Legalize them?

Cool study forthcoming in AEJ Applied about how legal immigration status reduced recidivism of foreign prisoners in the EU. Here’s a link to an un-gated version of the paper.

Here’s the abstract:

We exploit exogenous variation in legal status following the Jan- uary 2007 European Union enlargement to estimate its effect on immigrant crime. We difference out unobserved time-varying fac- tors by i) comparing recidivism rates of immigrants from the “new” and “candidate” member countries; and ii) using arrest data on foreign detainees released upon a mass clemency that occurred in Italy in August 2006. The timing of the two events allows us to setup a difference-in-differences strategy. Legal status leads to a 50 percent reduction in recidivism, and explains one-half to two-thirds of the observed differences in crime rates between legal and illegal immigrants.

So the good news is that the identification scheme here is pretty darn good. The bad news is that to achieve this strong identification, the paper ends up studying a fairly small sample of foreign criminals:

We are left with 725 and 1,622 individuals in the treated and control groups, respectively.

Crime and Impunity in Mexico

Given the horrible news coming out of Mexico these days, this Economist article on crime and governance in Mexico is well-timed.  I think N. Parish Flannery (@LatAmLENS) summed it up best when he tweeted, “I think the Mexican version of Crime and Punishment is just Crime and …”

Here is the Economist graph showing both a rise in crime in recent years coupled with an incredible amount of impunity.


Perhaps the gruesome discovery of mass grave after mass grave in Guerrero, none of which seem to hold the missing students, will represent a turning point in this trajectory.

Room for Improvement, Mexico edition

In 2012, the Council of Foreign Relations highlighted a new initiative called Mexico ¿cómo vamos? that was brought about by the collaboration of two leading think tanks in the country:  Mexico Evalúa and IMCO.  Here’s the CFR’s description of the project:

“The website lays out a perhaps surprising vision for Mexico: as a leading global economy. The website brings together some sixty economic and public policy experts from varying backgrounds to focus on where Mexico’s economy stands today and what it needs to do to achieve this ambitious future. Providing both raw data and expert analysis, the website identifies attainable goals in six critical areas (investment, competition, competitiveness, well-being, productivity, and exports), with the aim of expanding the middle class, reducing inequality, and promoting social inclusion.”


The site has all sorts of interesting data and is well worth checking out.

The following figure caught my eye and made me think that the answer to “como vamos?” (roughly, how are we doing?) is “room for improvement.”


The data is from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (or INEGI, in Spanish) and lists the percentage of respondents aged 18 and over that said they had stopped the following activities because of a fear of crime.  The numbers are really high and made me wonder what kind of coverage the survey had.  I’m guessing that these numbers would be very low in some regions and even higher in others.

For the non-Spanish speakers, the list in English is:

Using jewelry

Letting their young kids go out (presumably alone)

Going out at night

Carrying cash

Carrying a credit or debit card

Going for a walk

Visiting relatives and friends

Taking a taxi

Going to the movies or theater

Going out to eat

Going to a stadium

Taking the highway to visit another state or muncipality

Using public transportation

Going to shopping malls

Going to school


Narcotraficantes and economic growth in Mexico

I just came across a new working paper entitled “Crime and growth convergence : evidence from Mexico” by the awesomely named Ted Enamorado and his co-authors Luis Lopez-Calva and Carlos Rodriguez-Castelan.  They study crime in Mexico and test whether different types of crime affect economic growth differently.  Here is what they find:

Scholars have often argued that crime deters growth, but the empirical literature assessing such effect is scarce. By exploiting cross-municipality income and crime data for Mexico — a country that experienced a high increase in crime rates over the past decade — this study circumvents two of the most common problems faced by researchers in this area. These are: (i) the lack of a homogenous, consistently comparable measure of crime and (ii) the small sample problem in the estimation. Combining income data from poverty maps, administrative records on crime and violence, and public expenditures data at the municipal level for Mexico (2005-2010), the analysis finds evidence indicating that drug-related crimes indeed deter growth. It also finds no evidence of a negative effect on growth from crimes unrelated to drug trafficking.

h/t @mclem

Crime in Latin America

InsightCrime has had some great articles recently on crime & violence in Latin America.  Here is a link to the ones I found most interesting:

1. Southern Pulse: The Politics of Corruption in Guatemala

2. How Street Gangs Have Complicated Mexico Security

3. The Mara Women: Gender Roles in Central American Street Gangs

4. Brazil’s Military Police: Calls for Demilitarization

The most despised institution in Brazil

In “Public Rage Catching Up With Brazil’s Congress,” The New York Times gives us a pretty good idea about why the Brazilian public is so fed up with their legislators.

Maurício Santoro, a political scientist, notes that “Congress is without a doubt the most despised institution in Brazil” and a big reason for that is the fact that the legislature “has a tradition of preventing its own members convicted of crimes from ever going to jail.”

Almost 1/3 of the current Congress have pending trials in the Supreme Federal Tribunal.  Legislators can only be tried in this tribunal, which means that there are huge delays. Even this is better than pre-2001 though, when  a politician could only be tried if Congress authorized it. Wow, I can see some bad incentives arising from that law.

And what are these legislators on trial for?  Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of unpaid parking tickets.  Here is the rundown on some of the worst offenders, past and present:

a.”There is Hildebrando Pascoal, commonly called the “chain saw congressman.” When he ran for office, it was public knowledge that he was being investigated for operating a death squad in a remote corner of the Amazon, employing tactics like throwing victims into vats of acid or dismembering them with chain saws. But he still won by a large margin and served in Congress before he was stripped of his seat, convicted and sent to prison.

b. Another is wanted by Interpol after being found guilty of diverting more than $10 million from a public road project to offshore bank accounts.

c. A congressman was convicted by the tribunal of having poor female constituents, who could not afford more children, surgically sterilized in exchange for their votes.

d. In 1963, Senator Arnon de Mello shot dead a fellow legislator on the Senate floor, only to escape imprisonment, since the killing was considered an accident because he was aiming at another senator. (!)

e. That gun-wielding senator’s son, Fernando Collor de Mello, was elected president of Brazil in 1989 and impeached amid a flurry of corruption charges in 1992. Yet in a political resurrection that dismayed anticorruption activists, he was elected to the Senate in 2006 and retains his seat, even as he remains embroiled in a case in the Supreme Federal Tribunal in which he is accused of profiting from an advertising contract scheme during his brief presidency. The article notes that “Even when lawmakers are convicted and sentenced for crimes, it can be difficult for them to lose their seats.”

f. Talvane Alburquerque, a legislator from Alagoas in northeast Brazil, was found guilty in 2012 of ordering the murder in 1998 of another member of Congress, Ceci Cunha. That killing allowed Mr. Alburquerque, Ms. Cunha’s stand-in, to temporarily take her seat in Brasília. An appeals court rejected this month a request from Mr. Alburquerque to be paroled from prison.”

The public is also unhappy with the fact that legislators make $175,000 a year, with stipends to cover housing, gas, electoral research, and up to 25 aides.  In fact, “the frustration toward traditional politicians is so high that Congress now includes Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, a professional clown better known as Tiririca, or Grumpy, who was elected in 2010 to Brazil’s lower house with more ballots in his favor than any candidate in the nation’s history.”