Tuesday, August 2, 2011
An Economic Analysis of Gang Colors
Wall Street Journal
August 2, 2011
Most of us have grown sufficiently used to the idea of gang colors that we don’t bother to ask why they exist. But, if you think about it, they’re paradoxical: Why would people who belong to groups that sell drugs or commit crimes go out of their way to advertise their membership in those groups? A new paper, by Andrew Mell, an economist at Nuffield College, Oxford, attacks that conceptual problem.
He does so by drawing on evolutionary theory and the related issue of coordination between agents. If you’re a criminal, one of your principal challenges involves knowing whom it’s safe to do business with. You don’t want to sell to an undercover cop, obviously, but you also don’t want to sell to an eager-but-clueless criminal who may well get caught and drag you down with him.
Like certain ostentatious displays by males in the animal kingdom, gang colors serve as a handicap, Mell argues: Yes, they make it more likely that the person wearing them will be caught. Yet they semaphore the following message: If I’m still willing to commit crimes when I have this handicap, I must be pretty good at evading the police. Incompetent criminals couldn’t get away with wearing gang colors.
Read the Paper
Posted by Yulie Foka at 8:14 PM