055: David Skarbek on the Economics of Prison Gangs and The Social Order of the Underworld
David’s research interest is to understand how people define and enforce property rights in the absence of strong, effective governments. His work has examined incarceration, gangs, and crime in the United States.
David received a BS in Economics from San Jose State University and a MA and PhD in Economics from George Mason University. He previously taught in the political science department at Duke University.
David’s teaching include ‘Research Methods for Politics’, ‘Economics of Crime’ and ‘Political Economy of Organized Crime’
David’s new book is The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System (Oxford University Press). It examines how inmates create self-governance institutions to promote economic and social interactions behind bars.
In this interview, David mentions: Scarcity, rationality, irrationality, incentives, governance, social economics, black market economy, gang taxes, drug taxes, marginal cost, correlation, constitutional economics, the collective action problem, free-rider problem, monopoly, trade and protection.
Economics explains everything when properly applied and that discovering how it does so is the most delightful intellectual project that one can imagine – David Skarbek
Prison is a very strategic environment. In some ways prison is somewhat an excellent context to apply the rational choice approach – David Skarbek
In this episode you will learn:
- what makes states stable.
- how prisoners trade in a black market economy.
- why gang-based governance in prisons looks very different today than 100 years ago.
- why big prison systems have serious prison gang problems compared to small prison systems.
- how women prisons are better controlled as they are governed in a decentralised way.
- about the control that prisoners in adult correctional facilities have control over minors in juvenile correctional facilities.
- whether private prisons result in a larger prison population.
- diminishing returns to prison years.
- how do prison guards feel about prison gangs.
- how the costs of having prison gangs is externalised to the taxpayer.
- how the availability of resources that are provided by prisons could determine the level of prison gang culture.
- why didn’t slaves revolt when being shipped to other countries.
- how the free-rider problem was the main reason why slaves did not revolt on ships.
- whether having weapons is necessary in reducing crime.
- The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System by David Skerbek
- The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson
- Enforcing the Convict Code: Violence and Prison Culture by Rebecca Trammell
- The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
- Why Didn’t Slaves Revolt More Often During the Middle Passage? (D. Skarbek and A. Marcum) Rationality & Society 26(2) 2014: 232-262.
- The Godfather
- The Godfather II