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Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations Paperback – January 24, 2010
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009
"[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, NYTimes.com'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
"Smart and eminently readable."--Nicholas Kristof, NYTimes.com
"[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
"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."--PublishersWeekly.com (starred review)
"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)
"Engaging and confidently written, . . . Economic Gangsters tackles two big 'institutional' problems of development economics--corruption and violence--through a series of vignettes based on research."--Tim Harford, Reason
"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
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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. But then again, those theories usually aren't convincing for exactly the reason that Ted and Ray don't have one: they are careful and big, broad theories are not. I really enjoyed the clear policy recommendation of Rapid Conflict Prevention Support in Chapter 6, and I look forward to more clear recommendations in the next book. Again, Ted and Ray are careful and tend not to recommend policies that don't have clear evidence to stand on. Not all scholars are comfortable laying out strong recommendations on limited evidence; two books by scholars who are more comfortable are The Bottom Billion and The End of Poverty. (As I recall, that's also the self-definition given by an economic hit man!) The main policy recommendation, ultimately, is more evidence-based policy making, particularly randomized trials of development programs (but with a healthy view of the realistic scope for these kinds of trials).
This book won't just show you that economists can be clever (although it will show you that): It shows that economics, cleverly applied, can illuminate some of the most intractable development problems of our time. I strongly recommend it. And if you don't trust me, Publishers Weekly said that in this "surprisingly spry" read, "fascinating insights abound" . Take it from both of us and learn something.
 Publishers Weekly, 6 October 2008.
The search continues. But I am more than glad to have happened on this offering.
The book is short and well written, I really recomend it.