The freakonomics of McDonalds vs. drugs | Steven Levitt | Summary and Q&A

2.2M views
January 16, 2007
by
TED
YouTube video player
The freakonomics of McDonalds vs. drugs | Steven Levitt

TL;DR

Selling drugs for a gang is a dangerous and low-paying job, with high rates of violence and death, contradicting the glamorized portrayal in the media.

Install to Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Transcripts

Questions & Answers

Q: What impact did crack cocaine have on inner-city gangs?

Crack cocaine had a profound impact on inner-city gangs, providing a new and highly addictive drug that created a lucrative market. However, it also led to increased violence and danger within these gangs, affecting the lives and well-being of its members.

Q: How did crack cocaine change the dynamics within gangs?

Crack cocaine introduced a new source of income for gangs, allowing them to make significant profits. This led to a change in hierarchy and power within the gang, with those at the top controlling the drug trade and accumulating wealth, while foot soldiers at the bottom worked for low wages and faced high risks.

Q: What were the wages and conditions like for foot soldiers in the gang?

Foot soldiers in the gang earned wages as low as $3.50 per hour, well below the minimum wage. They faced constant danger, with a death rate of 7% per person per year. Moonlighting at fast-food restaurants like McDonald's was common, highlighting the lack of profitability in the drug trade.

Q: How did gang leaders manipulate young recruits into joining the gang?

Gang leaders used marketing tactics and tricks to entice young recruits into joining the gang. They would give them money to hold, creating the illusion of wealth and success. However, recruits would later become indebted to the gang and trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty.

Q: What lessons can be learned from the study of gangs and the drug trade?

The study reveals the harsh realities and dangers of gang life, debunking the myth of glamour and wealth associated with the drug trade. It highlights the need to address social and economic inequalities that push individuals into joining gangs and engaging in illegal activities.

Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the reality of being in a gang during the crack cocaine epidemic. Based on their research and access to gang financial records, they argue that being in a gang and selling drugs was actually the worst job in America. The speaker explains how crack cocaine transformed gangs, the unique story of their access to a gang's inner workings, and the insights they gained from studying the gang's financial records.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did crack cocaine impact inner-city gangs?

Crack cocaine had a profound influence on inner-city gangs. It provided a lucrative market for the gang members to sell drugs, resulting in power and wealth for the top individuals. However, it also led to intense violence and dangerous work for the foot soldiers.

Q: How did the speaker gain access to a gang's financial records?

The speaker's co-author, Sudhir Venkatesh, developed a relationship with a gang by living in a notorious housing project for 10 years. This allowed them to gain the trust of the gang members and access their financial records.

Q: How were gangs organized?

Gangs were organized in a hierarchical manner, similar to the structure of a corporation like McDonald's. The top level was referred to as the "Board of Directors," followed by regional leaders. At the lowest level were foot soldiers responsible for selling drugs and facing the greatest risks.

Q: How did the gang members market the gang lifestyle to young people?

Gang leaders used trickery and marketing techniques to lure young people into the gang. They would lease flashy cars and wear gold-plated jewelry to create the illusion of wealth. They also manipulated young recruits by temporarily giving them money and then putting them in debt to the gang.

Q: How much money did gang members make?

The wages for foot soldiers were incredibly low, at $3.50 per hour, below the minimum wage. However, the local gang leaders could make around $100,000 per year, and those at the top of the gang hierarchy could earn between $200,000 and $400,000 per year. Despite the low wages, the potential for wealth and power attracted individuals to the gang.

Q: How dangerous was it to be in a gang?

Being in a gang was extremely dangerous, with a death rate of 7% per person per year in the sample studied. This meant that over a four-year period, the likelihood of dying was around 25%. The violence, arrests, and wounds associated with being in a gang made it a highly risky occupation.

Q: Why did people still join gangs despite the risks?

People were initially fooled by the success of gang leaders in the mid-80s, believing that they would eventually age out of the gang and secure the wealth. Additionally, the gang used marketing tactics to entice young people, and there were no legitimate channels for advancement or economic opportunities in their neighborhoods.

Q: What economic principles applied to the gang's activities?

Economic principles like compensating differentials and game theory applied to the gang's activities. Compensating differentials explained why foot soldiers were paid more during times of intense violence, as they required higher wages to be willing to take on greater risk. Game theory was evident in the decision-making process of whether or not to engage in violence in rival gang territories.

Q: Did gang leaders always get paid?

Yes, gang leaders consistently ensured that they got paid, even during difficult economic times. This was due to their fear of being seen as weak by the gang members below them, who would be eager to take their position if they showed any signs of financial losses.

Q: What does the comparison between death rates in the gang and on death row reveal?

The comparison between death rates in the gang and on death row highlights the extreme danger and violence associated with being in a gang. The death rate in the gang was much higher, indicating that it was a war zone-like situation for young black males growing up in the inner city.

Takeaways

The speaker's research and analysis of a gang's financial records provide insight into the reality of being in a gang during the crack cocaine epidemic. The job of selling drugs for a gang is shown to be highly dangerous, with low wages and a high risk of violence, arrest, and death. The lure of potential wealth and power initially attracts individuals to the gang, but the reality is far from glamorous. The gang's organization and marketing techniques mirror that of a corporation like McDonald's, but the risks and lack of opportunity make it an unfavorable career choice. This research sheds light on the conditions and challenges faced by individuals in inner-city gangs and the urgent need for alternative pathways to success and economic stability.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Gang life selling drugs during the crack cocaine epidemic was not as glamorous or lucrative as portrayed in the media.

  • Crack cocaine revolutionized the drug market and created a profitable but deadly business opportunity for gangs.

  • The wages for foot soldiers were extremely low, at $3.50 per hour, and the death rate in the gang was 25% over four years.

Share This Summary 📚

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on:

Explore More Summaries from TED 📚

Summarize YouTube Videos and Get Video Transcripts with 1-Click

Download browser extensions on: