—“Agency Roll-up,” Department of Homeland Security (Study not available online)
—“Risky Business: Assessing Risk Preference Explanations for Gender Differences in Religiosity,” Louise Marie Roth and Jeffrey C. Kroll, American Sociological Review
Turns out Uncle Sam hasn’t done that much to stop teens from drinking and driving. The official story goes that the 1984 Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act, which threatened to withhold federal funds from states that didn’t raise their drinking age to 21, ended the glory days of teens driving to another state to get drunk and then careening home. According to federal estimates, pushing a uniform minimum drinking age nationwide saved 21,887 lives through 2002. New research argues that it wasn’t so: By studying state-by-state data, the authors found that most of the reduction in fatalities came from states that had raised the drinking age before the federal law went on the books; in states that raised the drinking age to comply with the federal pressure, there was little effect. Furthermore, fatalities in states that raised the age early dipped only briefly; in the other states, they either remained steady or increased after the age was changed. The authors conclude that the overall reduction in traffic deaths has had more to do with safer cars and better medical treatment for accident victims than with policies handed down from on high.
—“Does the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Save Lives?” Jeffrey A. Miron, Elina Tetelbaum, National Bureau of Economic Research
If you’re a Chinese refugee seeking asylum in the United States, what’s your best bet? First, move to San Francisco. Then try to find an immigration lawyer, prove that a dependent is counting on you, and pray for a female judge. According to a recent study by three law professors, factors like ethnicity, geography, and the gender of the judge—along with a healthy dose of luck—play a far bigger role than the merits of the case in determining whether a refugee is granted asylum in the United States. The authors analyzed hundreds of thousands of cases and found a huge geographic variance in the rates at which applicants prevailed. In 2005, for instance, the Houston field office granted asylum to only 17 percent of applicants; the Arlington, Virginia, office approved 52 percent. Between 2000 and 2005, 74 percent of Chinese refugees in San Francisco won asylum, whereas only 18 percent of their compatriots in Newark, New Jersey, did. Demographics may account for some of this variance, but they don’t explain the discrepancies that the authors found in the judgments of officials in the same buildings: At the federal immigration court in Miami, one judge granted asylum to 88 percent of Colombian applicants, yet another ruled in favor of just 5 percent. The researchers also discovered that asylum seekers with lawyers were granted refuge far more often than those without, that those with dependents had slightly better odds, and that female judges granted asylum at a substantially higher rate than their male counterparts.
—“Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication,” Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Stanford Law Review
—“As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned About Social Impact,” Pew Research Center
—“Not All Who Stand Tall Are Proud: Gender Differences in the Proprioceptive Effects of Upright Posture,” Tomi-Ann Roberts and Yousef Arefi-Afshar, Cognition and Emotion
Don’t blame the collapse of the Soviet Union for the widespread popularity among arms dealers and insurgents of the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, a new study on “weaponomics” advises. Blame the Soviets: Not only has the AK-47 been widely copied, but “large caches of these weapons were freely distributed to regimes and rebels sympathetic to the Soviet Union” well before its collapse. Drawing on field reports and journalistic accounts, the study claims to be the first effort to quantitatively document the market for small arms, which are responsible for between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths each year. The AK-47 merits particular attention because its “ease of operation, robustness to mistreatment and negligible failure rate” make it the weapon of choice for small armies and bands of marauders: Of the 500 million firearms estimated to be in the world today, some 100 million are Kalashnikovs. The study reports that assault rifles are on average at least $200 cheaper in a typical African country than elsewhere, thanks to porous borders (as conflict moves across the continent, the arms freely follow). It also finds that the small-arms trade tends to be weaker in countries with high military spending, because a strong military makes it “imprudent for non-government entities to openly trade or parade about with large quantities of conflict-grade weapons.” Most surprisingly, the study cites research suggesting that having more arms in the marketplace makes running a counterinsurgency easier, presumably because it tends to fragment rebel groups: “The more easily individual combatants can obtain weapons through independent suppliers,” the author writes, “the more difficult it will be to mount and maintain a united and coordinated insurgency.”
—“Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles,” (PDF) Phillip Killicoat, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper
When NBA Commissioner David Stern acknowledged in July that referee Tim Donaghy may have gambled on games he officiated, Stern called him a “rogue, isolated criminal.” But a paper by an undergraduate student in the Stanford Department of Economics suggests that Donaghy may not have been a rogue element after all—there’s a distinct likelihood, the author argues, that NBA players (or coaches) are also betting on games. The author observes that conventional economic theory supports conflicting claims about pro basketball’s betting market: On the one hand, that market displays a measure of inexplicable irrationality that typically would point to untoward business transactions (like insider trading); on the other hand, NBA players make so much money that the odds of their intentionally shaving points, and thus jeopardizing their careers, seem quite slim. Still, pro ballplayers may not be immune to the lures of the sports book, given the brevity of their careers, their willingness to put personal interest ahead of team success, and their drive to compete, which they share with gamblers. The author studied betting lines and game results from the previous 14 NBA seasons and then analyzed how scores tended to move in a game’s last five minutes—to his mind, the period when it was easiest to cheat. He found that heavily favored teams failed to cover the spread often enough to suggest that some funny money may have crept into the market. He estimates that players or coaches on the take skew perhaps five games a season, adding that since “referees are no less principal characters in basketball games,” future researchers might investigate whether there are more bad apples in the officiating ranks.
—“Point Shaving in the NBA: An Economic Analysis of the National Basketball Association’s Point Spread Betting Market,” (PDF) Jonathan Gibbs, Stanford Department of Economics
Maybe it’s time to rethink what we mean by the “golden years.” As Americans get older, they tend to make better and better financial decisions—but only up to a point, a study finds, and then their hard-earned skills decline. Researchers from Harvard, Princeton, and the Federal Reserve—drawing on consumer financial data from 10 sources, including mortgages, credit cards, and car loans—observed an overall U-shaped pattern of financial mistakes, with the best performance occurring among people in their early 50s. On average, financial perspicuity peaks at 53, which the study designates the “age of reason.” The age of peak discernment when it comes to picking the best home-equity loan is 56; for a mortgage, it’s 62, and for a car loan, it’s 50. Both older and younger borrowers are more apt to make poor decisions that result in higher interest rates and fee payments. The researchers (all on the cusp of middle age themselves, incidentally) suggest that the financial acumen of 50-somethings demonstrates that experiential capital trumps the analytical capital that quick-thinking youngsters enjoy, but that it follows a pattern of diminishing returns as old age encroaches.
—“The Age of Reason: Financial Decisions Over the Lifecycle,” Sumit Agarwal, John C. Driscoll, Xavier Gabaix, and David Laibson, MIT Department of Economics Working Paper
The recent British experience in Basra offers a glimpse of what might happen in Baghdad after the current surge of U.S. troops recedes, according to a recent report from the International Crisis Group. The British aimed to “pave the way for a takeover by Iraqi forces” through a security plan dubbed Operation Sinbad, which was conducted between September 2006 and March 2007. The operation was “a qualified success,” insofar as it drove down crime, assassinations, and sectarian killings and produced a “relative calm.” But the calm proved “both superficial and fleeting,” giving way to renewed violence that has left the British hunkered down inside their compounds. This intra-Shiite strife, the report suggests, in a city far from Iraq’s major Sunni-Shia fault lines, is more evidence that the lack of a functioning state is as much to blame for the chaos as sectarian rivalry and antipathy toward coalition troops. In the absence of dependable state institutions or local leaders, the withdrawal of coalition troops risks creating further instability. Power in Basra increasingly lies in the hands of militias entangled with incompetent police forces and political parties, the authors note, and local leaders often resolve conflicts outside of official institutions, undermining the judiciary and its role in mediating disputes. As Congress and the White House consider options for Baghdad and the rest of the country, the report urges them to recognize that “their so-called Iraqi partners, far from building a new state, are tirelessly working to tear it down.”
—“Where Is Iraq Heading? Lessons From Basra,” International Crisis Group
In the 18th century, Britain’s Royal Navy may have been defined by rum, sodomy, and the lash, but the sailors often thought that there was too little rum and way too much lash. According to a study by a George Mason University economist, the navy’s cruelty and authoritarianism drove sailors to join pirate ships—by 1716, the pirate population was one-fifth that of the British navy. The pirates devised a separation- of-powers system to ensure that their new captains treated them better. They elected a quartermaster from within their ranks to mete out provisions and booty, and captains got only an equal share. Common sailors could barge into a captain’s quarters, “swear at him, seize a part of his Victuals and Drink.” Only in battle did pirate captains wield total authority, allowing their crews to profit from the quick decisions a unitary executive could provide. The sailors, before setting out, would agree on guidelines—known as the “Custom of the Coast” or “Jamaica Discipline—for settling disputes, doling out punishment, and deciding living arrangements. (Some ships even had strict no-smoking policies.) The author notes that the separation of powers on pirate ships slightly predates England’s 1688 Glorious Revolution, and he suggests that the American system of checks and balances appears to have a little Captain Morgan in it.
—“An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of a Pirate Organization,” Peter T. Leeson, George Mason University