Primary Sources

The boldest profession; hot or not?; Iran's oil woes; a nation of multitaskers

Democracy’s Discontents

To end a civil war and establish a democracy, you need to give every faction a sense that it can attain power peacefully—or so runs the political-science conventional wisdom. But a new paper begs to differ. Using the case of Colombia’s mid-century civil war, known as “La Violencia,” in which the country’s Liberal and Conservative parties formed militias and fought one another, the authors find that the interparty warfare was most intense in municipalities where the two parties were evenly matched and had roughly equal chances of taking power through peaceful means. Thus their proposed alternative model of political conflict holds that “in a situation where all groups have a high chance of winning an election, they may also have a high chance of winning a fight,” and so be more likely to choose open war, with its chance for a winner-take-all outcome, over the ballot box.

“When Is Democracy an Equilibrium?” Mario Chacon, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, NBER

Smile Like You Mean It
Women Find a man more attractive
if another woman smiles at him.

Noting that female animals—from guppies to quail—are more likely to be drawn to males paired off with other females, a group of researchers looked for a similar effect in humans. They asked female and male subjects to compare the attractiveness of eight pairs of male faces. Then they showed participants the same faces in a slideshow, with each pair separated by a photo of a woman, either smiling or looking neutral and turned toward one of the two men. When shown the original pairs again, the women increased their preference for a man who’d had a smiling female face turned in his direction during the slideshow; their preference for a man with an unsmiling woman turned his way decreased. The male subjects, meanwhile, were more likely to increase their preference for a man who was being regarded neutrally by a woman than for one who was being smiled at. Thus, the authors suggest, “within-sex competition promotes negative attitudes among men towards other men who are the target of positive social interest from women.”

“Social Transmission of Face Preferences Among Humans,” B. C. Jones et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society

Watch and Listen

Multitasking is increasingly second nature for young Americans, who consume a growing share of their media out of the corners of their eyes, or ears. A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed students in grades seven through twelve on their media-consumption habits, and found that 58 percent usually consume some other form of media while they read, another 63 percent typically multitask while listening to music, and 62 percent usually do so while using the computer. The students surveyed were slightly less likely to multitask while watching television, which probably reflects the sheer amount of time the teenagers spent watching TV and DVDs. Overall, the teenagers surveyed spent more time watching (or half-watching) television than they spent reading, writing e-mail, surfing the Internet, and playing video games combined.

“Media Multitasking Among American Youth,” Ulla G. Foehr, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Law Enforcement
Risky Business
From the archives:

"The Biggest Pimp of All" (June 1999)
After on-the-spot studies, the authors compare the prevailing approach to prostitution in American cities with decriminalization as practiced in several European cities and the legalization of brothels in rural Nevada. By Elizabeth and James Vorenberg

As mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani cracked down heavily on prostitution, forcing women who had previously solicited in public off the streets. The result, according to a new paper, was an environment that actually made women more likely to make prostitution a career rather than a temporary means of making ends meet. The move indoors had two major effects. On the one hand, it made women feel more secure—less vulnerable to arrest and violence from either johns or pimps—and more likely to “identify with sex work positively, particularly with the flexibility to set one’s own hours and the steady income the work often entails.” At the same time, it made them less likely to connect with the kind of institutions that could help them find better, safer, legal employment. In the end, women were more likely to take a “professional and careerist orientation” toward the oldest profession rather than leave it behind.

“Vice Careers,” Alexandra K. Murphy and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Qualitative Sociology

Personal Finance
The Taxman Cometh

If you live in Fairfield, Connecticut, or Westchester, New York, you’re probably not surprised that your county made the Tax Foundation’s list of the 10 counties with the highest average individual income-tax burden (calculated as a percentage of adjusted gross income). More surprising, perhaps, is the presence of Union County, South Dakota, where more than 17 percent of the average taxpayer’s income goes to Uncle Sam (a yearly tax bill of $14,006). South Dakota is also represented among the 10 counties with the lowest average tax burdens—by Todd and Shannon counties, both parts of Indian reservations, and both among the few places in America where taxpayers receive more in tax credits than they pay in taxes every year (an annual per-taxpayer total of $92 in Todd County and $337 in Shannon).

“IRS Data Reveal Which Congressional Districts Pay the Highest Federal Income Taxes,” Gerald Prante, Tax Foundation

Criminal Justice
Live Free and Die
From the archives:

"When They Get Out" (June 1999)
How prisons, established to fight crime, produce crime. By Sasha Abramsky

Leaving prison can be hazardous to your health, while staying behind bars can actually increase your life expectancy, according to two studies on mortality and incarceration. Of 30,237 inmates released from prison in Washington State between 1999 and 2003, 443 died within two years of their release—a death rate 3.5 times that of other state residents. In the first two weeks after release, the death rate for former prisoners was 12.7 times the state death rate, with drug overdose the most common cause of death. Meanwhile, the mortality rate inside all state prisons is 19 percent lower than in the U.S. adult population as a whole. For men under 45, in particular, prison is safer than the streets; for convicts over 55, however, prison death rates were 56 percent higher than on the outside.

“Release From Prison—A High Risk of Death for Former Inmates,” Ingrid A. Binswanger et al., New England Journal of Medicine; “Medical Causes of Death in State Prisons, 2001–2004,” Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Health of Nations

A worldwide outbreak of bird flu that followed the pattern of the 1918–1920 influenza pandemic would kill between 51 million and 81 million people, according to a new study—but if history repeated itself, very few of the dead would be Americans or residents of other wealthy nations. The authors compared death rates across 27 countries during the period 1915–1923 and found that the rates varied wildly from place to place, even within a single country: In British India, for instance, the mortality rate ranged from 2.1 percent in Burma to 7.8 percent in the province of Berar. The best explanation for this variation turned out to be per capita income alone; for every 10 percent increase in income, the death rate declined by roughly 10 percent. Given present income variations, a flu pandemic that followed a similar pattern would claim just 4 percent of its victims in the developed world—here defined as members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Estimation of Potential Global Pandemic Influenza Mortality on the Basis of Vital Registry Data From the 1918–20 Pandemic: A Quantitative Analysis,” C. Murray et al., The Lancet

Generation Left?

If the Republican Party goes into political eclipse over the next 25 years, readers of a Pew Research Center survey on the attitudes of “Generation Next” (Americans between the ages of 18 and 25) will be able to say they saw it coming. The percentage of young people identifying with the Republicans has been in steady decline since the early 1990s, when 18-to-25-year-olds were actually more Republican than other age cohorts. While Generation X, whose members came of age during the Reagan era, is the most GOP-friendly generation in recent American history, Generation Next is the least Republican generation, with just 35 percent of its members leaning to the GOP compared with 48 percent who lean Democratic. Disillusionment with the Bush administration may explain some of this decline, as may growing social liberalism: Today’s 18-to-25-year-olds are far more laissez-faire than older Americans on issues ranging from gay marriage and adoption to immigration and less likely to have a defined religious affiliation than young people 20 years ago.

“A Portrait of ‘Generation Next,’” Pew Research Center

Foreign Affairs
Running Dry
Crude Awakening: Are Iranian oil exports doomed?

Iran’s claim that it needs nuclear technology for power plants has always sounded fishy, not least because of the country’s vast oil reserves. But a new analysis asks whether Iranian oil might run short sooner than we think. Estimates of Iranian oil exports project a decrease in coming years, and predicted growth in domestic demand for oil, coupled with the rate at which Iran is depleting its reserves, will necessitate an expansion of oil production. That will be difficult, however, since Iran’s refineries are outdated and the government doesn’t have the money to build new ones. The government subsidizes gasoline so heavily (Iranians pay only $0.34 a gallon) that the state could not hope to profit from costly renovation of its refineries, and its own officials claim it will be cheaper just to import gasoline and leave Iranian oil undisturbed under the earth. Unless Iran’s oil sector becomes dramatically more efficient and the government warms to the possibility of exploration and extraction by foreigners, Iran could stop exporting oil as early as 2014—which means that when Iran claims to need nuclear know-how for its own power requirements, it just might be telling the truth.

“The Iranian Petroleum Crisis and United States National Security,” Roger Stern, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Guilty Pleasures
Might As Well eat that sundae. You'll regret it, but not for very long.

A study in the Journal of Consumer Research argues that you probably should have eaten that third glazed doughnut after all. The authors find that regret over indulgence and gluttony diminishes with time, but regret over missing out—doing the responsible thing and deferring gratification—only increases. The authors contrast two approaches to temptation: myopia (the tendency to enjoy pleasures in the present, and possibly pay for them later) and hyperopia (giving up immediate pleasures in favor of future ones). College students asked to reflect on their most recent and previous winter-break activities said that as time passed they regretted not having had fun more than they regretted not having studied or worked. One reason for this phenomenon, the authors hypothesize, is that indulgence guilt is a “hot” emotion, leading to intense but momentary pangs of conscience. Wistful regret over missed chances, on the other hand, creeps up slowly, and is less intense, but lasts longer. Even if we scold ourselves for sybaritic and spendthrift ways at the time, over months or years we are willing to forgive ourselves. This conclusion contradicts the traditional assumption that short-term thinking leads to long-term regret. Indeed, the authors write, it suggests that long-term thinking is worst in the long term—that it will minimize your guilt in the here-and-now, but over the long haul it will lead to chronic, throbbing remorse over junk food uneaten and money unspent.

“Repenting Hyperopia: An Analysis of Self-Control Regrets,” Ran Kivetz and Anat Keinan, Journal of Consumer Research

Foreign Affairs
Strife in Sinai

After 15 years of Israeli occupation, control of the Sinai Peninsula returned to Egypt in 1982. Since then, according to a new report, tensions have developed between the central government in Cairo and the Sinai’s inhabitants—and as a result, Egypt now faces a homegrown terrorist threat. Palestinians and Bedouins populate the Sinai, and neither group shares the “Pharaonic heritage” of Egypt’s Nile Valley population. And for the past two decades, Cairo has made no concerted attempt to integrate them into the larger Egyptian commonwealth; instead, it has encouraged migrants from the Nile Valley to settle on the peninsula, promoted tourist resorts there at the expense of residents’ land rights, and discriminated against the locals in hiring and housing. These grievances may have helped create the Sinai-based terrorist network that carried out a series of bombings over the past three years, targeting civilians and particularly tourists. The network calls itself Tawhid wa Jihad (“Oneness and Struggle”), and while its ideology partakes of al-Qaeda–style Salafism, the report argues that its concerns are mainly local: The group perceives the Egyptians as occupiers, like the Israelis and British before them, and unless Cairo can change that perception, the Sinai will continue to breed radicalism and violence.

“Egypt’s Sinai Question,” International Crisis Group

Eugenics in the Womb

How widespread is the practice of prenatal eugenics—that is, the use of abortion to eliminate fetuses that have genetic abnormalities? A new paper offers some speculation. The data are far from comprehensive, but it’s possible to make estimates—for instance, that nearly 30 percent of the roughly 6,150 Down syndrome fetuses that are conceived in the United States every year end up being aborted. The numbers from studies conducted overseas are higher, ranging from 32 percent in Western Australia to more than 80 percent in Taiwan and Paris. Down syndrome fetuses are not the only ones being selectively aborted: Data from Europe for 1995–1999 suggest that roughly 40 percent of fetuses with any of 11 congenital disorders were aborted in that period, and a study of the G8 industrialized countries found that anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 fetuses on course to suffer from birth defects were aborted in 2002. In the long run, the author suggests, prenatal screenings will grow more comprehensive and may eventually cover “all known disease genes,” making it possible for parents to abort a fetus with, say, “a 68% probability of developing breast cancer by the age of 80.” Given the “invasive” nature of amniocentesis and abortion, however, a more popular option might be in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which would be accompanied by “pre­implantation genetic diagnosis” to screen out disorders. Of course, “nature has contrived a cheap, easy and enjoyable way to conceive a child,” the author allows, and “IVF is none of these things.” But the “clear economic benefits,” if nothing else, guarantee that neo-eugenics, in one form or another, will continue to spread.

“The Future of Neo-Eugenics,” Armand Marie Leroi, EMBO reports