Gangs really matter

We study the effects that two of the largest gangs in Latin America, MS-13 and 18th Street, have on economic development in El Salvador. We exploit the fact that the emergence of gangs in El Salvador was in part the consequence of an exogenous shift in US immigration policy that led to the deportation of gang leaders from the United States to El Salvador. Using the exogenous variation in the timing of the deportations and the boundaries of the territories controlled by the gangs, we perform a spatial regression discontinuity design and a difference-in-differences analysis to estimate the causal effect that living under the rule of gangs has on development outcomes. Our results show that individuals living under gang control have significantly worse education, wealth, and less income than individuals living only 50 meters away in areas not controlled by gangs. None of these discontinuities existed before the arrival of gangs from the US. The results are not determined by exposure to violence, lower provision of public goods, or selective migration away from gang locations. We argue that our findings are mostly driven by gangs restricting residents’ mobility and labor choices. We find that individuals living under the rule of gangs have less freedom of movement and end up working in smaller firms. The results are relevant for many developing countries where non-state actors control parts of the country.

That is from a new paper by Nikita Melnikov, Carlos Schmidt-Padilla, and Maria Micaela Sviatschi.  Via the excellent Samir Varma.


Cool story but unlikely to be properly identifiable

I knew we could blame this all on the U.S. if we tried hard enough.

Our war on drugs was possibly the organizing principle.

It’s a cinch that you’d be voted most partisan poster here, if push came to shove, so there’s no much chance in getting you to a) either change your mind, or b) acknowledge that legalization and decriminalization are more fraught than you knee jerk progressives think. We have enough bad people here, so why import more? It’s likely these organized gangs would use decriminalization to monetize their field more effectively? Make pot legal? Fine. But what happens when synthetic x is added to pot? You don’t think that isn’t being explored? I’m generally pro immigration, so I’d like to see a more thorough screening system and an end to the asylum scam. And an acknowledgment that the war on drugs may not have been a resounding success, but it might have been better than the alternatives given our ruthless adversaries.

You are one weird troll.

You start out strong, but then just argue with yourself, certainly not touching my actual opinion on the ranges of counterfactual strategies we might have plotted.

Go ahead, call me names. But you reduce a complex (series of interconnected) problem(s) to something that’s allegedly our fault and our fault alone: the war on drugs. Not helpful.

That was my first thought.

The IV isn't plausible.

But I thought people like the whole strong man act these days.

Southern Italy...?

According to several studies, the market in lemons in the 19th century gave the mafia its start in Sicily. Lemons. Here's an article from the WP but a google search will ping many articles and links to the research: I suppose the point is that a craze (i.e., high demand) for any commodity (whether drugs or lemons) can give rise to efforts to control a limited supply, by violence if necessary.

For those who think mafia tactics (controlling territory and supply) are no longer practiced on a large scale in America, think again. Of course, eliminating the competition has a different meaning today than in the past. I won't mention particular markets, but it's not difficult to identify markets in which territory and supply are controlled by eliminating the competition. Think.

Speaking of gangs, ISIS celebrated Trump's assassination of Suleimani. Trump's aid and abetting of jihadis deserve another count of impeachment.

Be wary of NYT, they aren't the most credible tabloid out there.

It is not that simple.

I really wonder about the causation issues here. If the paper is saying that because a person immigrated to the US they became a gang member, that's not believable. If they were a gang member and immigrated to the US, and then were deported, that is believable. Perhaps what is happening is that when the gang member returns home there is more competition between gang members and expansion of territory to accommodate returning gang members.

Gary Becker, where are you. Gangs are business enterprises, and may be the most remunerative of alternatives, so the better alternative is to find non-gang money making alternatives.

I think this paper shows that: 'Our results show that individuals living under gang control have significantly worse education, wealth, and less income than...'

I agree with you that it should be looked at as a business, but in addition to this paper, there are several others that show that on average, crime does not pay. There's the more famous own that drug dealers barely make min wage.

Sorry. "There's the more famous one..."

And, once you get a criminal record, your job prospects other than crime are even lower, making the below minimum wage example explainable.

You also have peer effects and status which inhibit movement away from a gang. You are also unlikely to get many job referrals from within a gang network. If you are interested in gang economics, look up Prof. Matthew Jackson's books on networks or social economics.

Exactly. The extreme sociopathy of MS-13 requires a lifetime of societal dysfunction to flourish, but academia sees populations like Central America through a noble-savage model and cannot afford them any moral agency of. their own.

My supposition is that these were Salvadoran criminals who made contacts with Mexican distribution networks while in US prison. Once they returned home, they connected with wealthy Salvadorans, whose influence helps prevent a significant state response to gang activity.

Too lazy to go look but any mentions of the civil war? Obviously it ended in the 90s but that's going to leave a mark.

Those Central American countries should refuse to take back deported violent gang members just like countries are refusing to take back ISIS members, except they would have far more justification as these gangs seem to do far more damage to Central America than ISIS does outside the Middle East.

Or if the US forces those countries to take the gang members back, they should just shoot the gang members on the tarmac. I was in Ecuador once and met a hostel owner who was full of praise for the country’s death squads, which resulted in significantly less crime and gang activity there compared to neighboring countries. Duterte seems pretty popular for similar policies in the Philippines too. Human rights are for rich countries; you can’t have those gangs have essentially formed their own government and the legitimate government lacks the resources to manage them humanely.

And this policy would arguably be good for the gang members themselves as they’d now have asylum claims in the US.

How are gang members identified, by their own gang, other gangs and establishment authorities? Maybe they have special tattoos or id cards or T-shirts with unique graphics. If a person "joins" or becomes a member of a gang like MS-13 is he a gang member forever? Why would a young fellow with a possibly bright future join a gang anyway? There's probably been all kinds of studies about it but what's the authority structure of gangs and how are hierarchies determined? Who decides gang policy and how? Aren't gangs infiltrated by other gangs and law enforcement? What's the real difference between an urban street gang and the law enforcement structure in the same area, besides the uniforms, salaries and transportation?

Certainly, if a rule were established that game membership meant that you got to stay in the US, then every undocumented immigrant will join a gang. And if one makes the assumption that brown people aren't sufficiently capable of moral reasoning to govern their own societies, it's harder to see how those societies might improve.

Yes, when the post-Puritans carried their movement to other spots their former territory on the Charles River was invaded by swarthy Irish and Italian gangsters like the Kennedys. Eventually these immigrants attained citizenship and political power while still being major figures in the world of crime, like the Bulgers and the Winter Hill gang, who were also able to use the FBI for their own devices. If current immigrants are capable of reading some of the history of New England they'll get a good education on how to operate a gang. A collection of Howie Carr columns should be available at all border crossings.

MR: where previously self described "libertarians" seem positively disposed death squads mass killing drug addicts?

More data on gangs to be forthcoming from San Francisco. New SF DA Chesa Boudin pledged to no longer charge “gang enhancements” for crimes committed by gang members in gang contexts (because the policy is racist). This weekend he fired all attorneys on the city’s Gang Unit, so he seems to be well on his way

I've always hated the 'enhancements' in charges. I don't care if you killed a guy because he's gay or you didn't like his tattoo, you should get the same murder charge. And '(because the policy is racist)' always makes the speaker appear to be the racist one. Only Latinos can be gang members?

So the preferable policy is for the gang members to be allowed to stay (and to enter, of course) and do their worst in America, because it has less of an effect on freedom of movement here than in Central America? But also, on the same day, in another post - Americans should under no circumstances abandon the big city.

You're painting so many beautiful word pictures.

Dosage effects matter. What may be benign as a rare occurrence may become severely damaging if frequent. Unfortunately a lot of policy is made by extrapolation rare occurance effects.

Judging from the truly obtuse explanations put forward by my neighbors for rising crime in our little area, I think "dosage effect" is shorthand for: we are relying on the host population to have a certain critical mix of tolerance, ennui, catechism-derived self-hatred, and frog-in-pot obliviousness.

The dosage can go much, much higher. I don't know what happens then.

Latin America has lagged behind North America for 500 years. There are factors at work which apparently can't be discussed. There are 33 different countries with varying histories. They are all rich in natural resources and have access to markets. By all rights, they should be about as rich as America.

Other factors, probably not related to legalisms, must be the cause. I hope we determine it soon, because it's coming here. The lives of your grandchildren dependent on a proper, honest analysis of Latin America's big lag behind America over the last few centuries.

Stop it with the esoteric winking. Just say what you mean.


Also, spatial RDD is just a mess that gives spurious results in most circumstances.

When in doubt, blame it on the US.

Sounds like restricting residents’ mobility and labor choices really matters.

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