Category: Law

Crime Imprisons and Kills

…the most disadvantaged people have gained the most from the reduction in violent crime.

Though homicide is not a common cause of death for most of the United States population, for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34 it is the leading cause, which means that any change in the homicide rate has a disproportionate impact on them. The sociologist Michael Friedson and I calculated what the life expectancy would be today for blacks and whites had the homicide rate never shifted from its level in 1991. We found that the national decline in the homicide rate since then has increased the life expectancy of black men by roughly nine months.

…The everyday lived experience of urban poverty has also been transformed. Analyzing rates of violent victimization over time, I found that the poorest Americans today are victimized at about the same rate as the richest Americans were at the start of the 1990s. That means that a poor, unemployed city resident walking the streets of an average city today has about the same chance of being robbed, beaten up, stabbed or shot as a well-off urbanite in 1993. Living in poverty used to mean living with the constant threat of violence. In most of the country, that is no longer true.

That’s Patrick Sharkey writing in the New York Times.

More police on the street is one cause, among many, of lower crime. It’s important in the debate over better policing that we not lose sight of the value of policing. Given the benefits of reduced crime and the cost of police, it’s clear that U.S. cities are under policed (e.g. here and here). We need better policing–including changes in laws–so that we can all be comfortable with more policing.

Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisations?

Yes, it would seem.  The subtitle is “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime,” the authors are Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman, and the outlet is The Economic Journal.  Here is the abstract:

We show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) leads to a decrease in violent crime in states that border Mexico. The reduction in crime is strongest for counties close to the border (less than 350 kilometres) and for crimes that relate to drug trafficking. In addition, we find that MMLs in inland states lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state. Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalisation of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organisations.

Here is the link to the paper, here are earlier versions.  For the pointer I thank Peter Metrinko.  That said, I learn from Kevin Lewis that the high school graduate rate goes down.

A few simple points about immigration

I feel I am repeating myself, but these remain neglected:

1. The good outcomes for African immigrants to the United States mean we could and should take in more such immigrants, to mutual benefit.

2. In part these gains arise from selection, namely that it is not easy to get from Africa to the United States, at least not generally.  So we should not make it too easy, even though we should take in more migrants.  “Take in more, keep hard” sounds contradictory but it is not.  And if African outcomes decline in quality at the margin, that is a sign that policy is working (more entrants), not that policy is failing.

3. We cannot let everyone in, and so at the margin there will always be cruelties when it comes to those who are denied entry, sent back, and so on.  Right now even Canada may be sending back some Haitians (NYT).  Those cruelties are relevant for assessing an immigration decision, but they are not decisive.  If you cite the cruelties without also outlining a limiting principle for the appropriate margin where immigration ought to stop, you are arguing poorly and most of all fooling yourself.  It is a good recipe for never thinking clearly again about any policy issue.

4. Adopting a cosmopolitan ethic will increase the margin at which immigration should be allowed.  But still we cannot let everyone in, if only because of backlash effects.  And if backlash effects are the binding constraint, the degree of cosmopolitanism in your ethic may not matter much for finding the appropriate rate of immigration.

5. Just to repeat, we really should take in more immigrants.  Not only from Africa, but from many countries that are not major successes on the gdp or education front, India and Iran being two other obvious examples.

6. Will Wilkinson has an excellent NYT piece on making immigration deals with Trump.

Let’s have more African immigrants

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master’s degree.


Economist Edward Lazear suggests a simple experiment. Consider immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. Although that’s counterintuitive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants.

Do read the whole thing.

Is marrying your cousin bad for democracy?

The title of the paper is “The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-Networks and Democracy” and the author is Jonathan F. Schulz, here is the abstract:

This paper tests the hypothesis that extended kin-groups, as characterized by a high level of cousin marriages, impact the proper functioning of formal institutions. Consistent with this hypothesis I find that countries with high cousin marriage rates exhibit a weak rule of law and are more likely autocratic. Further evidence comes from a quasi-natural experiment. In the early medieval ages the Church started to prohibit kin-marriages. Using the variation in the duration and extent of the Eastern and Western Churches’ bans on consanguineous marriages as instrumental variables, reveals highly significant point estimates of the percentage of cousin marriage on an index of democracy. An additional novel instrument, cousin-terms, strengthens this point: the estimates are very similar and do not rest on the European experience alone. Exploiting within country variation support these results. These findings point to the importance of marriage patterns for the proper functioning of formal institutions and democracy.

I recall reading related ideas in the MR comments section from Steve Sailer and others.  For the pointer I thank Alexander B.

In praise of earmarks

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

In essence, earmarks give congressional leaders more control over individual members. Recalcitrant representatives can be swayed by the promise of a perk for their district. That eases gridlock and gives extreme members of Congress something to pursue other than just ideology.

But is more legislation always a good result? Advocates of smaller government should keep in mind that reforming spending and regulation requires some activism from Congress. Gridlock today is not the friend of fiscal responsibility, coherent policy, or a free, well-functioning capitalist economy.

But what if you’re a Democrat? In these days of Republican rule, you might have discovered a newfound love for stasis. Still, earmarks make it harder for, say, far-right party members to hold legislation hostage to their demands. In other words, party leadership can put up a more centrist bill and then buy off the extremists with local benefits rather than policy concessions.

There is much more at the linkAddendum: I thank Garett Jones for spurring my interest in this topic.

Why does home solar energy cost so much in the United States?

Here in the land of technology leadership and free-market enterprise, American regulation has more than doubled the cost of solar.

The regulation comes in three un-American guises: permitting, code and tariffs — and together they are killing the U.S. residential market. Modernizing these regulations, primarily at the local and state level, is the greatest opportunity for U.S. solar policy in 2018.

To highlight the opportunity, let’s look at Australia, where nearly 2 million solar systems have been successfully and safely installed.

As of early December, installed costs in the main Australian markets were at $1.34 per watt, compared to $3.25 per watt in the U.S. What does that difference stem from?

In Australia, there is no permitting process. You simply lodge your request for interconnection online and go install it. The figure below highlights the relative mass of valueless work required to satisfy current city-level bureaucracy in the U.S., which adds between two and six months to delivery time and 47 cents per watt of cost directly to the installed system. That’s more than the cost of the panels themselves!

…the U.S. National Electrical Code dictates a best practice that more than doubles the installation time relative to Australia, and adds incremental hardware expense — together adding 49 cents per watt to the cost of solar. There is no discernable difference in the quality and safety of solar installations overseas relative to the U.S.

…There are no tariffs on imported hardware in Australia because it’s obvious to all that the jobs in solar are in sales and installation, not in manufacturing. That’s another 21 cents per watt in the Australians’ pocket — and a thousand dollars back into the economy per system sold.

And because solar is so much cheaper, as well as faster and easier to buy, it’s also much cheaper, faster and easier to sell. Acquisition costs in Australia average $400 per installed customer, compared to $2,500 in the U.S.

At lower cost and without the two- to six-month wait time and all of the permitting complexity, cancellation rates are minimal, compared to an average of about 30 percent for reputable U.S. companies. How many other electronics purchases do you know of that take up to half a year to be installed? That’s another 42 cents per watt of lower solar costs.

From Andrew Birch, there is much more at the link, read it and weep.  Via Felix Yates.

It seems like there won’t be another Mickey Mouse copyright extension act

…advocates of a new copyright term extension bill wouldn’t be able to steamroll opponents the way they did 20 years ago. Any term extension proposal would face a well-organized and well-funded opposition with significant grassroots support.

“After the SOPA fight, Hollywood likely knows that the public would fight back,” wrote Daniel Nazer, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an email to Ars. “I suspect that Big Content knows it would lose the battle and is smart enough not to fight.”

“I haven’t seen any evidence that Big Content companies plan to push for another term extension,” Nazer added. “This is an election year, so if they wanted to get a big ticket like that through Congress, you would expect to see them laying the groundwork with lobbying and op-eds.”

Of course, copyright interests might try to slip a copyright term extension into a must-pass bill in hopes opponents wouldn’t notice until it was too late. But Rose doesn’t think that would work.

Here is the full piece, via someone in my Twitter feed sorry I forget.

Against teacher collective bargaining

Our estimates suggest that teacher collective bargaining worsens the future labor market outcomes of students: living in a state that has a duty-to-bargain law for all 12 grade-school years reduces earnings by $800 (or 2%) per year and decreases hours worked by 0.50 hours per week. The earnings estimate indicates that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation, as well as reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which workers sort. The effects are driven by men and nonwhites, who experience larger relative declines in long-run outcomes.

That is from a new paper by Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, via Noah Smith.

The Minimum Wage, EITC, and Criminal Recidivism

From Amanda Y. Agan and Michael D. Makowsky, here is an new and important approach:

For recently released prisoners, the minimum wage and the availability of state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) can influence both their ability to find employment and their potential legal wages relative to illegal sources of income, in turn affecting the probability they return to prison. Using administrative prison release records from nearly six million offenders released between 2000 and 2014, we use a difference-in-differences strategy to identify the effect of over two hundred state and federal minimum wage increases, as well as 21 state EITC programs, on recidivism. We find that the average minimum wage increase of 8% reduces the probability that men and women return to prison within 1 year by 2%. This implies that on average the wage effect, drawing at least some ex-offenders into the legal labor market, dominates any reduced employment in this population due to the minimum wage. These reductions in re-convictions are observed for the potentially revenue generating crime categories of property and drug crimes; prison reentry for violent crimes are unchanged, supporting our framing that minimum wages affect crime that serves as a source of income. The availability of state EITCs also reduces recidivism, but only for women. Given that state EITCs are predominantly available to custodial parents of minor children, this asymmetry is not surprising. Framed within a simple model where earnings from criminal endeavors serve as a reservation wage for ex-offenders, our results suggest that the wages of crime are on average higher than comparable opportunities for low-skilled labor in the legal labor market.

But two days ago I ran into Amanda and family at Penang restaurant in Philadelphia…

Policing nature

Lasers are to be deployed against Britain’s biggest bird of prey to stop them taking sheep.

Farmers will be able to apply for licences to fire the beams on to hillsides on the west coast of Scotland to discourage sea eagles from areas where they are believed to be feeding on lambs. The method is being trialled by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and its partners in response to concerns among the crofting and farming communities.

White-tailed sea eagles were reintroduced to Scotland in the 1970s and the population stands at an estimated 106 breeding pairs. It is thought that the figure could double within ten years.

According to sheep farmers and crofters, the birds are not only taking large numbers of lambs but threatening rural livelihoods. Laser licences will be granted to farmers in areas where lambs have been taken by the birds.

The beams create patterns that disorientate the birds and make them fly away. The lasers cause the birds no harm and deter other predators from preying on farm animals.

That is from the London Times.  And from Jonathan Franzen.

Security breach in India?

In 2010 India started scanning personal details like names, addresses, dates of birth, mobile numbers, and more, along with all 10 fingerprints and iris scans of its 1.3 billion citizens, into a centralized government database called Aadhaar to create a voluntary identity system. On Wednesday this database was reportedly breached.

The Tribune, a local Indian newspaper, published a report claiming its reporters paid Rs. 500 (approximately $8) to a person who said his name was Anil Kumar, and who they contacted through WhatsApp. Kumar was able to create a username and password that gave them access to the demographic information of nearly 1.2 billion Indians who have currently enrolled in Aadhaar, simply by entering a person’s unique 12-digit Aadhaar number. Regional officers working with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government agency responsible for Aadhaar, told the Tribune the access was “illegal,” and a “major national security breach.”

second report, published on Thursday by the Quint, an Indian news website, revealed that anyone can create an administrator account that lets them access the Aadhaar database as long as they’re invited by an existing administrator.

Here is the full story, via Brian Slesinsky.

Collective Action Kills Innovation

Oregon has just passed a law that gives gas stations in rural counties the option of allowing self-pumping (in some rural counties this is allowed only between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.!) As you have probably heard, this incomplete lifting of an absurd restriction has some Oregonians upset and afraid.

“I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian . . . I say NO THANKS! I don’t like to smell like gasoline!” one woman wrote.

“No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe. This is a very bad idea. Grrr,” another woman wrote.

“I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas . . . This [is] a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas.”

Most of the rest of the America–where people pump their own gas everyday without a second thought–is having a good laugh at Oregon’s expense. But I am not here to laugh because in every state but one where you can pump your own gas you can’t open a barbershop without a license. A license to cut hair! Ridiculous. I hope people in Alabama are laughing at the rest of America. Or how about a license to be a manicurist? Go ahead Connecticut, laugh at the other states while you get your nails done. Buy contact lens without a prescription? You have the right to smirk British Columbia!

All of the Oregonian complaints about non-professionals pumping gas–“only qualified people should perform this service”, “it’s dangerous” and “what about the jobs”–are familiar from every other state, only applied to different services.

Once we got familiar with self-pumping it didn’t seem like a problem, but it’s surprising we ever got self-pumping as it would have been easy to scare people into voting no. After all, the case for trained gas pumpers is far stronger than for licensed barbers. Perhaps we were less risk averse and complacent in the past. I don’t think we could build the Hoover Dam today either.

It’s easier to scare than to inform and we fear losses more than we desire gains so collective decision-making defaults toward stasis.

We have innovations like Uber and Airbnb and many others only because entrepreneurs didn’t have to ask for permission. Had we put these ideas to the vote they would have been defeated. Allow almost anyone with a car to drive customers around town? Stranger danger! Let any house be turned into a hotel? Not in my neighborhood! Once the innovations were brought into existence, the masses saw the benefits but they would not have seen those benefits if the idea had been put to a vote. Demonstration is more powerful than imagination.

More and more, however, the sphere of individual action shrinks and that of collective action grows. Thus, I do not laugh at the Oregonians and their fear of gas pumping freedom. We are all Oregonians in one form or another.

Why Spielberg’s *The Post* bugged me (full of spoilers, but if you already know the history…)

The movie centers around Daniel Ellsberg’s revelation of the Pentagon Papers and their publication in The New York Times and most of all The Washington Post, the center of the dramatic tension.  The courts rule for the newspapers (and ultimately Ellsberg) and Spielbergian triumphalism reigns.  Yet so many of those liberties have reverted to the state — had he stuck around, would Edward Snowden have received a public trial before a court of law?  You may believe Snowden is a different case (read Gladwell), but shouldn’t a public court be deciding that?  The feel-good tone of The Post also would not match a movie about a minor American military victory in the Vietnam of 1966, given what followed.  Does historical context matter so little?  Post-Obama, can newspapers protect their anonymous sources in matters of national security?

I usually don’t mind when movies play fast and loose with the truth, as is done in almost every biopic or history.  (They didn’t actually blow up that Death Star, they merely damaged it.)  But this case is different.  The whole theme of this film is about standing up for the truth even when commercial considerations dictate otherwise.  It then feels dishonest to give Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) a wildly overblown role, as this portrait does.  But it does make for a better story and presumably a higher-grossing movie.

For an artwork that pretends to defend freedom of the press, the underlying message is remarkably Trumpian in an almost Straussian manner.  The press collude, dine and party with leaders, and refuse to reveal their crimes and scandals, all to receive “access” and to be flattered.  Every now and then their need for reputation, and the desire for a broader national market, spurs them to “turn on” a president gone astray.  “The people” don’t have much of a say and fake news is everywhere.

The sadder commercial reality is that the first quarter to third of the movie is sophisticated and then it falls into good guys vs. bad guys.  It’s not smart enough to be Strauss.

It feels as if every actor or actress in the movie is a “grizzled veteran” of some kind or another.

The scenes of newspaper and print technology will go down as some of the finest cinema of our time.