Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Dubner

Why do drug dealers still live with their mothers? Who is Sudhir Venkatesh?

Sudhir Venkatesh was born in India and raised in upstate New York and southern California.

In 1989, Sudhir began his PhD in sociology at the Univ. of Chicago. He spent 3 months at the trail of the Grateful Dead, and grew hair up to his buttocks.

William Julius Wilson, graduate advisor to Sudhir, asked him to visit Chicago’s poorest black neighborhood with a clipboard and a 70-question, multiple-choice survey.  For example, “How do you feel about being black and poor”? Very bad, bad, neither, somewhat good

After the first encounter, Sudhir quickly would add another choice: “Fuck you nigger!”

Venkatesh met a gang group huddled in the stairwell of a condemned building: He was released 48 hours later.

One jittery gang foot soldier kept waving his gun and threatening: “What if he tells the rival gang about the stairwell hangout…”?

The leader JT of this franchise drug ring administered a lively taxonomy lesson to Judhir on how to discriminate among, black, African American, nigger…Venkatesh decided that he had to learn more how the Black Gangster Disciple Nation worked, from top to bottom.

For the next 6 years, Judhir lived among the gang families, and JT took him under his “protection”. Venkatesh listened carefully to diatribes such as “It’s war out here, man. Everyday, people struggling to survive.  We ain’t got no choice. We get killed, well, shit, it’s what niggers do around here to feed their family…”

Black Gangster Disciple Nation is one of the franchises, like any US corporation, and structured accordingly.

On the very top, you have 20 “board of director” members who earn each about half a million per year.  The franchise gang leader earns about $100,000, excluding extra other earnings of various off-the-books money and tax-free, and pays the board 20% on the gross revenue on the 12 blocks business area, (or whatever territory expansion a hostile takeover was engineered on a rival gang turf).

The three “officers” of the gang leader earn each about $7 per hour: You have the enforcer who ensure the “safety” of the gang members,  the treasurer who watch over the gang’s liquid assets, and the runner who transport drugs and money to and from suppliers…and the foot soldier, who spend hours outside and in corners, under all climatic weather conditions… earn $3.5 per hour.

The leader of another crack gang told Judhir that he could easily pay more his foot soldiers, but it wouldn’t be prudent “You got all these niggers below you who want your job, you dig? You try to take care of them, but you have to show them you the boss. You get your share first, or else you really ain’t no leader. If you start taking losses, they see you weak and shit…”

The Black Gangster Disciple Nation managed to open 100 franchises.

Consequently, the top  120 members of the 5,300 workers took home half the total profit.  The remaining gang members had to live with their mothers and keep on the lookout for a secondary job earning.

Ironically, this crack business had 20,000 unpaid rank-and-file members who paid dues, just in case the gang needs a replacement!

What of all these single mothers who had to raise children in precarious conditions and still had to bear them as adult, under constant fears and challenges?

One out of 10 gang members is killed (compared to 1 in 200 for timber cutter, the most dangerous job according to the Bureau of labor Statistics).

Over four years, Judhir recorded that on average, each gang members was arrested 6 times, suffered 2.4 non-fatal wounds and injuries (not including injuries meted out by the gang itself for rules violations).

One important item in expenses is compensation to victim’s family.

The franchise pays for the funeral and a stipend of up to three years’wages. As one gang member instructed Judhir: “We can’t just leave ’em out (the family of the victim). We been knowing these folks our whole lives, man, so we grieve when they grieve. You got to respect the family…”  Another reason for this generosity is fearing community backlash

In JT neighborhood where he operated,

56% of children lived below poverty line (compared to national average of 18%);

78% of children came from single-parent homes.

Less than 5% of the adult had a college degree;

Barely 1 in 3 male adults had a job.

Sudhir Venkatesh shared his data with his colleague Steven Levitt of the Society of Fellows of Harvard clubhouse, and wrote a joint paper.

Note: Article inspired by “FreakOnomics” of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

How to convert “Conventional Wisdoms” into success Freakonomics discoveries?

Conventional wisdoms are the process of flowing with what is convenient, comfortable, and comforting: They are not necessarily true in reality of life.  The smart imaginative mind has a feel of which wisdom is not true, then ask the right question, and intend to uncover the mystery in the problematic story.

Suppose the CIA calls you: It has plenty of data and it wants you to seep through the reams upon reams of data to figure out an algorithm for detecting money launderers and “terrorists”…to drone them out.

Suppose a former cyclist champion is suspicious that the current Tour de France is rife with doping, and he asks you to prove his suspicions…

Suppose a bagel salesman has gathered a lifelong data on his sales of bagel, and he wants you to have fun discovering a story behind the data…

Who could you be? What is your job? Are you a renowned scientist, a famous statistical analyst, a weird microeconomics professor, a highly educated crime investigator…?

Do you believe that the problems of this modern world are not impenetrable, and can be resolved, if the right questions are asked, and people are dedicated in uncovering the real story?  For example, you ask a question that interest you, and you discover the story behind the problem, such as:

1) Why most drug dealers still live with their mothers?

2) Which is more dangerous: Having a gun at home or a private swimming pool?

3) Why crime rate plunged dramatically in the last two decades and is still witnessing a steady decline, though population increased and the economy has its feet flailing up?

4) Why your real estate agent sells his own home at a higher price and stay longer on the market?

5) Does your stock broker has your best interest in mind?

6) Why black parents give their children names that they know may hurt their career prospects…?

7) Do school teacher cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards?

8) Why police departments distort crime data and eliminate cases from the records…?

Are you curious in divulging the real stories behind cheating, corruption, and criminal behaviors and activities?

Would you like to try answering the following questions:

1) Why obstetrician in area witnessing declining birth rates perform many more cesarean-section deliveries than in growing areas?

2) Why incumbent politicians are more likely to win a re-election? Suppose you were given plenty of data since 1976, and you can compare the performance of pairs of candidates who challenged one another in successive congressional races, for example, you have 1,000 such pair-kinds… Do you think that you have a better handle for measuring the influence of money in these races and quantify the amount of money necessary to win an election?

The critical factors to uncover in any problem are:

1) What are the incentives to behaving differently?

2) What may be the effects of distant causes, and not just focusing on recent factors? For example, Norma McCorvey (Jane Row) lawsuit for obtaining an abortion had greater impact on crime rate decline than all the combined factors that crime experts put forward as explanation…

3) To what extent do large data-bases serve the agenda of institutions and experts?

4) How can you device a measuring yardstick to approaching complicated and seemingly intractable problems?

5) Do you know what to measure and how to measure? For example, the proper dependent variables that are most relevant to the problem?

Ask weird questions that people care about, and surprise people with your alternative answers.

The main advantage of developed nations is that they keep records and gather data on a continuous basis in all kinds of behaviors and activities. Scholars can dig and seep through tons of available data to tell the correct story.  You torture and beat the crap out of any data until data is forced to divulge an answer.  A side advantage: You may land a Novel Prize, looming around the bend.

Note: Article inspired by “FreakOnomics” of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

What is your position on legalized abortion? Accounting for two-third in reduced crime rate?

Let’s state a few facts, if you believe in the statistical analysis of vast numeric data:

First, an unwanted child, born from a single mother, or raised by a single parent, and not enjoying any extended family support, is 50% more likely than average to live in poverty and ending up with low-educational level;

Second, an unwanted child, born from a single mother, or raised by a single parent, and not enjoying any extended family support, doubles a child propensity to commit crimes;

Third, an unwanted child, born from a single mother, or raised by a single parent, and not enjoying any extended family support, lives in an environment of low-educational surrounding and poor neighborhood, two strong indicators for a future criminal behavior;

Four, a teenage single mother is more likely to end up an addict and to commit crimes;

Fifth, potential mothers have a much better understanding of “what they can do and are willing to do with their unborn child” than all the experts combined. Teenage mothers with no family support know how their born child will fare in life:  They cannot afford to live with a lost case, especially if their education level is pretty low…

Suppose the single mother is a drug addict or alcoholic: Wouldn’t the child be born at a disadvantage from the start, physically and mentally? Would you dare condemn a single mother for aborting an unwanted child, knowing that the newborn is going to suffer from handicaps, and be mentally retarded, or die before reaching the age of 5?

Are you ready to finance a teenage single mother and support her with good jobs in order to facilitate raising a child by herself? If not, how dare you condemn abortion?

There are people who base their position on religious or ideological grounds.  There are people who are against abortion 100%, regardless of situations and conditions.  There are people who support abortion 100% regardless of situations and conditions.

For the first extremist group, a newborn is worth as much as any fetus. For the second group, a newborn is worth thousands of fetuses. Rational people can select a range in between the two ends:  They can select how much a newborn is worth of fetuses.

Suppose that you say: “A newborn is worth one hundred fetuses”. Currently, the US society is witnessing 1.5 million abortions per year. Consequently, a simple math would result is the equivalent loss of agreed upon 15, 000 casualties in collateral damage.  This is about the number of people who die in homicides cases in the US every year.

Before legalized abortion, a single mother had to find $500 and a back alley for the abortion: The fetus was lost, the mother died, or suffered long-lasting trauma due to pain, indignity, humiliation, and culpability. After legalized abortion, a single woman has to pay $100 and enjoy an accredited hospital.  The additional benefit is a facility to attend to social and psychological counseling before deciding on any abortion.  Isn’t legalized abortion a qualitative jump to quality of life to “the living”?

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in “FreakOnomics” demonstrated that two-third in the steady decline in the rate of violent crimes in the last two decades can be attributed to mother enjoying the legal right for abortion.  The unwanted children who were not born, and the pool of potential troublemakers were not in the street to indulge in criminal activities! More on that issue in a follow-up article.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs Wade legalized abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion:

“The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman, by denying this choice altogether, is apparent…Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future.  Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care.  There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it.”

A mother was given the opportunity to make her own mind and decide on the abortion alternative.  She does a good job of figuring out if she is ready, willing, and in a position to raise the baby well, within acceptable standards of quality of life.

What is your position on legalized abortion?

Note: Article inspired by “FreakOnomics” of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner


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