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Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations First Printing Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0691134543
ISBN-10: 0691134545
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this surprisingly spry read, authors and economics professors Fisman and Miguel tackle economic development issues in Africa, Asia and Latin America, beginning with the question: after decades of independence and billions in foreign aid, why are so many developing countries still mired in poverty? A big reason, they contend, is corruption. Looking at specific examples, Fisman and Miguel examine various methods and motives of corruption, how agencies counteract it, and what it means with regard to human nature and the fate of nations. Fascinating insights abound: the high correlation between UN diplomats' parking violations and corruption in the home country; the successful public shaming techniques used by Bogata's Mayor Antanas Mockus to reduce criminality; the drastic reduction in road building corruption resulting from Indonesia's simple statement that projects would be audited. Ultimately, Fisman and Miguel conclude that there's not enough verifiable, reproducible results to say whether poverty is intractable and corruption inevitable, or whether poor countries remain poor because they haven't received enough quality aid. Instead, they argue forcefully for more blind trials in economics research to evaluate various development approaches. This thorough, thoughtful guide to global corruption is an engaging, disarmingly upbeat read for fans of Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"[S]mart and eminently readable . . . [F]isman and Miguel try to do for global poverty what [Steven] Levitt did for domestic economic issues. For example, they look at the way 'witches' are killed in Tanzania whenever rainfalls fail and food is scarce; it turns out that families try to save food by executing less-productive elderly women as witches."--Nicholas Kristof,'s On the Ground blog

"Columbia's Ray Fisman and Berkeley's Ted Miguel are two of the most creative and interesting economists I know. Each is driven to better understand just what keeps poor countries in poverty, and they are willing to try some pretty amazing research strategies to figure it out. They have traveled far and wide--both geographically and intellectually--and in their beautifully written book Economic Gangsters, they shine a well-honed statistical spotlight on the twin evils of corruption and violence. The book is a dead-set page turner, and there's nothing more fun than feeling like you are next to them as they travel the world in search of the scoundrels responsible for so much suffering."--Justin Wolfers, Freakonomics blog

"[Fisman and Miguel] avoid academic jargon and write for a general audience in explaining how economists study the problem of pervasive endemic poverty. . . . Reminiscent of other lighter looks at economics, e.g., Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics and Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist, this book makes developmental economics both entertaining and accessible to a broad audience."--Library Journal

"Like many a good television sleuth (think Jessica Fletcher or Ellery Queen), [Fisman] is also an author, even if there the similarity ends. He has written Economic Gangsters and in it he and co-author Edward Miguel trace the steps oft eh corrupt using not DNA or forensic science but data and statistics. Theirs is a treatment to the truism that when you are looking for clues, follow the money. The book gives half a dozen examples of how data can be used to find corrupt behaviour, particularly in developing countries."--Parminder Bahra, The Times (of London)

"In this surprisingly spry read, authors and economics professors Fisman and Miguel tackle economic development issues in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, beginning with the question: after decades of independence and billions in foreign aid, why are so many developing countries still mired in poverty? . . . This thorough, thoughtful guide to global corruption is an engaging, disarmingly upbeat read for fans of Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell." (starred review)

"In their new book Economic Gangsters, authors Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel try to understand what motivates people to break the law, the consequences of their actions and the implications for prevention. Their effort stands out among many others for their cool-headed application of economic cost-benefit analysis to this shady human behavior."--Shanghai Daily

"Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel, two young rising stars of economics, apply the Freakonomics approach to the problems of development in their new book Economic Gangsters. It's a superbly crafted set of essays that raise the bar for clear, accessible pop-economics writing, and offers an excellent overview of recent research into the corruption, violence, and poverty that have long bedeviled the developing world."--Bradford Plumer, The National

"Freakonomics for the Third World. . . . So far this is sounding very much like Steven Levitt's and Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics: looking for an interesting data set with which to test a certain hypothesis, and indeed the basic approach is similar. The ambition, however, is rather grander."--Tim Worstall, The Daily Telegraph

"This book deserves wide readership. Some readers will come for the clever title and the cover's provocative silhouette of a machine-gun-wielding gangster. More, hopefully, will be drawn to the book by reviews like this one and the authors' important message. Economic Gangsters is topical and lively, as its cover suggests, but it is also deadly serious and deeply engrossing. Fisman and Miguel study perhaps the most important question of our day--why some countries grow and prosper while others are trapped in self-reinforcing cycles of violence, corruption, and poverty."--Choice

"This is sparkling stuff, and the story is enjoyably retold in Fisman and Miguel's slim new volume, Economic Gangsters. I recommend the book wholeheartedly; it is engaging and confidently written, and it describes research of genuine interest. . . . Economic Gangsters tackles two big 'institutional' problems of development economics--corruption and violence--through a series of vignettes based on research studying the value of political connections, smuggling between China and Hong Kong, the links between rainfall and civil war, witch killings in Africa, and rebuilding Vietnam after 'the American War.'"--Tim Harford, Reason

"Analyses of crime and corruption tend, not surprisingly, to be long on description and short on empirical analysis. Statistics on amounts embezzled or number of people killed in a genocide lack precision, where they exist at all. [Economic Gangsters] sets out the clever use of the rare reliable statistics that are available to shed light on particular episodes of corruption or violence, and in particular on whether it is possible to design policies which change the incentives of those behaving in undesirable ways. . . . All in all, this is a very readable book which makes a fascinating contribution to the renaissance of careful empirical microeconomics applied to development."--Diane Coyle, The Business Economist

"Fisman and Miguel have turned out another economics tome, written in a friendly and engaging way, yet this one reeks of practicality."--Sacremento Book Review

"Many readers, including me, will applaud Economic Gangsters for its goal, style, method, and overarching message. . . . Its style is friendly and colloquial, inviting undergraduates and general readers to reconsider big questions about development and foreign aid."--Robert Klitgaard, Economic Development and Cultural Change

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Printing edition (September 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691134545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691134543
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,107,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eight years ago, as I crossed the Uganda-Kenya border, I was sequestered in a shack, interrogated, threatened with prison, and ultimately required to pay a bribe by border guards. After that harrowing experience, I returned to my hotel and recounted the story to the first friendly face I saw: my sympathetic colleague Ted Miguel. Ted and his colleague Ray spent the succeeding years studying violence and corruption in poor countries; and this sweet book is the latest fruit of those labors.

What can economics tell us about corruption and violence around the world? More, perhaps, than you'd expect. Ray and Ted use surprise changes in a dictator's health to measure the value of political connections in Indonesia, rainfall to capture the effect of recessions on violence in Africa, and tricks in the trade data to reveal smuggling. (That's not to mention the parking tickets - Chapter Four.) They present their clever research in surprisingly clear English, and they draw on the related research of other economists as well. They really know how to tell a story: I was captivated by the opening recounting of Kenyan author Ngugi's woes and delighted by the creative policy making of Antanas Mockus, mayor of Bogota.

It's hard not to compare popular economics books today to Freakonomics: Gangsters has the advantages of Ted and Ray's witty, pleasant voice, more of a thematic focus, and none of the self-adulation that took away some Freakonomics' shine.

Despite the focus on corruption and violence, ultimately the book is presenting a miscellany of work that is related but isn't (and perhaps cannot be) circumscribed into a larger theory. Occasionally I found myself wishing a central theory like you find in Malcolm Gladwell's books.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kirby on November 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A few years back, economists Ray Fisman (Columbia University) and Edward Miguel (University of California, Berkeley) caught the attention of the global media and the United Nations with their study of diplomats' unpaid parking tickets. At the time, diplomatic immunity allowed representatives to the international body to park in violation of city traffic codes, racking up fines. Fisman and Miguel looked at the list of traffic violations for UN plates over several years. They found that diplomats from some nations such as Canada and Ireland behaved themselves, parking lawfully and paying any tickets, while others such as Kuwait and Chad exploited their power, sometimes in ostentatious ways. Why? The ticket behavior, the economists suggested, is a proxy indicator for the intersection of culture and corruption.

Now, in their recently published book, Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations, Fisman and Miguel extend their corruption lens to the problems of conflict and development. They look for economic causes of conflict such as water scarcity or food crises to help explain everything from civil wars to witch trials. They ask whether more money or better governance is the key to economic growth for Africa, concluding that--although corruption and economic abuse is a key challenge to development--it won't really be possible to answer the big questions of the field until there is better quality, more scientific evaluation of the results of aid projects.

Economic Gangsters is a pleasurable and fast read, written for a popular audience who may or may not know the context of the work.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Stephen R. Laniel on December 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I started off thinking that maybe this book's title should be Gather Ye Data Where Ye May. It starts with a couple neat chapters where the authors try to measure various hidden variables -- how much one company's fortunes depend on connections to a dictator, say, or how much gets smuggled into a particular country. You can get a reasonable measure of smuggling by counting exports from one country and imports into another. The authorities only tax you on the way in, not on the way out, so you have every incentive to lie on the import forms and tell the truth about your exports. If 10,000 BMWs leave Hong Kong destined for China, and only 9,000 arrive in China having been shipped from Hong Kong, you can guess that about 1,000 BMWs were smuggled out of Hong Kong into China. Perhaps they were creatively relabeled `Hyundai,' thereby carrying a much smaller tariff burden.

The authors dig a bit deeper into the numbers and point out a loophole that nations ought to fill if they want to modernize their system of duties: give similar products similar tariffs. One example here is amusing: a "boring/milling machine -- numerically controlled" used to get a 10% tariff on its way into China, whereas a "boring/milling machine -- other" got a 20% tariff. People have every incentive to claim that their boring/milling machine -- other is actually a boring/milling machine -- numerically controlled. The closer the products are in appearance, the easier it is for importers to pass off the one as the other and evade the higher tariff. (The authors give us a thought experiment, wherein chickens and turkeys come in for different tariffs. I only wish this were real. It would make me smile.)

Next the authors ask: is there any way to measure how corrupt a nation is?
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