The economics of crack hustling

I just found this fascinating TED lecture by economist Steven Levitt on the social structure and economics of ghetto crack dealing. What’s surprising is that hustling rocks is a below-minimum-wage occupation with a 7% per annum employee death rate – despite the hype, a very shitty job.

Levitt is famous for being one of the co-authors of the book Freakanomics but is mostly known in the academic world for his research on the economics of crime and the underworld.

His lecture recounts some of the findings of a 10-year research project into the economics of a crack-dealing gang from an inner city US housing project.

Unsurprisingly, being a hustler is incredibly dangerous, but perhaps more of an eye-opener is that the business is run very much like a franchise and that most street dealers had second jobs, moonlighting in the mainstream economy, because dealing crack pays below the minimum wage.

The career prospects are slightly better higher up the ladder, but are still surprisingly modest in the grand scheme of things.

In other crack news, The New York Times recently published an article discussing research on ‘crack babies’, now many children whose mothers were addicted to crack while they were pregnant have grown up to be adolescents.

During the 1990s, a huge fear was that the children of ‘crack moms’ would be neurologically impaired, as when born they tend to be smaller in body and head size.

Although there are detectable differences in the teenage years, these aren’t as bad as expected, and it seems that being a ‘crack baby’ isn’t a life sentence as it was once thought.

Link to Steven Levitt on sociology and economics of crack dealing.
Link to NYT on ‘The Epidemic That Wasn’t’.

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