony.

…Docherty’s suspension was revealed by Times Higher Education, which reported that the university said he was undermining the authority of his department head (who has since stepped down) by making “ironic” comments during job interviews, sighing and using negative body language. The suspension had Docherty banned from contact with anyone on campus, and even from writing a book preface.

Charges were just dropped, so could I request to be interviewed by this guy?  I think I would enjoy the experience.

It is from Japan:

The Yokohama District Court sentenced a former Japanese college employee on Monday to two years in prison for producing guns with a three-dimensional printer.

Yoshitomo Imura, 28, a former employee of the Shonan Institute of Technology, was found guilty of violating laws that strictly restrict the possession of guns and large knives and the production of weapons. The prosecution had demanded a 42-month prison term.

Imura’s actions were “vicious” because he made it easy to imitate his production method, presiding Judge Koji Inaba said, noting that Imura had released 3-D design data for his guns on the Internet.

The story is here, the pointer is from the excellent Mark Thorson.

Michela Giorcelli and Petra Moser have a new paper, the abstract is this:

This paper exploits variation in the adoption of copyright laws within Italy – as a result of Napoleon’s military campaign – to examine the effects of copyrights on creativity. To measure variation in the quantity and quality of creative output, we have collected detailed data on 2,598 operas that premiered across eight states within Italy between 1770 and 1900. These data indicate that the adoption of copyrights led to a significant increase in the number of new operas premiered per state and year. Moreover, we find that the number of high-quality operas also increased – measured both by their contemporary popularity and by the longevity of operas. By comparison, evidence for a significant effect of copyright extensions is substantially more limited. Data on composers’ places of birth indicate that the adoption of copyrights triggered a shift in patterns of composers’ migration, and helped attract a large number of new composers to states that offered copyrights.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.