High on CELS

potI’ve returned from CELS, which was a terrific conference.  Incredibly substantive and well-run.  As promised, here are a few reactions:

Best paper I saw: Amanda Geller and Jeffrey Fagan, Doubling Down on Pot: Marijuana, Race and the New Disorder in New York City Street Policing.  The original title was better: Pot as Pretext.  The idea is that if you look at the  surge of pot related arrests in NYC, a pattern emerges: using pot misdemeanors as a method of social control, with strong racial undertones.  The paper offers another perspective on the optimism expressed by many that legalization is around the corner, in turn prompted by polling data about its popularity.  To the extent that mere pot possession is now an important tool in order maintenance policing, the costs and benefits of its legalization seem different.  Indeed, the surprise of the paper is how well pot works as a method to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of felons (Volokh Conspirators’ perfect storm of bad outcomes).  Plus, Geller/Fagan’s data visualization is amazing (though the best stuff, with maps, is not in the paper).  Well worth reading, especially if you, like me, didn’t know that this was happening.

Runner Up: Yannis Bakos, Florencia Marotta-Wurgler and David Trossen, Does Anyone Read the Fine Print? Testing a Law and Economics Approach to Standard Form Contracting.  Remarkable dataset of 90,000 visitors to software sites, assembled by one of those firms that installs tracking software on your computer in return for compensation. The research question is how often to people read EULAs before entering transactions. It’s my sense that the results (almost never) give a huge, though expected, boost to the ALI Software Principles.  Consider it in tandem with Zev Eigen’s work on adhesion contracts, and the outlines of a research program are clear.

Best paper I wish I’d seenShareholderism: Board Members’ Values and the Shareholder-Stakeholder Dilemma, by Amir Licht, Renee Adams and Lilach Sagiv.  They did an experimental survey on real board members, albiet from Sweden.  Basic findings: board members have unique and stable values about corporate governance that aren’t those of the general public.

Most Potential To Be Brought Up in a 2012 Presidential Debate:   The Economics of Rape: Will Victims Pay for Police Involvement, by Emily Owens and Jordan Matsudaira.  Just your classic little economics project analyzing how making victims pay for rape kits affects the likelihood of reporting a rape to the police.  The dataset?  Wasilla, Alaska, during Sarah Palin’s tenure as mayor.

Obvious Finding:  Police recruits are more likely that members of the public at large to think that mistaken acquitals are a worse problem than mistaken convictions.  (Logically, this can’t be true, as mistaken convictions mean that a criminal is walking free.)  Non-obvious findings from the paper: the modern racism scale predicts the likelihood of making a bad decision to shoot an unarmed but threatening stranger, but the IAT doesn’t.

Reaction to Suckers? I need a better set of anecdotes about suckers and contracts.

Reaction to Punishment Realism? If you like this, our torture results are going to knock your socks off.  Stay tuned!

Cool Poster? Black and Spriggs, The Depreciation of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court. So cool.  I wish they’d coded for the age of precedent in the briefs, since I think the inputs are dispositive.  Notable as well was Eisenberg et al., The Decision to Award Punitive Damages: An Empirical Study. Sure, the results are interesting, and part of Ted’s holy war with the ridiculous folks at the Chamber of Commerce.  But the nice thing was that after a study, I concluded that Ted’s poster had the best ratio of expenditure on the poster :  vistors.  Given that he’d photocopied pages from the paper and put them on a board, my guess was a dollar spent per 20 visitors.  The mean in the room was more like 1 : 1.

Trend:  More instruments, less law.

Thanks to Dan Klerman, Mat McCubbins, Gillian Hadfield, Tom Lyon, Dan Simon and Matt Spitzer for putting together a great program!

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Mark Seecof says:

    Are you really that eager to make people to think you are a jerk?

    The “Volokh Conspirators” do not want “guns in the hands of felons on the street.” (Some V. Conspirators apparently do favor guns in the hands of law-abiding people– so they can defend themselves against those felons for whom you feel such empathy.)

    Your asinine suggestion that the Conspirators regard the arrest of dangerous felons as a “bad outcome” seems more likely to make you look foolish than them.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Well, I’m pretty eager for people to see *you* as a jerk after that comment. Does that count?

    1) This isn’t a VC comment thread. Watch your tone.

    2) I didn’t write that VC folks want to see felons with guns, although I think that some folks on the VC have different views of the relevant risks and benefits of looser gun laws, which would produce more felons with guns, than other folks on the VC, and me. What I wrote was: “Indeed, the surprise of the paper is how well pot works as a method to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of felons (Volokh Conspirators’ perfect storm of bad outcomes).” Since most guns on the streets are in the hands of non-felons who are simply holding unlawfully, I think that pot-as-social-control means a significant restriction of citizens second amendment rights (at least in terms of chilling effects). Additionally, the real part of the process that matters is restriction of pot, which also is a major source of annoyance to some VCers who are libertarian.

  3. Mark Seecof says:

    “Outcomes” is a plural and in context “storm” is a collective. “Outcomes” and “storm” clearly refer to your antecedent list “guns off the streets AND out of the hands of felons. [emphasis added]” You didn’t qualify “Volokh Conspirators” with “some” in your original post. I put it to you that any reader with an ordinary command of written English would understand your post exactly as I did.

    (Also, by conjoining “guns off the street” with “out of the hands of felons” you implied, contrary to your subsequent comment, that “guns on the street” are wicked– although I would be happy to join your apparent suggestion, if indeed you intended to proffer it, that laws which severely restrict gun possession by non-felons impair Second Amendment rights.)

  4. dave hoffman says:

    Mark, you are free to put it to me, but I don’t agree that your reading is natural nor necessary, and it isn’t (at any rate) what I actually meant. Lest my comment by misconstrued by you again, let me be clear: I intended perfect storm to modify primarily the use of prohibition as a form of social control, an outcome that libertarians would be particularly averse to. At the same time, libertarian gun advocates at the VC generally see less risk to the public than I do from felons possessing guns as a result of a weakening of the gun control regulatory system. (That’s not to say that they believe that it is good for felons to possess guns, but rather that they see different risks at play.)

    Obviously it’s the case that if the 2nd Amendment is incorporated, state and city regulations which restrict gun possession by non-felons impair citizens’ rights. (That’s not to say they are unconstitutional impairments — we don’t know the level of scrutiny that applies, after all.) Who could disagree with that proposition after Heller?

    Have you read the paper? What do you think of it?

  5. A.J. Sutter says:

    If I may venture to poke my head through the flames and change the subject:

    (1) what does “More instruments, less law” mean?

    (2) Apropos of Bakos & al: That people should have taken the “informed minority” argument seriously for more than a quarter-century without empirically testing it is simply shocking. And I’m not talking about Claude Rains, Casablanca shocking. I mean it seriously. Is any more evidence needed that L&E is operating in its own hermetic ideological and/or theological universe?

  6. dave hoffman says:

    AJ, I meant that more people (than last year) seemed to be searching for clever instrumental variables that would enable some sort of causal story to be told from observational data. Fewer such projects appeared (to me) to be asking questions that lawyers would think relevant. Not that lawyers’ view of relevance is the only criteria!

  7. A.J. Sutter says:

    Are they doing qualitative research? Your reference to variables suggests not. If all they’re observing are statistical correlations, how can they hope to get causal stories? Or do I need to qualify that as ‘valid causal stories’?

  8. Valerie Hans says:

    Dave, I enjoyed your comments about the CELS conference. I think the best feature of the conference is the individual discussants. I didn’t think that while I was organizing the Cornell CELS in 2008, because it’s so tough to work to get just the right discussants, but when they are a good match for the paper (as they were in several panels I saw: Capital Punishment, Torts, Criminal Evidence) they can really advance the discussion to a new level.

  9. dave hoffman says:

    AJ: The use of instrumental variables to talk about causality is normal science in economics. Sometimes great stuff results!

    VH: I agree with you 100%. Some of the commentators were simply amazing (as you mentioned, Bob MacCoun’s comments in the policing panel were particularly insightful). The organizers did a great job pairing.

  10. A.J. Sutter says:

    Thanks for the reply, Dave, but it begs the question. No doubt the fans of the “informed minority” argument thought it was great stuff, too, and based on scientific principles of microeconomics. Certainly it’s a common behavior in economics to use IV-based explanations. But one can’t infer causality from statistics without either having some exogenous information, or else making some exogenous and not-necessarily-justified assumptions about the causal structure (e.g., the “causal Markov condition”). OTOH correlations may be enough for making useful predictions, and if people are trying to make predictive models, they don’t need to rely on causal explanation, however tempting it may be to do so.