Peter Leeson’s new gypsies paper

The link is here, here is the abstract:

Gypsies believe the lower half of the human body is invisibly polluted, that supernatural defilement is physically contagious, and that non-Gypsies are spiritually toxic. I argue that Gypsies use these beliefs, which on the surface regulate their invisible world, to regulate their visible one. They use superstition to create and enforce law and order. Gypsies do this in three ways. First, they make worldly crimes supernatural ones, leveraging fear of the latter to prevent the former. Second, they marshal the belief that spiritual pollution is contagious to incentivize collective punishment of antisocial behavior. Third, they recruit the belief that non-Gypsies are supernatural cesspools to augment such punishment. Gypsies use superstition to substitute for traditional institutions of law and order. Their bizarre belief system is an efficient institutional response to the constraints they face on their choice of mechanisms of social control.

Steve Levitt blogged the paper here.  Relative to Peter, I am much more likely to find social institutions inefficient.  I think individual decisions are often inefficient for behavioral reasons and furthermore individual norms often produce bad or dysfunctional outcomes when multiplied at the social level.  Historically, most of human history has been lived under conditions of extreme poverty and misery, a warning sign of potential inefficiency.

I don't have any personal opinion about gypsies (about whom I know little), but just from reading Peter's paper (or abstract) I thought he should have called it "Why gypsies are inefficient."  I received the impression that a more efficient set of gypsy norms would do more to encourage integration and education, especially when gypsies live in wealthier, freer countries.  I don't doubt that some of the norms are partially functional, relative to the poverty, but some of the norms also seem to support the poverty.

I was unable to find data on gypsy per capita income or rates of assimilation, but I was searching only in English.  Do any of you know?


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