Friday, May 2, 2014

Transparency of crime (or poop) rates

We are all, of course, responsible pet owners. We always clean after our pets, regardless of whether someone is likely to judge us. Despite that, consider (other) people who are affected by social norms while deciding whether to clean after their pets. If one sees a lot of dog poop laying around in the park, then he may believe that not cleaning after his pet is acceptable behavior. If so, a type of ‘herding effect’ (I am using this phrase loosely) may be observed. Suppose at t=0 the norm is that one ought to clean after his pet. An irresponsible person, who also cares very little about norms, may decide not to clean after his pet (whose name is Fluffy). At t=1 people who encounter the mess left by Fluffy and who care some, but only a little, about norms, may decide not to clean after their pets either. At t=2, people may start believing that it is the norm to not clean after their pets, and only those people who, like us, clean after their pets regardless of existing norms, may continue to clean after their pets. Thus, we started with a society where the norm is to clean after pets and where parks are clean, and ended up with a society where parks are disgusting and the norm is to not clean after pets. How can this transformation be avoided? Perhaps resources can be allocated at t=0 towards hiring professional cleaners to clean after irresponsible pet owners. (Another option is, of course, fining and hoping such fines deter) When should resources be expended towards hiring professional cleaners? When the cost of doing so is smaller than the expected cost associated with the transformation.

One can replace the act of not cleaning after one’s pet with petty theft (or any other crime) to ask and answer the following questions. Might it be a good idea to conceal information regarding the prevalence of the commission of various crimes? What are the costs of concealing such information? May transparency be a bad thing in this setting? Within the economics of law enforcement literature, what does this observation imply regarding the optimal punishment of manifest v. non-manifest crimes?

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That would actually make an interesting Public Goods experiment. Where in the control group, it's just a standard Public Goods game. But in the treatment(s), you have a 'benevolent' government making additional contributions. In one of the treatments, the players are able to see how much the benevolent government contributes (transparent). In the other treatment, the players are unaware of how much the government contributes (not transparent). I have no idea how this relates to manifest v. non-manifest crimes and optimal punishment, but you would be able to measure the change in behaviour in each experiment and therefore the loss/gain in overall utility.

Posted by: Huon | May 5, 2014 1:00:21 AM

It looks like the Chicago police department under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has been trying that approach. Don't trust FBI crime statistics--- they're based on local police reports. Chicago magazine has a good 2014 article which begins with this story:

In a small office, on soggy carpeting covered in broken ceiling tiles, lay a naked, lifeless woman. She had long red-streaked black hair and purple glitter nail polish on her left toenails (her right ones were gone), but beyond that it was hard to discern much. Her face and body were bloated and badly decomposed, her hands ash colored. Maggots feasted on her flesh.

At the woman’s feet, detectives found a curled strand of telephone wire. Draped over her right hand was a different kind of wire: thin and brown. The same brown wire was wrapped around each armrest of a wooden chair next to her.

The following day, July 24, a pathologist in the Cook County medical examiner’s office noticed something else that had been obscured by rotting skin: a thin gag tied around the corpse’s mouth.

...a lieutenant overseeing the Groves case reclassified the homicide investigation as a noncriminal death investigation. In his writeup, he cited the medical examiner’s “inability to determine a cause of death.”...With the stroke of a computer key, she was airbrushed out of Chicago’s homicide statistics.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | May 6, 2014 7:56:05 AM

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