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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Do Beautiful People Win More Elections? Do Criminals Prey on New Orleans?

I received an interesting email the other day from some economists in Finland.  Since my landlord this year is a Finn, I figured I could use some good Karma, so here's their request for help.

They note that several studies document that beauty plays a role in the labor market: beautiful people earn more than others. Three economists are conducting a study to see whether there is a beauty premium in politics as well, such that beautiful candidates have greater electoral success. You are hereby invited to participate in the study, run by Associate Professor Niclas Berggren (The Ratio Institute), Dr. Henrik Jordahl (Uppsala University) and Professor Panu Poutvaara (University of Helsinki).  The link is at http://www.beautystudy.se.  In order to carry out our study, the economists rely on respondents to a web survey where people assess photos of politicians.

Another empirical project may be of more immediate interest.  When I was in beautiful Vancouver for the AALS conference last week,  I met Tulane Law's new prawf Tania Tetlow.  So now I have New Orleans on my mind. (Sorry Georgia.) Tania and Brandon Garrett (UVA, law) recently posted on SSRN a draft of their forthcoming Duke L. Rev. paper on the utter demise of the post-Katrina NOLA criminal justice system.   Tania mentioned in passing that the first criminal jury trial  in New Orleans just  took place recently, effectively signaling that  the criminal justice system has been in receivership for the last  nine months or so. 

Eight thousand people, mostly indigent and charged with misdemeanors such as public drunkenness or failure to pay traffic tickets, languished indefinitely in state prisons. For months the court system shut its doors, the police department fell into disarray, few prosecutors remained, and a handful of public defenders could not meet with, much less represent, the thousands detained.

Here's my thought to the smart folks over at the Empirical Legal Studies Blog.  There are now reports that New Orleans is experiencing a crime wave of such proportions that Mayor Nagin has called for "National Guard troops to help patrol the streets."  I would guess that the absence of a functioning criminal justice system might encourage more crime.  On the other hand, the fact that even people who have been arrested on the basis of very minor crimes have had to languish in jail for a long time as the system halted suggests that signals of severity are being muted.  In any event, NOLA might be good fodder for an empirical project.  (One thing that struck me from the NYT is that although post-Katrina NOLA is roughly 50% bigger than Tallahassee's population now,  its homicide rate is almost 10 times T-town's.)

Posted by Administrators on June 21, 2006 at 10:46 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Regarding good lookin' politicians Mark Graber posted something in the same area recently, at Balkinization.

(It seems to me that if looks have anything to do with it, Jack Murtha is about to enter an enforced early retirement, and y'all can get used to the sound of "President Herseth").

Posted by: Simon | Jun 21, 2006 12:42:25 PM

Dan notes some interesting potential opportunities for criminal justice research (empirical and other) flowing from the truly unique (and, as noted above, sad) state of affairs in New Orleans. The very structure of the specific research question, however, reveals potentially important research limitations. To take one small example, what makes the NO situation interesting (and tragic) are its extraordinary circumstances and challenges, such as the (hopefully temporary) collapse of its criminal justice system. Any empirical test the influence of the "absence of a functioning criminal justice system" requires, by definition, data (ideally, quality data). A critical player in the development of criminal justice data, however, is the criminal justice system itself. And therein lies one dilemma. Insofar as NO, evidently, currently struggles with such basic tasks as forming juries, it is hard to imagine that such a system is attending to data gatering activities with the focus necessary to ensure quality control.

Posted by: Michael Heise | Jun 21, 2006 12:09:59 PM

I just thought I would mention this. Recently I heard a Judge or someone on the radio here in New Orleans saying just how badly they needed jurors. They send out notices but our mail system is still all wacked and people have scattered to the winds. They are asking for volunteer's for jury duty.

If that is not a sad state of affairs I don't know what is.

Posted by: Jaime in Metairie | Jun 21, 2006 11:18:41 AM

Dan, do you (or anyone else) know how those internet studies work, statistically? I'm always incredibily skeptical of the methodology ... it seems like there is no easier way to get a totally worthless sample than to get a self-selected group on the internet-for-pete's-sake.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 21, 2006 10:59:20 AM

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