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Bias Weighed as Motive in Killings of Brooklyn Shopkeepers

Bias Weighed as Motive in Killings of Brooklyn Shopkeepers | Criminology and Economic Theory |
New York City detectives were looking at the possibility that bias was a motive in the deaths of three men of Middle Eastern descent.
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Why Islam prohibits images of Muhammad - The Economist explains

Why Islam prohibits images of Muhammad - The Economist explains | Criminology and Economic Theory |

LOOK upwards in the magnificent place of worship in Istanbul now known as the Hagia Sophia Museum, and you will see two different ways of approaching the divine, reflecting different phases in the building's history. There are Christian mosaics, among the finest ever made, of Jesus Christ, his mother and other holy figures; and there is swirling Islamic calligraphy, which reflects the idea that God speaks to man through language, whether spoken or written, rather than through pictures or anything physical. For most of its history, Islam has had a deep aversion to the lifelike portrayal of animate beings, especially human beings, and above all to the representation of Muhammad, the messenger of God—or indeed any of the preceding prophets, such as Nuh (Noah) or Isa (Jesus). For an artist, trying to depict the Deity could be more impious only than drawing Muhammad. Why?

Such beliefs are rooted in Islam's horror of idolatry, and generally of anything that could come between man and God, or compromise the uniqueness and indivisibility of God. The Koran does not specifically condemn representative art, but it has a lot to say about paganism and idolatry; and Islam is correspondingly wary of anything that could become an idol or detract from the worship of God alone. The text most often cited in defence of the ban on representation is a hadith, one of the vast lore of sayings about the deeds and words of Muhammad. He is reported to have spoken harshly to a man who made his living through art. “Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to do that.” This is taken to mean that for a human, to try “making” a new being is usurping God's role—and is in any case doomed to fail.

The belief is most strongly held by the Sunnis, who form the great majority of the world's Muslims, especially the more puritanical and zealous groups such as the Wahhabis, who dominate Saudi Arabia. Shia Islam is much more open to the depiction of human beings, up to and including Muhammad himself. This difference fuels the zeal of violent Sunni groups like Islamic State, who have destroyed Shia shrines and images, claiming in doing so to be purifying their religion of idolatrous accretions. By contrast the leading figure among the Shias of Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, has said the depiction even of Muhammad is acceptable, as long as it is done with proper reverence.

To illustrate that the ban on depiction has not been absolute, it is often pointed out that the portrayal of human figures, including Muhammad, was a central feature of Persian miniatures, under both Sunni and Shia rulers. In more modern times, the theological ban on human depiction has been challenged in many Muslim countries by the ubiquity of human images in films, on television and in political propaganda posters. In Arab countries, ingenious compromises between depiction and non-depiction are sometimes found; on road signs, for example, a headless human figure will show pedestrians where to walk. At a slightly higher theological level, it is sometimes asserted (in the course of Christian—Muslim debates, for example) that Muhammad's aversion to images had exceptions. According to one version of his life, he went into the Ka'aba—the original place of worship in Mecca—and found it full of idols, which he destroyed. But there were two images which he allowed to remain, albeit hidden from public view: those of Jesus and Mary.

Dig deeper:
As the threat of terrorism is increasing, the ability of Western security agencies to defeat it is declining (Jan 2015)
Could Voltaire be Muslim?  (Jan 2015)
The pleasures and perils of name calling (Jan 2015)

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Pakistan’s Murree Brewery shrugs off restrictions on its products - Spirit of the law

Pakistan’s Murree Brewery shrugs off restrictions on its products - Spirit of the law | Criminology and Economic Theory |

QUARTER-LITRE bottles of whisky whizz down a conveyor belt past Mukhtar Ali, a quality-control employee at Pakistan’s Murree Brewery, the only legal beer-and-spirit maker in this Islamic country. Nearby labourers pack Vat No.1, a cask-aged spirit, into boxes. An elderly man with a long beard tapes them up. Asked over the roar of imported German machinery if they have ever taken a sip of the amber liquid, each shakes his head. “It’s haram,” (meaning forbidden), says Mr Ali.

The 155-year-old institution causes some spluttering nonetheless. Founded for British troops of the Raj, it can sell only to the 3% of the 207m-strong population that is comprised of foreigners and non-Muslims. But many of its products end up in Muslim hands, as illustrated by the predilections of the former prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who ordered a nationwide ban on alcohol in 1977. “He was the biggest consumer of Murree in history!” says the company’s boss, Isphanyar Bhandara. Some employees do sneak drinks on the job, he adds.

Shareholders can toast a vintage few years for the firm, whose market capitalisation of $160m makes it one of the largest food and beverage firms listed on Pakistan’s stockmarket. In 2016, it doubled its alcohol-production capacity. Profits have risen by almost 100% since 2012, reaching a foamy $19.6m last year.

One reason is an influx of thirsty Chinese citizens, who clamour for alcohol as they deepen their country’s footprint in Pakistan. An increasingly relaxed officialdom also helps. Government employees work inside Murree’s fortress-like walls and hold the keys to locks on every vat of whisky. Yet in recent years provincial administrations have granted more permits to individuals and upmarket hotels to indulge. Elite Pakistanis, able to afford prices of around $3 for a can of lager, are a reliable source of demand.

It also helps that in 2009 the main sharia court ruled that the official punishment for drinking—80 lashes—was itself un-Islamic; the verdict had never been imposed. Yet Murree’s product remains a touchy subject. In 2016 the Sindh High Court temporarily banned all sales of alcohol in the southern province, a significant blow to profits as it accounts for 60% of Murree’s liquor sales. The case still hangs over the company.

To guard against such headaches in future, Murree is expanding its range of soft drinks, including Murree Sparkletts, a mineral water. Freer liquor markets abroad also appeal. Attempts to brew Murree in neighbouring India (Pakistan’s law forbids exporting it outright) have foundered, the result of sour diplomatic relations. Yet the firm soon hopes to offer British citizens the chance, once again, to “have a Murree with your curry”. A worldwide distribution deal is being negotiated through a Czech brewery that produces its beer. “The Brits started it here, so why not?” says a tweed-jacketed executive, Sabih Ur Rehman, puffing on a Silk Cut cigarette.

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In some countries, killer cops are celebrated - Crime and justice

In some countries, killer cops are celebrated - Crime and justice | Criminology and Economic Theory |

POLICE in the United States kill roughly 1,000 people a year. No other rich country comes close. Finnish police fired only six bullets in 2013, fewer than half the number that one Chicago cop put into Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, in 2014 as he was walking away.

Next to police in some poorer countries, though, America’s cops look almost Nordic. Police in El Salvador are 22 times deadlier. Cops in Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian state with just 17m inhabitants, killed more people in 2017 than all of America’s police. (In February Brazil’s president ordered the army to take over policing Rio.) In countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and the Philippines it is impossible to say even roughly how many people the police kill, but it is a lot. “Police brutality is as common as water,” says Justus Ijeoma, a human-rights activist in Nigeria’s Anambra state.

Why are some cops so likely to kill? Partly because they fear for their own lives, or for those of bystanders. In general, the more murderous the country, the more deadly are its police (see chart). American cops shoot more people than police in other rich countries largely because more people shoot at them. They are 36 times deadlier than German police officers, but also 35 times likelier to be killed on the job.

The other big difference is incentives. In America, as in Europe, a cop who kills unlawfully can expect to be punished. (The officer who shot McDonald was suspended and has been charged with murder; he has pleaded not guilty.) In many developing countries, by contrast, the authorities encourage extrajudicial executions, either to get rid of dissidents or to suppress crime. Voters often applaud them for it.

In the Philippines, for example, President Rodrigo Duterte openly urges the police to kill suspected drug dealers and even drug users, to fulfil a campaign promise to dump their corpses in Manila Bay and “fatten all the fish there”. Since he became president in May 2016 more than 12,000 people have died in extrajudicial killings, according to human-rights groups. The police give a smaller but still staggering number. They say that 3,850 died in anti-drug operations between July 2016 and September 2017. Another 2,290 drug-related murders are “under investigation”.

Imelda Hidalgo, who lives in a slum of Quezon City, in Manila, says the police gunned down her brother last year, probably because they heard that he took shabu (methamphetamine). Trigger-happy cops sometimes shoot bystanders. “We are scared,” says Ms Hidalgo, “What if a user comes to our local store and then there’s a drug operation right here?”

Elizabeth Mago, a food-seller in Quezon City, says her son “just had a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. One evening last year, he asked for 10 pesos ($0.20) to pay for a video-gaming session and headed for the local computer shop. While there he was shot. His mother suspects the police were involved, but cannot be sure. Such confusion is normal. “On operations the first thing the police do is take out the CCTV cameras and the lights,” says a church volunteer who helps those bereaved by violence.

The government insists that killing criminals cuts crime. This is impossible to verify. What is certain, however, is that many of the killings are murder, pure and simple, and that having a licence to kill makes it easier for corrupt police to intimidate civilians. “Extortion now is more rampant somehow, because the police can choose who to kill and who to put in jail,” says a local official.

Still, more than three-quarters of Filipinos approve of the government’s approach. Even those harmed by the brutal campaign sometimes favour it. Both Ms Hidalgo and Ms Mago want it to continue.

A similar drug war in Thailand, which began in 2003, was a fiasco. A public report four years later found that in its initial months about half of the 2,819 extrajudicial killings involved victims who had nothing to do with drugs. Villagers sometimes grumble that addiction is as bad as ever. Yet many long for a return to violence. “If you kill a dog, do you have to apologise to his family?” asks a rice farmer. “No. And it’s the same with drug dealers.”

In 2015 the vice-president of El Salvador told police that they could shoot gang members “without any fear of suffering consequences”. Such “implicit impunity” spurs police over-zealousness, observes Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. After the government announced a mano dura (iron-fist) policy, the number of alleged gang members shot by police and soldiers rose 15-fold, from 39 in 2013 to 603 in 2016. Over the same period, the murder rate doubled. Police are supposed to shoot to wound, but the ratio of suspects killed to wounded jumped from 3.1 in 2015 to 6.3 in the first six months of 2017. The ratio of dead suspects to dead police rose almost eight times, from 15 to one in 2014 to 113 to one in June 2017.

Last year more than 600 Salvadorean officers were arrested for allegedly belonging to death squads, participating in shoot-outs or committing other crimes. Hardly any were prosecuted or even sacked. At one point journalists got access to an elite unit’s WhatsApp chat group where officers shared videos of suspects being tortured, celebrated the “elimination” of gangster “rats” and traded tips on how to plant evidence. The officers in the WhatsApp chat were arrested, but freed three days later.

One-directional shoot-outs

Advocates of mano dura policing in Latin America say it is the only way to deal with drug gangs. In other countries the excuse is terrorism. Consider the case of Naqeebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old aspiring male model in Pakistan. Before his death he posted a video online in which he and a friend dance in a woodland clearing. He smiles, claps and sways. His long hair flicks in the breeze. He does not look like a member of the Taliban, an Islamist movement that abhors music and hairstyles. Yet on January 13th a police team killed Mehsud in what they termed an “encounter” with four terrorists.

“Encounter killings” are common in Pakistan and India. Between 1997 and 2016 some 8,800 cases were tallied in Pakistan. The term implies that suspects perish in shoot-outs. Police seldom die during these battles, however. In the house where Mehsud died, blood colours the floor but bullet-holes pock only one wall.

Mehsud had gone missing ten days before his death. Some people told local media that police had picked him up in an attempt at extortion. A police investigation found no links between him and the Taliban. The encounter, it found, was probably “staged”. Mehsud’s fellow Pushtuns, who say the police have been harrying them for years, held protest marches.

The unit that killed Mehsud has reportedly carried out 262 encounter killings since 2009. Its leader, Rao Anwar, has become a celebrity. Journalists with cameras routinely arrive at the scene of a shoot-out minutes before it begins, says Afzal Nadeem Dogar, of Geo News, a local channel. “It’s like Anwar’s a movie hero,” scoffs Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and campaigner. “Bombs go off all around but he emerges scratchless every time.”

Mr Anwar’s career may now be over. He has gone into hiding to escape an arrest warrant for murder. Yet attempts to root out extrajudicial killing run up against a phalanx of incentives supporting it. Pakistan’s courts are drowning under a backlog of 1.9m cases. Judges fear to try terrorism cases, lest they be murdered by jihadists. Witnesses seldom come forward. Police are tempted to take shortcuts. Worst, officers who rack up “encounters” can expect professional advancement. “I worked hard all my life,” sighs a senior officer, “but I was not part of any encounters, so I was unable to get a promotion.”

One globally popular idea to curb killings is for police to wear cameras. Yet a study in Washington, DC, in which roughly half the cops were given body cameras and half were not, showed no difference in the use of force between the two groups. This might not mean that body cameras are useless. It may be that American police generally follow the rules, and so did not need to change their behaviour when being filmed. Other police forces might be different; and body cameras might make civilians behave better, too.

Technology can restrain cops only if the authorities want to restrain them—someone has to watch the body-camera footage and punish misconduct. Building a culture of accountability takes time and political will, but is not impossible. In the early 2000s Colombia purged 12,000 corrupt officers and taught new ones to be better detectives. In Guatemala a UN-backed team of independent prosecutors secured convictions in 2013 against four cops responsible for systematic killings of prisoners. Such high-profile cases drove down police killings and homicides in general.

In the short term, police need better training in the use of non-lethal means of incapacitating suspects, such as tasers. Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkeley, argues that many American lives could be saved if the police reassessed tactics such as emptying a 15-bullet magazine into a knife-wielding civilian standing 20 feet away “just to make sure”.

In the long run, cops in many poor countries need better pay (so they are not tempted to moonlight as assassins), tougher consequences for abusing their powers and a functioning legal system to work with, so they do not face a choice between killing a suspect and seeing him bribe his way out of prison. Most of all, such countries need leaders who think that civilian lives matter, and that punishments are for courts, not cops, to decide.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline "Why they do it"

Rob Duke's insight:
In some countries, killer cops are celebrated Even though they are ineffective
Leah Haskell's comment, March 12, 3:18 AM
Interesting article, found a few interesting points. First it is disappointing that American police shoots over 1,000 people a year. The excuse for that number is people shoot back. These last few years cops have shot many unarmed children and adults, therefore the article forgot to mention that some cops kill for enjoyment and are not suited for the job. I do agree that cops kill in fear of their lives and bystanders, it is their job and right to use force necessary to protect themselves and others. I also feel in certain countries if police don't kill they will be killed themselves. I can't imagine all Germans believed in Hitler, they probably feared for their lives. The United States is not the most dangerous country, El Savador , Rio De Janerio, Nigeria, and the Philippines are more dangerous than the US and they don't have a count of how many deaths by cops because it is to high.
William Kelley's comment, March 12, 3:25 PM
We can see this in many other career paths as well when the typical prestige associated with a job is voided from what it's actually like.
katrina watson's comment, March 12, 4:06 PM
Scary places to be
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Despots are pushing the Arab world to become more secular - The new Arab cosmopolitans

Despots are pushing the Arab world to become more secular - The new Arab cosmopolitans | Criminology and Economic Theory |

DURING Friday prayers the congregation of Muhammad Yousef, a young puritanical preacher in the Egyptian town of Mansoura, once spilled out into the alleys surrounding his mosque. Now Sheikh Muhammad counts it a good week if he fills half the place.

In Cairo, 110km (68 miles) to the south, unveiled women sit in street cafés, traditionally a male preserve, smoking water-pipes. Some of the establishments serve alcohol, which Islam prohibits. “We’re in religious decline,” moans Sheikh Muhammad, whose despair is shared by clerics in many parts of the Arab world.

According to Arab Barometer, a pollster, much of the region is growing less religious. Voters who backed Islamists after the upheaval of the Arab spring in 2011 have grown disillusioned with their performance and changed their minds. In Egypt support for imposing sharia (Islamic law) fell from 84% in 2011 to 34% in 2016. Egyptians are praying less, too (see chart). In places such as Lebanon and Morocco only half as many Muslims listen to recitals of the Koran today, compared with 2011. Gender equality in education and the workplace, long hindered by Muslim tradition, is widely accepted. “Society is driving change,” says Michael Robbins, an American who heads Barometer.

But so, too, is a new crop of Arab leaders, who have adjusted their policies in line with the zeitgeist. They are acting, in part, out of political self-interest. The region’s authoritarians, who once tried to co-opt Islamists, now view them as the biggest threat to their rule. By curbing the influence of clerics they are also weakening checks on their own power. Still, many Arab leaders seem genuinely interested in moulding more secular and tolerant societies, even if their reforms do not extend to the political sphere.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has led the way in relaxing religious and social restrictions. While leading a regional campaign against Islamist movements, Muhammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s de facto leader, has financed the construction of Western university branches and art galleries. He has encouraged young women out of domestic seclusion and into military service, his daughter included. Female soldiers often walk the streets in uniform. In marked contrast to the region’s post-independence nationalist leaders, who purged their societies of Armenians, Greeks, Italians and Jews, he has embraced diversity, though tough restrictions on citizenship persist.

In Egypt President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has not only banned the Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s pre-eminent Islamist movement, but denounced al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest seat of learning, for “intolerance”. He has closed thousands of mosques and said that Muslims must not sacrifice sheep in their homes during festivals without a licence. On some beaches burkinis—body-covering swimwear for conservative women—are banned. In a break from his predecessors, Mr Sisi has attended Christmas mass in Cairo’s Coptic cathedral three years in a row (though he doesn’t stay long). “We’re becoming more European,” explains an Egyptian official.

The most remarkable, albeit nascent, transformation is in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where Muhammad bin Salman, the young crown prince, has curbed the religious police, sacked thousands of imams and launched a new Centre for Moderation to censor “fake and extremist texts”. Women will soon be allowed to drive cars and enter sports stadiums. They are already encouraged to work. Now Prince Muhammad wants to create a new city, Neom, that seems modelled on freewheeling Dubai. Its promotional videos show women without headscarves partying with men. “We are only returning to what we used to be, to moderate Islam, open to the world and all religions,” he told foreign investors in October.

This move to moderation is far from ubiquitous. In countries with less dynamic governments, such as Algeria, Jordan and Palestine, polls show that support for sharia and sympathy for Islamist movements is high and growing. But secularists can been found in even the most conservative quarters. Freed from the grip of Islamic State (IS) jihadists, residents of Mosul, in Iraq, congregate in revamped cafés that have sprouted around the city’s wrecked university. Many profess to be atheists. The fine-arts department is reopening after it was closed by IS three years ago, with twice its previous intake of students.

Economic hardship, long seen as fuelling Islamist opposition movements, may also be eroding traditional views on women’s role in society. Amid soaring inflation and subsidy cuts in many countries, one salary is rarely enough to support a family. So husbands encourage their wives to work. Daughters are leaving their homes in rural areas to study or work in cities. Health workers say premarital sex is more common, in part because the age of marriage is rising (many blame high living costs).

Moderation without representation

All of the change is bittersweet for the region’s liberals, who want more political openness, too. But Arab leaders are acting much like Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s dictator in the early 20th century, who abolished the caliphate and sharia, and banned traditional garb, all while consolidating his own power.

In implementing his modernising agenda, Prince Muhammad has downgraded his family’s 250-year-old alliance with the Wahhabist clergy, who enforced a puritanical version of Islam and seemed to rule Saudi Arabia alongside the House of Saud. Now clerics who push back too hard against decrees are muzzled—or arrested. Dozens of public figures (including liberals) who were critical of the prince’s policies were detained in September.

Similarly, Mr Sisi fans criticism of religious movements, while censoring even indirect barbs of his rule. He has banned hundreds of newspapers and websites, and muzzled artists and musicians who might provoke opposition.

Yet many Arabs seem ready to forfeit political rights in exchange for personal liberties. A poll this year named the UAE as the state Arabs most want to live in, despite its dearth of democratic rights. But secularisation may last only as long as the despots pushing the plan. And even they may not go as far as activists want. No sooner had Saudi women won the right to drive than some took their bicycles out on the roads, testing the limits of official tolerance.

Amanda Watkins's comment, March 11, 7:52 PM
I enjoyed reading this article and feel that it was refreshing to read how the prince of Abu Dhabi is encouraging women; including his own daughter out of domestic seclusion and into the military. There seems to be more positive changes that we do not hear about in the news. I feel a lot of news focus on terrorist groups and does not actually reflect the middle eastern countries and the changes they are making for their people.
Stanley Kreft's comment, March 12, 2:00 AM
I to thought this article had showed good positive movements in these countries. However, as the article also pointed out all these progressive movements can be destroyed if a more clerical ruler was to come in. In countries such as these that have long been ruled by idealogical leaders, I don't think one more progressive can sustain the change it will take multiple before it is fully accepted.
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Love (and money) conquer caste - Marriage in India

Love (and money) conquer caste - Marriage in India | Criminology and Economic Theory |

HALF a dozen young technology workers are gathered around a table in south Mumbai. In between checking their smartphones, they describe an Indian social revolution of which they are in the vanguard. Marriage, one woman explains, is becoming freer and easier—“less stiff-necked”, as she puts it. All have far more choice when it comes to picking a marriage partner than their parents knew: two of the women have even married men from another religion. The old-fashioned marriages that they see on television and in films seem deeply peculiar. “It’s a different world,” one says.

Marriage is a central institution in all societies. In India it often seems more important than anything else. Witness the extravagant, days-long weddings, the lavish gifts of saris and jewellery, and the columns of spouse-wanted ads in newspapers—or just watch any Bollywood romantic comedy. Yet marriage in India is also changing, in ways that are liberating and exciting but also often confusing.

Nearly all Indian women marry by their late 20s, and births out of wedlock are vanishingly rare. Marriages are almost always arranged. Dowry payments are widespread. About 90-95% of the time Hindus marry within their broad caste group. But if the basic rules of the game are fixed, the style of play is different these days.

Gourav Rakshit, the chief executive of a popular website for seeking marriage partners,, spies a subtle but momentous change. It used to be that parents and older siblings drove the matchmaking process, he says, lining up potential partners whom the spouse-to-be might veto. These days the offspring tend to be in charge of finding their own partners, but parents may veto them. “What has not changed is that marriage is a family decision,” he explains. “What has changed is who is driving the process.”

Fully 73% of the profiles on have been put there by people who are seeking partners for themselves, not by their parents or brothers. These days most new users (about 12,000 to 15,000 people sign up each day) access the website via smartphones. Those phones, which are bringing the internet to millions of new users, are themselves changing the matchmaking process. Tech-savvy Indians can now find out all about potential partners by tracking their digital traces through social media, or just by texting and telephoning. Parents need never know.

If small numbers of highly educated urbanites were becoming more individualistic, it would be little more than an interesting wrinkle in Indian life. However, the change is much more widespread than that. To begin with, this group is no longer small. Fully a quarter of young Indians were in tertiary education in 2013, according to the World Bank, up from 11% a decade earlier. Education and control over marriage go together (see chart).

And it is not just the wealthy who see marriage differently. The teenagers who live in Dharavi, a long-established slum between two railway lines in Mumbai, feel themselves to be just as culturally distinct from rural Indians as the technology workers do. Young men from Dharavi sometimes marry village women, who come to live with them. Asked about this, one teenage slum girl launches into a wicked impersonation of a rural bride, all namastes and scraping deference to her husband. (A Muslim boy is more equivocal: Mumbai girls know how to handle technology, he says, but rural girls know how to handle mothers-in-law.)

Although caste is still powerful in Dharavi, it is gradually giving way to the money god. Teenage boys insist that good jobs—government jobs especially—are now more important, both for snagging good partners and for asserting control over marriage decisions. One of the boys, an orphan, has a girlfriend and wants to marry her. Her parents object to his caste, but he reckons he can wear down their objections by finishing his education and getting a better job.

Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist at Shiv Nadar University, says that caste is crumbling as India urbanises. Nearly a third of Indians now live in cities or towns, while villages are tied increasingly to urban economies. The village bosses who enforce caste rules have less power than they did. Some north Indian village elders have chosen to relax the rules anyway, because so many single men are in search of wives—a consequence of sex-selective abortions. Caste is now less an institution than a mess of prejudices about the superiority of one’s own group.

Popular culture is driving change too. In parts of Dharavi the greatest hazard for a pedestrian is not the open sewer beneath your feet but the tangle of wires around your head. Many of these wires carry cable-television signals. They transmit soap operas and movies which often depict the struggle between love and tradition. Though these seem stuffy to the upper middle classes, they can be a revelation to the poor. Nayreen Daruwalla of SNEHA, a Mumbai charity, has heard women complain that their husbands do not sing to them, as men do in Bollywood films.

One big thing stands in the way of further change, says Sonal Desai, another academic. Indian parents still assume they will live with their sons. That explains why they exert so much control over marriage: they are in effect choosing a cook and a future carer. Yet this too is beginning to weaken. Ms Desai led a team from the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland which conducted a huge survey of Indians in 2011-12 and found that 77% of women over 60 lived with their married children—still a big proportion, but lower than the 83% who did so in 2004-05. Small houses and high-rise flats are shooting up in Indian suburbs, suggesting the share is going to fall further.

Indian marriage still looks very different from the Western kind (which is changing too). Yet prosperity and technology are eroding tradition. People Group, which owns, even invested in a dating app earlier this year. Such apps, which were unimaginable in India until recently, have not taken off yet. “The guys are all keen,” says Mr Rakshit, “but the girls aren’t there yet.”

Stanley Kreft's comment, March 12, 2:10 AM
This is hopefully a good step in the marriage culture and sexually frustrated system that has been a problem in this country. Hopefully with this more direct approach to spouse hunting with the individuals taking the lead and the parents simply having a veto vote, we will see less honor and dowry killings. Also, hopefully less rapes and sexual assault.
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This city fights crime with gardening

This city fights crime with gardening | Criminology and Economic Theory |
The best tool to fight crime may be a lawnmower. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which shows that sprucing up vacant lots by doing as little as picking up trash and cutting the grass curbed gun violence in poor neighborhoods in a major U.S. metropolis by nearly 30%.

“This is a really innovative study,” says Jim Sallis, a psychologist and behavioral medicine researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved with the work. It’s “a clear and convincing demonstration” that simple improvements to vacant lots help make urban neighborhoods safer, he says.

Vacant lots are abandoned property plots that often become overgrown with grass and shrubs and littered with trash and debris from illegal dumping. Across the United States, they make up about 15% of land in cities—an area about the size of Switzerland. But generally, each individual plot is no bigger than a tenth the size of a U.S. football field. Criminals exploit these neglected fields to sell and use drugs and as escape routes during police raids.
Rob Duke's insight:
Sounds like Broken Windows theory except that we don't like to talk about Wilson & Kelling's theory since NYPD used it to support Zero-Tolerance Policing.  Having said that, it still seems to be true that places that look to be cared for are still the safest places.
Mike Mccolley's comment, March 12, 1:29 AM
I don't know how cleaning up some land would lead to a decrease in crime unless maybe there's less places to hide and that sort of thing. I do think however that it is a really nice gesture cleaning up neighborhoods and lands that are dirty. I think criminals probably believe that if the area is clean and not ridden with trash and such than maybe they will keep their distance from those areas. As I said though I think it is a nice gesture if nothing else.
Stanley Kreft's comment, March 12, 2:16 AM
I lived in Detroit, Michigan and saw this types of community actions in person. I worked out of an Army recruiting station in Livonia and would travel daily to various neighborhoods and school districts. There definitely was a stronger community feeling in the neighborhoods that were active in these types of activities. It could be seen in talking to the parents, kids, and community members there was a much stronger feeling of pride, community, and thus safety in these areas.
Rob Duke's comment, March 12, 9:19 PM
This is also classic Chicago School where we find a 3 way intersection with socially disorganized communities, economic strain, leading to both a deviant subculture and an underground economy that drives crime. Later Chicago School (e.g. Sudhir Venkatesh drops that theory in reverse and says under-investment in a community drives them to create an underground economy). Again, sounds like Coase Theorem where markets find efficient ways to operate no matter what institutional arrangements are set. The critique here is whether this is the ethical arrangement? Markets are good at efficiency (handwaving here...even Coase suggested that the reason firms arise is because transaction costs are too high with the chaos of a market), but terrible at morality.
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How French cyber police are patrolling the 'Dark Web'

How French cyber police are patrolling the 'Dark Web' | Criminology and Economic Theory |
The "Dark Web" is a part of the internet that can only be accessed with a special browser. One of its main features is a huge quantity of illegal marketplaces selling drugs, weapons, stolen bank cards, fake IDs and more. But hidden among the criminals and buyers are French units of specialised police forces, who are hunting down cybercriminals. This report takes a closer look.
Meaghan Tucker's comment, March 11, 11:30 PM
This is crazy. I knew the dark web existed, but I never knew so much stuff was sold on there. I also didn't know that stores could steal your card information like that. It makes me want to be more cautious now because this made me realize just how easy it is for people to get your information and use it.
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French police arrest three in cash heist as suspicions turn to inside job

French police arrest three in cash heist as suspicions turn to inside job | Criminology and Economic Theory |
French police have arrested a cash van driver and his daughter, who claimed she was held to ransom while a gang robbed millions from her father's vehicle in Switzerland, police sources said Tuesday.
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French police detain murdered jogger's husband

French police detain murdered jogger's husband | Criminology and Economic Theory |
French police on Monday detained an IT worker whose wife was murdered while out jogging in a grisly case that shocked the country.
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The Local - Europe's news in English

The Local - Europe's news in English | Criminology and Economic Theory |
Martin Timell was forced to quit his job at broadcaster TV4 last year after being accused by several ex-colleagues of bullying, sexual assault and harassment, as The Local reported at the time.

He was also accused of forcefully touching a woman between her legs when they and several other colleauges were sitting together in a hot tub at an office party in 2008, which he denies.

The woman reported him to the police who launched an investigation in October last year. On Tuesday a prosecutor said she had gathered enough material to charge him with rape.
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The Local - Europe's news in English

The Local - Europe's news in English | Criminology and Economic Theory |
Spain's top criminal court sentenced a rapper to two years in prison Friday for Twitter posts and a song it said glorified terrorism, the latest such decision against an artist that has raised free speech concerns.
Such was the uncertainty over whether the tweets of Pablo Rivadulla, better known as Pablo Hasel, were harmful enough to warrant prison that one of the three judges who oversaw his case made known her disagreement with the sentence.
In its statement, the National Audience said it had analysed 64 of Hasel's Twitter posts as well as a song's lyrics and found that put together, they not only went against state authorities but alluded "to the necessity to take a step further using violent behaviour, including using terrorism."
The court gave as an example one 2016 tweet in which the rapper attached a photo of a member of the GRAPO, a once violent far-left group.
Hasel wrote: "Protests are necessary, but not enough, we support those who went beyond," the statement read.
One judge, however, disagreed with the decision to sentence Hasel to jail. She considered that none of the tweets were "a call for violence," according to a court document.
Manisha Misra's comment, March 5, 9:01 PM
Seems like this is preventative justice in a sense. They saw a problem before it happened. FOrtunately and unfortunately, rappers and other artists are very influential people and even if Hasel doesn't take action himself, his words may have created action and caused other people to engage in violent and illegal behavior. I'm not sure what the morality and legality of this really is in Spain, but I think it would be interesting to look more in to this.
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The Local - Europe's news in English

The Local - Europe's news in English | Criminology and Economic Theory |
The Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service (Kripos) is investigating online extortion after a young man died after receiving threats through an online chatroom.
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Voting registration drive makes inroads in unexpected territory: county jails

Voting registration drive makes inroads in unexpected territory: county jails | Criminology and Economic Theory |
This month, the American Civil Liberties Union began its annual Unlock the Vote campaign, a voter registration initiative for eligible inmates.
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School Shootings Are Still Rare — And That Makes Them Hard To Stop

School Shootings Are Still Rare — And That Makes Them Hard To Stop | Criminology and Economic Theory |
Mary Ellen O’Toole calls the teenagers who murdered 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999 by their first names — Dylan and Eric. O’Toole did not personally know Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, but she’s thought about them for decades. At the time of the Colorado shootings, O’Toole was a profiler for the FBI and had been tapped to write the bureau’s report on how to prevent mass shootings in schools. What began as a research project has become a life’s work — and a deep source of frustration.

O’Toole is part of a small group of academics, law-enforcement professionals and psychologists who published some of the first research on mass shootings in schools. She and other members of this group began paying attention to the phenomenon in the late 1990s. Two decades later, some of them say not much has changed. The risk factors they identified back then still apply. The recommendations they made are still valid. And, as we saw last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students are still dying. “On the news, people are saying we should be concerned about this and that,” O’Toole said, “and I thought, ‘We identified that 20 years ago. Did you not read this stuff 20 years ago?’ … It’s fatiguing. I just feel a sense of fatigue.”

It’s difficult to say definitively how many school shootings have happened in the years since Columbine — or in the years before it. It’s harder still to prove how many would-be shootings were averted, or how many others could have been if additional steps had been taken. But the people who have spent the last two decades trying to understand this phenomenon are still here, and still trying to sell politicians and the public on possible solutions that are complicated, expensive and tough to sum up in a sound bite.

Any research into school shootings is made more difficult by how uncommon such shootings are. In 2016, FiveThirtyEight wrote about the more than 33,000 people killed by guns in America every year. Of those deaths, roughly one-third — about 12,000 — are homicides, but hardly any are due to mass shootings.1 If you define mass shootings as as an event where a lone attacker indiscriminately kills four or more people, in a public place, unrelated gang activity or robbery, then mass shootings account for a tiny portion of all gun homicides — probably a fraction of a percent.
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The troubling spread of plea-bargaining from America to the world - A deal you can’t refuse

The troubling spread of plea-bargaining from America to the world - A deal you can’t refuse | Criminology and Economic Theory |

A PROTEST in Madrid about the cost of the pope’s visit in 2011, when Spain’s economy was moribund, was not the first Flavia Totoro had attended. Marching alongside families, she was unconcerned about her safety. But after an altercation with police she and seven others were arrested. She was charged with assaulting an officer. Just before her trial she was offered the chance to plead guilty, in which case she could avoid a possible 18-month prison sentence and merely pay a fine. If all the defendants pleaded guilty, none would be imprisoned, the prosecutor said. But if she insisted on going to trial, the others would go, too. Unwilling to jeopardise other people’s freedom, she accepted, though she still maintains she was innocent and could have proved it in court.

In plea-bargaining, as the promise of a lesser penalty in return for a guilty plea is commonly known, prosecutors offer to drop some charges, to replace the original charge with a less serious one or to seek a lower sentence. It has long been central to America’s criminal-justice system. But over the past three decades it has spread across the world. A study of 90 countries by Fair Trials International, a campaigning group, found that in 1990 just 19 used some form of plea-bargaining. Now 66 do.

Plea-bargaining took off in America around 1920 with Prohibition, which led to a steep increase in the number of criminal offences. By 1930 the number of federal prosecutions under the Prohibition Act alone was eight times the total figure for all federal prosecutions in 1914. Bargaining with defendants to plead guilty in return for lighter punishment seemed like the only way to cope. Prohibition ended in 1933, but plea bargains did not. Since 1970, when the Supreme Court ruled that they were permissible, they have become ubiquitous. In 1980 some 19% of federal defendants went to trial. In 2010 the share was below 3%, where it remains.

Practice in other countries varies widely. In Australia, England and Russia more than 60% of cases are resolved with plea bargains. In Chile, India and Italy, the share is less than 10%. Some recent converts to plea bargains have adopted them with vim. In Georgia, which has allowed them since 2004, the share of convictions that involved a plea bargain rose from 13% in 2005 to 88% in 2012.

Export deals

The central role of plea-bargaining in America goes some way to explaining its spread elsewhere. America’s criminal-justice system has a big influence globally, with legal training often forming part of its foreign-aid efforts. The Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT), part of the Department of Justice, was established in 1991, after the break-up of the Soviet Union and as the war on drugs in Latin America intensified. Among the countries where America helped new governments with legal reforms are Bolivia, Colombia, Poland and Russia. Plea-bargaining was often among the suggested reforms.

OPDAT is now helping to write guidance on criminal procedures, including plea-bargaining, in Croatia and the western Balkans. In Ukraine it trains justice officials in the system. Last year it started work with Guatemala on introducing plea-bargaining to clear a backlog of cases.

American influence, however, is not the only reason for plea bargains’ spread. Transitions to democracy often involve shifting from “inquisitorial” systems associated with discredited regimes, in which judges play an investigative role, says Rebecca Shaeffer of Fair Trials International. As countries adopted adversarial systems, in which judges act as referees between the prosecution and defence, they also sought to expand capacity—and introducing plea-bargaining enabled them to handle more cases.

More broadly, plea-bargaining can cut costs and delays. Without an incentive to plead guilty, even defendants facing overwhelming evidence may decide to take their chances in court. Finland brought in plea-bargains in 2015 after a series of cases in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it had violated citizens’ right to a timely trial.

A plea bargain can even offer an immediate route out of jail. Around the world almost 3m people are held in pre-trial detention. Many defendants spend longer in pre-trial detention than the maximum sentences they face. At that point, “of course they want to plead guilty to get out of prison,” says Isadora Fingermann, a Brazilian former criminal lawyer who now works in criminal-justice reform.

Another benefit of plea-bargaining is that it helps to tackle organised crime. A law passed in Brazil in 2013 allowing public prosecutors to slash sentences for defendants who made full confessions and provided detailed evidence against their accomplices was essential to Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash), an investigation into graft at the state-controlled oil firm, Petrobras. It has since cut a swathe through the country’s once-untouchable politicians, thanks to the evidence provided by bribe-paying businessmen desperate to stay out of jail.

The strong arm of the law

When America’s Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to plea bargains in 1970, it did so on the understanding that they would not be used to press innocent defendants falsely to admit guilt. But since then a series of miscarriages of justice and new psychological research suggest that, all too often, that is what happens.

In 2002 Brian Banks, a high-school football player, was accused of rape and kidnapping by an acquaintance. After his arrest, prosecutors offered him the chance to plead guilty and spend just a few years in jail, or to go to trial where he could face up to 41 years if convicted. He took the deal. After he was released, his alleged victim contacted him. They met and, in a conversation which he recorded, she admitted that she had invented the incident. In 2012 he was exonerated.

Mr Banks is not alone in pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit. Of the 149 Americans absolved of crimes in 2015, 65 had pleaded guilty. The Innocence Project, an organisation that uses DNA evidence to re-examine convictions, has proven the innocence of 300-odd people, most of them convicted for rape and murder. At least 30 had pleaded guilty. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a collaboration between several law schools, a quarter of Americans cleared of murder between 1989 and 2012 had confessed. But such figures only hint at the scale of the problem. Often, plea bargains are conditional on giving up the right to challenge a conviction later. And exoneration efforts focus on serious crimes, where sentences are long and there is more likely to be forensic evidence.

Researchers are starting to demonstrate how common false confessions are likely to be. In a study in 2013 by Lucian Dervan of the Belmont University College of Law, together with Vanessa Edkins, a psychologist at the Florida Institute of Technology, students were asked to solve logic problems, first in a team and then alone. An accomplice of the researchers asked half the participants for help on the second set. All were then accused of cheating and offered a “plea bargain” to avoid penalties that could include losing the payment for participation and having their supervisors notified. Nearly 90% of those who had aided the accomplice confessed. But so did a majority of those who were innocent.

Mr Dervan is now running studies in Japan, which is introducing plea-bargaining, and South Korea, which may do so. Japan, where criminal suspects may be held for 23 days without charge, often with only minimal contact with a lawyer, perhaps deprived of sleep, is already worryingly good at extracting confessions. Plea bargains are being brought in as part of the horse-trading over a larger criminal-justice reform, in which prosecutors opposed to routine recording of interrogations have managed to limit it, in exchange for formal recognition of plea-bargaining and other aids to investigating complex crimes.

Early results suggest that the “innocence issue” is universal, says Mr Dervan. Differences in legal systems do not change the rate of false confessions much. Another study he is conducting suggests that guilty participants are no more likely to plead guilty if offered a big incentive rather than a small one. Innocent ones, however, become more likely to make false confessions as the incentive—in other words the penalty for rejecting the deal—rises.

The fear that plea bargains may induce false confessions means many countries have strict rules regarding their use. Japan will limit them to serious crimes where the accused informs on someone else. In Germany, South Africa and Spain defendants are shown all the evidence to be presented against them before they decide whether to accept a deal. In Germany, the discounted sentence cannot be less than the statutory minimum for that crime. In England, sentences can be cut by at most a third.

In America, by contrast, prosecutors have broad freedom to slash sentences, including for crimes that carry the death penalty. Extremely long sentences, mandatory-sentencing rules and untrammelled prosecutorial discretion add up to a system that almost seems designed for abuse.

And yet so entrenched are plea bargains in America that the occasional attempts to do without them have failed. Between 1975 and 1990 they were banned in Alaska. Even then, they happened informally. Judges made implicit deals with defendants who pleaded guilty. One study found that sentences after trials for violent crimes were, on average, 445% longer than those given after pleas. For fraud, they were 334% longer. The Texan city of El Paso banned plea-bargaining in 1975. During the following two years the trial rate doubled and the two judges assigned to criminal cases could not cope. Ten more were assigned to help them, but even so prosecutors started to strike secret bargains, with judges’ encouragement. The ban was eventually rescinded.

The extensive use of plea-bargaining can reshape an entire criminal-justice system. By definition, it means fewer trials—and therefore fewer occasions on which police and prosecutors must make a solid case in an open courtroom. The ability to carry out investigations can atrophy. And statutes that are vague or unjust may go unchallenged because so few cases go to trial.

For defendants who plead guilty, the consequences go beyond any (reduced) sentence they must serve or fine they must pay. In Europe criminal records are usually wiped clean of all but the most serious offences after some time, provided people do not re-offend. In the meantime, however, sensitive jobs such as teaching or public administration are likely to be off-limits. And minor transgressions, such as traffic offences, may be punished more harshly.

In many American states the consequences are more severe and long-lasting. Criminal records may never be expunged and may mean being barred from voting, evicted from public housing, denied welfare or turned away when applying for a job. The extra legal restrictions placed on people with criminal records, some bizarrely specific, mean they are more vulnerable to future charges. In Illinois, for example, it is a crime to own a dog that has not been spayed or neutered—but only for people with a criminal record.

Tilting the scales

All this suggests that defendants should carefully weigh the long-term consequences of a guilty plea. But it seems they do not—even when explicitly nudged to do so. In a separate study, Mr Dervan found that informing participants about those consequences made little difference to the likelihood that they would accept a deal. “If pleading guilty means you get to go home, most will plead guilty,” he says. When the justice system is stacked against defendants, they are unlikely to gamble their futures for its greater good.

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Coase’s theory of the firm - Six big ideas

Coase’s theory of the firm - Six big ideas | Criminology and Economic Theory |

ONE morning, an economist went to buy a shirt. The one he chose was a marvel of global production. It was made in Malaysia using German machines. The cloth was woven from Indian cotton grown from seeds developed in America. The collar lining came from Brazil; the artificial fibre from Portugal. Millions of shirts of every size and colour are sold every day, writes Paul Seabright, the shirt-buying economist, in his 2004 book, “The Company of Strangers”. No authority is in charge. The firms that make up the many links in the chain that supplied his shirt had merely obeyed market prices.

Throwing light on the magic of market co-ordination was a mainstay of the “classical” economics of the late-18th and 19th centuries. Then, in 1937, a paper published by Ronald Coase, a British economist, pointed out a glaring omission. The standard model of economics did not fit with what goes on within companies. When an employee switches from one division to another, for instance, he does not do so in response to higher wages, but because he is ordered to. The question posed by Coase was profound, if awkward for economics: why are some activities directed by market forces and others by firms?

His answer was that firms are a response to the high cost of using markets. It is often cheaper to direct tasks by fiat than to negotiate and enforce separate contracts for every transaction. Such “exchange costs” are low in markets for standardised goods, wrote Coase. A well-defined task can easily be put out to the market, where a contractor is paid a fixed sum for doing it. The firm comes into its own when simple contracts of this kind will not suffice. Instead, an employee agrees to follow varied and changing instructions, up to agreed limits, for a fixed salary.

Coase had first set out his theory while working as a lecturer in Dundee, in 1932, having spent the prior academic year in America, visiting factories and businesses. “The nature of the firm”, his paper, did not appear for another five years, in part because he was reluctant to rush into print. Though widely cited today, it went largely unread at first. But a second paper, “The problem of social cost”, published in 1960, by which time he had moved to America, brought him to prominence. It argued that private bargaining could resolve social problems, such as pollution, as long as property rights are well defined and transaction costs are low (they rarely are). He had been asked to expound his new theory earlier that year to a sceptical audience of University of Chicago economists. By the end of the evening, he had won everyone around. Coase was invited to join the university’s faculty in 1964; and there he remained until his death in 2013 at the age of 102.

In 1991 Coase was awarded the Nobel prize for economics, largely on the strength of these two papers. But as late as 1972, he lamented that “The nature of the firm” had been “much cited and little used”. In a strange way, Coase himself was partly to blame. The idea of transaction costs was such a good catch-all explanation for tricky subjects that it was used to close down further inquiry. In fact, Coase’s paper raised as many difficult questions as it answered. If firms exist to reduce transaction costs, why have market transactions at all? Why not further extend the firm’s boundaries? In short, what decides how the economy as a whole is organised?

Almost as soon as Coase had wished for it, a body of more rigorous research on such questions began to flourish. Central to it was the idea that it is difficult to specify all that is required of a business relationship, so some contracts are necessarily “incomplete”. Important figures in this field include Oliver Williamson, winner of the Nobel prize in economics in 2009, and Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom, who shared the prize in 2016. These and other Coase apostles drew on the work of legal theorists in distinguishing between spot transactions and business relations that require longer-term or flexible contracts.

Spot markets cover most transactions. Once money is exchanged for goods, the deal is completed. The transaction is simple: one party wants, another supplies. There is little scope for dispute, so a written contract can be dispensed with. If one party is unhappy, he will take his business elsewhere next time. Spot markets are thus largely self-policing. They are well suited to simple, low-value transactions, such as buying a newspaper or taking a taxi.

Things become trickier when the parties are locked into a deal that is costly to get out of. Take a property lease, for instance. A business that is evicted from its premises might not quickly find a building with similar features. Equally, if a tenant suddenly quit, the landlord might not find a replacement straight away. Each could threaten the other in a bid for a better rent. The answer is a long-term contract that specifies the rent, the tenure and use of the property. Both parties benefit.

But for many business arrangements, it is difficult to set down all that is required of each party in all circumstances. In such cases, formal contracts are by necessity “incomplete” and sustained largely by trust. An employment contract is of this type. It has a few formal terms: job title, work hours, initial pay and so on, but many of the most important duties and obligations are not written down. It is thus like a “mini-society with a vast array of norms beyond those centred on the exchange and its immediate processes”, wrote Mr Williamson. Such a contract stays in force mostly because its breakdown would hurt both parties. And because market forces are softened in such a contract, it calls for an alternative form of governance: the firm.

One of the first papers to elucidate these ideas was published in 1972 by Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz. They defined the firm as the central contractor in a team-production process. When output is the result of a team effort, it is hard to put the necessary tasks out to the market. That is because it is tricky to measure the contribution of each member to the finished work and to then allocate their rewards accordingly. So the firm is needed to act as both co-ordinator and monitor of a team.

Chain tale

If a team of workers requires a firm as monitor, might that also be true for teams of suppliers? In some cases, firms are indeed vertically integrated, meaning that suppliers of inputs and producers of final goods are under the same ownership. But in other cases, suppliers and their customers are separate entities. When is one set-up right and not the other?

A paper published in 1986 by Sanford Grossman and Mr Hart sharpened the thinking on this. They distinguished between two types of rights over a firm’s assets (its plant, machinery, brands, client lists and so on): specific rights, which can be contracted out, and residual rights, which come with ownership. Where it becomes costly for a company to specify all that it wants from a supplier, it might make sense to acquire it in order to claim the residual rights (and the profits) from ownership. But, as Messrs Grossman and Hart noted, something is also lost through the merger. The supplier’s incentive to innovate and to control costs vanishes, because he no longer owns the residual rights.

To illustrate this kind of relationship, they used the example of an insurance firm that pays a commission to an agent for selling policies. To encourage the agent to find high-quality clients, which are more likely to renew a policy, the firm defers some portion of the agent’s pay and ties it to the rate of policy renewals. The agent is thus induced to work hard to find good clients. But there is a drawback. The insurance firm now has an incentive of its own to shirk. While the agent is busting a gut to find the right sort of customers, the firm can take advantage by, say, cutting its spending on advertising its policies, raising their price or lowering their quality.

There is no set-up in which the incentives of firm and agent can be perfectly aligned. But Messrs Grossman and Hart identified a next-best solution: the party that brings the most to any venture in terms of “non-contractible” effort should own the key assets, which in this case is the client list. So the agent ought to own the list wherever policy renewals are sensitive to sales effort, as in the case of car insurance, for which people tend to shop around more. The agent would keep the residual rights and be rewarded for the effort to find the right sort of client. If the insurance firm shirks, the agent can simply sell the policies of a rival firm to his clients. But in cases where the firm brings more to the party than the sales agent—for example, when clients are “stickier” and the first sale is crucial, as with life insurance—a merger would make more sense.

This framework helps to address one of the questions raised by Coase’s original paper: when should a firm “make” and when should it “buy”? It can be applied to vertical business ties of all kinds. For instance, franchises have to abide by a few rules that can be set down in a contract, but get to keep the residual profits in exchange for a royalty fee paid to the parent firm. That is because the important efforts that the parent requires of a franchisee are not easy to put in a contract or to enforce.

The management of ties between a firm and its “stakeholders” (its customers, suppliers, employees and investors) is another variation on this theme. A firm often wants to put restraints on the parties it does business with. Luxury-goods firms or makers of fancy sound equipment may ban retailers from discounting their goods as a way to spur them to compete with rivals on the quality of their shops, service and advice.

Inside the cubicle

If one of the challenges set by Coase was to explain where the boundary between firms and markets lies, another was for economic analysis not to cease once it reached the factory gate or office lobby. A key issue is how agreements are structured. Why, for instance, do employment contracts have so few formal obligations? One insight from the literature is that a tightly specified contract can have perverse outcomes. If teachers are paid according to test results, they will “teach to the test” and pay less regard to other tasks, such as inspiring pupils to think independently. If chief executives are paid to boost the firm’s short-term share price, they will cut investment projects that may benefit shareholders in the long run.

Mr Holmstrom and Paul Milgrom established that where important tasks are hard to monitor, and where a balance of activities is needed, then a contract should shun strong incentives tied to any one task. The best approach is to pay a fixed salary and to leave the balance of tasks unspecified. A related idea developed by Mr Hart and John Moore is of a job contract as a “reference point” rather than as a detailed map. Another insight is that deferred forms of pay, such as company pension schemes and promotions based on seniority, help cement long-term ties with employees and reward them for investing in skills specific to the relationship.

Coase noted in 1937 that the degree to which the mechanism of price is superseded by the firm varies with the circumstances. Eighty years on, the boundary between the two might appear to be dissolving altogether. The share of self-employed contractors in the labour force has risen. The “gig economy” exemplified by Uber drivers is mushrooming.

Yet firms are unlikely to wither away. Prior to Uber, most taxi drivers were already self-employed. Spot-like job contracts are becoming more common, but flexibility comes at a cost. Workers have little incentive to invest in firm-specific skills, so productivity suffers. And even if Mr Seabright’s shirt was delivered by a set of market-based transactions, the supply chains for complex goods, such as an iPhone or an Airbus A380 superjumbo, rely on long-term contracts that are often “incomplete”. Coase was the first to spot an enduring truth. Successful economies need both the benign dictatorship of the firm and the invisible hand of the market.

Coase’s theory of the firm: a reading list
1 “The Nature of the Firm” by R H Coase, Economica, 1937
2 “The Problem of Social Cost” by R H Coase, Journal of Law and Economics, 1960
3 “Industrial Organisation: A Proposal for Research” by R H Coase, NBER, 1972
4 “Production, Information Costs and Economic Organisation” by Armen A Alchian and Harold Demsetz, American Economic Review, 1972
5 “Transaction-Cost Economics: The Governance of Contractural Relations” by Oliver E Williamson, Journal of Law and Economics, 1979
6 “The Costs and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration”  by Sanford Grossman and Oliver Hart, Journal of Political Economy, 1986
7 “Multitask Principal-Agent Analysis: Incentive Contracts, Asset Ownership and Job Design” by Bengt Holmstrom and Paul Milgrom, Journal of Law, Economics and Organisation, 1991
8 “The Firm as Sub-economy” by Bengt Holmstrom, Journal of Law Economics & Organisation, 1999
9 “The Theory of the the Firm as Governance Structure: From Choice to Contract” by Oliver E Williamson, 2002
10 “Contracts as Reference Points” by Oliver Hart and John Moore, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2008

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I use Coase quite a bit in my explanations for crime and organizational response to crime, so here's a great primer on the man's ideas.
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How to Design a City for Women

How to Design a City for Women | Criminology and Economic Theory |

Following completion of Women-Work-City, city officials turned their attention to Vienna’s network of public parks and commissioned a study to see how men and women use park space. What they found was surprising.

The study, which took place from 1996 to 1997, showed that after the age of nine, the number of girls in public parks dropped off dramatically, while the number of boys held steady. Researchers found that girls were less assertive than boys. If boys and girls would up in competition for park space, the boys were more likely to win out.

City planners wanted to see if they could reverse this trend by changing the parks themselves. In 1999, the city began a redesign of two parks in Vienna’s fifth district. Footpaths were added to make the parks more accessible and volleyball and badminton courts were installed to allow for a wider variety of activities. Landscaping was also used to subdivide large, open areas into semi-enclosed pockets of park space. Almost immediately, city officials noticed a change. Different groups of people -- girls and boys -- began to use the parks without any one group overrunning the other.

A city park in Vienna. (David Bohmann)
People have started to pay attention. In 2008, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme included Vienna’s city planning strategy in its registry of best practices in improving the living environment. Vienna’s park redesign project, along with a program to create a gender mainstreaming pilot district, has even been nominated for the United Nations Public Service Award, a badge of honor recognizing efforts to improve public administration.

•       •       •       •       •

This change hasn’t come without criticism, however.

"When we came up with the idea for the exhibit “Who Owns Public Space" a lot of our colleagues thought it was ridiculous," Kail says. “Everyone we worked with had to give feedback. People said things like, "does this mean we should paint the streets pink?"

"Gender can be an emotional issue," Bauer adds. "When you tell people that up until now they haven’t taken the women’s perspective into account they feel attacked. We still have people asking, ‘Is this really necessary?'"

Planners also run the run the risk of reinforcing stereotypes in attempting to characterize how men and women use city space. To distance themselves from this, city officials have begun to shy away from the term gender mainstreaming, opting instead for the label 'Fair Shared City.'

Whatever its limitations, there's no question that mainstreaming has left an indelible mark on the Austrian capital. It began as a way to look at how men and women use city space differently. Today, however, mainstreaming has evolved into a much broader concept. It’s become a way of changing the structure and fabric of the city so that different groups of people can coexist. "For me, it’s a political approach to planning," Kail says. "It’s about bringing people into spaces where they didn’t exist before or felt they had no right to exist."

Rob Duke's insight:
Vienna gets it.  Parks, streets, public spaces of all sorts are used freely by men--not so much by women.  However, with better planning and management, we can easily level that field.
Amanda Watkins's comment, March 11, 8:13 PM
I found this article interesting and haven’t gave much thought to who utilizes city streets and park more between men or women. Now that I can reflect on my own observations with this article in mind I do realize that men populate the area way more than women. I think keeping that information in mind while designing new city features is awesome and would be curious on what ideas would increase the female population in parks. I cannot help but continue to feel that safety or the feeling of safety plays a huge role as to why women stop utilizing city parks.
William Kelley's comment, March 12, 3:31 PM
This reminds me of when a particular campus was constructed. When one campus 'I don't remember the name' was first built, the Dean refused to have sidewalks put in. Instead, he let a year go by and he observed the trails that the student's naturally took, then, he put sidewalks in where the students were already walking.
Rob Duke's comment, March 12, 9:14 PM
William, that's not a bad way to do it. We now design "greens" that way. If you notice most "greens" or squares get used a great deal on the edges, but the center is largely unused. Now, we like to have little pods of user zones with benches and tables, maybe a clover leaf basket ball court (3 hoops all half court), and a little playground area. Often the center of the green is still available for pick up games of frisbee and soccer, but we may have a primary use as a stormwater retention basin.
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Colombia seizes 5 tonnes of cocaine in banana shipment | Euronews

Colombia seizes 5 tonnes of cocaine in banana shipment | Euronews | Criminology and Economic Theory |
It's Colombia's country's biggest drugs bust so far this year, worth around 350 million euros.
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French serial rapist admits to 'around 40' attacks since 1990s

French serial rapist admits to 'around 40' attacks since 1990s | Criminology and Economic Theory |
A French grandfather was charged Wednesday after confessing to raping and sexually assaulting “around forty” women in a series of attacks since the 1990s.
Meaghan Tucker's comment, March 11, 11:53 PM
Articles like this scare me. Being a woman in our society, I feel that we always have to watch around us and be cautious. My parents always told me growing up to watch my surroundings and be aware of who is around me at all times. This is always possible and I feel that those are the time that people like this man stike. It is a very scarey thing and I am happy he finally got caught. He should have to spend the rest of his life in in prison.
Leah Haskell's comment, March 12, 3:32 AM
I'm curious on the outcome of this case, this man was liked by many in his community, but also committed a crime. Also the man is pleadeding he couldn't help himself, almost like he is claiming to have a sexual addiction. France does have rehab treatment centers for those struggling with addiction. French courts are broken into two categories, judicial courts and administrative courts. Judicial courts hear criminal and civil cases, therefore this case was under judicial courts system.
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What's behind Germany's steep drop in juvenile crime?

What's behind Germany's steep drop in juvenile crime? | Criminology and Economic Theory |

Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Germany Youth prisons
Latest update : 2018-02-19

One in five prison beds in Germany are empty. The figures from German juvenile offenders' institutions are even more striking: the rate of youth crime fell by half between 2007 and 2015. This phenomenon is only partly linked to the fact that the population is ageing. German criminologists believe a ban on corporal punishment has had a positive effect on the country's youth.

Rob Duke's insight: more spankings: that's the explanation.  Seems a little bit of a facile explanation to me, but keep in mind that the Frankfurt School of Sociology is focused primarily on power (economic inequality) and symbolic nature of those relationships and interactions.
The Chicago (and Cornell) Schools would also emphasize economic, but in combination with social disorganization, learning theory, the symbolic interaction of these factors, that lead to the development of deviant subcultures.
Jonathan Hall's comment, March 11, 6:08 PM
The video does give more explanations to what contributed to this drop in crime. Youth unemployment being one of those factors. Overall, the written portion of the article does feel very selective. Nonetheless, that is a great situation to be in.
Leah Haskell's comment, March 12, 3:40 AM
Germany is one of the model countries, maybe we can learn from them. There are a few reasons why there is a decline in juvenile crimes. First the population is aging, ban of corporal punishment (less violence in the home lead the a less violent youth). I think for that statement to be accurate more than just spanking was going on in the home. Crime in Germany is dropping in general. The video showed juvenile prisons that allow inmates 15 different trade options. That is something American prisons could use.
Rob Duke's comment, March 12, 9:27 PM
What if we gave young people the opportunity for jobs where they could make a living wage? Would our crime also fall?
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Husband of murdered French jogger admits 'accidentally' killing her

Husband of murdered French jogger admits 'accidentally' killing her | Criminology and Economic Theory |
A French IT worker on Tuesday admitted to killing his wife in a chilling case that has gripped the country since her charred corpse was found in a wood in October.
Emily Alvey's comment, March 10, 11:15 PM
I worked as a trained advocate, and this guy is a classic perpetrator of domestic violence. Poor poor perpetrator, robbed of his masculinity... it isn't his fault. This makes me so sick. As a survivor of domestic violence I have seen that pity party and blame game too many times. He dumped her like garbage. This world has a long way to go in fixing the domestic violence issue. Our country is no better. I know from personal experience. I can not express enough how sickened I am to read this article. I do think that the investigation methods in France benefited him being brought to justice and the truth coming out. At least in an inquisitorial system, Alexia won't be put on trial in the interest of gaining justice as is done so often to so many victims of domestic violence here in the US.
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French prison guards vow ‘total blockade’ after latest attacks

French prison guards vow ‘total blockade’ after latest attacks | Criminology and Economic Theory |
French prison guards resumed a nationwide strike on Monday after the latest in a string of assaults that have highlighted worsening conditions in the country's notoriously violent and overcrowded penitentiary system.
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France to set age of sexual consent at 15 after rape outcry

France to set age of sexual consent at 15 after rape outcry | Criminology and Economic Theory |
France's government has proposed setting a formal age of sexual consent after two-high profile cases involving 11-year-old girls, according to the country's Equality Minister.

Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa said the government "has decided to set the age at 15," after consultations with the public and an expert panel. She said a new law would be presented to Council of Ministers -- France's equivalent of a cabinet -- on March 21.
In France, current laws criminalize sex with children under the age of 15 but prosecutors must prove that the sexual act was forced.
Two cases involving the 11-year-old girls provoked outrage in France after the alleged perpetrators were acquitted of rape.
In November a 30-year-old man was cleared of rape after the court found that the victim had not been subjected to "constraint, threat, violence or surprise."
Mike Mccolley's comment, March 10, 8:57 PM
I have mixed feelings about this with the age being at 15. I know that when I was in the service that in Alaska I believe the age of consent was 16 if I remember right. I think the reason for the change by the French President is so that they have a determined age to where they can prosecute and punish those who do have sex with minors if under 15. I also feel that the parents should still heavily be involved in the child's life at the age of 15 and for this to happen seems like you could pin just as much on the parents as the child or the other party. As I said though I feel disgusted that this is even a topic that they need to discuss as a Father of a daughter who is turning 7 soon. I often think of all the sick people in this world and that's why I have her in Tae-Kwon-Do at such a young age. It will be interesting to see how this turns out though, I would think that this should eliminate any gray area that may have been in play before.
Matt Patzke's comment, March 12, 2:01 AM
I first heard this when listing to the Joe Rogan podcast, but they never covered the details on why the consent age if 15. If I am reading it right, all they are doing is making it so that to give consent, you must be 15. The “prosecutors must prove that the sexual act was forced” rule if under the age of 15 not longer applies and is replaced by making it a crime to conduct sexual acts with any one under the age of 15. I find it odd that prosecutors must prove it was forced. What about those about the age of 15? Is there a different way of handling those cases?

Rob Duke's comment, March 12, 9:24 PM
Keep in mind that: a. Americans are Puritan prudes, so we tend to be dual personality where we're both sexually wild and also very prudish; and, b. our current views of the age of consent were very different prior to the "New Deal" and welfare, more generally. It's easy to see why the various state legislatures would want to reduce teen pregnancies if that same state is responsible for medical care and support of those babies. The same is true for "statutory rape" laws that were also created in the 1930's. Prior to that, those cases were handled with shotgun weddings.
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The Local - Europe's news in English

The Local - Europe's news in English | Criminology and Economic Theory |
In a case that is making huge waves in corporate Switzerland, the former CEO of Switzerland’s Raiffeisen bank, the country's third-largest, has been remanded in custody as part of an ongoing investigation into corporate fraud.
Zurich state prosecutors remanded former Raiffeisen CEO Pierin Vicenz in custody last week after carrying out an early morning search of his house. He has since faced a barrage of questions.

The prosecutor’s office did not offer any further details about the arrest but Vicenz – one of Switzerland’s best-known bankers – is suspected of having lined his own pockets by using insider knowledge during deals he carried out during his time at the head of the heavyweight Raiffeisen group.

According to Swiss daily NZZ, Vicenz used a straw man to buy up stakes in companies that Raiffeisen, or companies part-owned by the Raiffeisen group, later acquired.
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The Local - Europe's news in English

The Local - Europe's news in English | Criminology and Economic Theory |
The leader of an organised crime gang known as 'Loyal to Familia' (LTF) will not be deported from Denmark, the country's Østre Landsret high court decided on Monday.
Shuaib Khan has avoided deportation after the higher court upheld a sentence of suspended deportation in a case relating to threats made against a police officer.

The gang leader's custodial sentence was also reduced to 60 days, which have already been served.
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