My dissertation examines the relationship between illicit markets, order, and property rights by analyzing the protective and predatory behavior of drug traffickers in the United States and Mexico. In some contexts, traffickers systematically prey on local residents, while in others they provide informal institutions of governance; the goal of the dissertation is to better understand what drives this variation. My broader research interests focus on the private provision of public governance, and its relationship to outcomes like order, property rights, and ethnic conflict. Most of my research focuses on contemporary and historical United States and Latin America, with side projects on historical Japan.  

Working Papers

Informally Governing Information: Rivalry leads to Violence against the Press in Mexico (with Viridiana Rios, revise and resubmit at Journal of Conflict Resolution)

A well-functioning press is crucial for sustaining a healthy democracy. While attacks on journalists occur regularly in many developing countries, previous work has largely ignored where and why journalists are attacked. Focusing on violence by criminal organizations in Mexico, we offer the first systematic, micro-level analysis of the conditions under which journalists are more likely to be violently targeted. Contrary to popular belief, our evidence reveals that the presence of large, profitable criminal organizations does not necessarily lead to violence against the press. Rather, the probability of journalists being killed only increases when rival criminal groups inhabit territories. Rivalry inhibits criminal organizations' ability to control information leaks to the press, instead creating incentives for such leaks to be used as weapons to intensify official enforcement operations against rivals. Without the capacity to informally govern press content, rival criminals affected by such press coverage are more likely to target journalists.

Institutionalized Vengeance Killing: Private Violence and Public Order in Tokugawa Japan (with Chika Ogawa)

In Edo Japan (1603-1867), the Tokugawa shogunate not only permitted, but explicitly incorporated the practice of vengeance killing into its institutional structure. Why did the shogunate institutionalize vengeance killing? How was it able to avoid the disorder that is usually associated with political systems featuring private retaliatory violence? In contrast to arguments that point to low state capacity or cultural values to explain the institutionalization of vengeance killing, we argue that the Tokugawa shogunate used this practice as a strategic tool to promote social and political order. By legalizing and strictly regulating it, the Tokugawa shogunate was able to use vengeance killing to reinforce its social and political institutions, while preventing this private form of retaliatory violence from escalating into collective conflict.

Gangs, Drugs, and the Political Economy of Ethnic Violence in Southern California

This paper examines the causes and consequences of ethnic violence by criminal organizations in Southern California, focusing specifically on the violent targeting of unaffiliated residents. While scholars have increasingly studied violence against non-combatants in the context of civil war, we know much less about the patterns in such violence by armed groups in relatively well-functioning states. Building off of instrumentalist theories of ethnic violence, it argues that the ethnic targeting of residents is driven by economic incentives from illicit drug markets. Incarcerated gang elites can more effectively extract informal tax revenue from illicit drug trade conducted by coethnics; they thus encourage conflict along ethnic lines in order to promote a monopoly by coethnics. Using micro-level spatial data on ethnic targeting and criminal markets in Los Angeles, an autologistic model shows that proximity to illicit drug markets is a major driver of ethnic violence against residents. However, a difference-in-differences model using matched data shows that this strategy has not been effective in driving demographic shifts to favor coethnic monopolies.

Work in Progress

Drug Traffickers, Informal Taxation and Property Rights in Michoacán, Mexico

The power of the Knights Templar cartel in the Mexican state of Michoacán is pervasive, with the group extorting income from most economic sectors. Following Olson's ``stationary bandit'' theory, in many areas of the state, the cartel sets extortionate "tax" rates at low levels that do not discourage production. In such areas, the cartel has been known to provide institutions promoting social order, and even receive backing from the local population. However, in other areas of the state, the cartel knowingly sets tax rates high, pushing producers out of the market and even engaging in outright property rights violations. In these areas, residents have oftentimes taken up arms against the cartel. This paper explains this variation in behavior by examining differences in local modes of production as well as competition for illicit drug markets. 

Gang Territory and Social Order in Chicago 

This paper examines the relationship between the industrial organization of criminal markets and social order. Sociologists in the social disorganization theory tradition argue that crime is less likely to occur in areas with characteristics that enable social control of delinquent behavior. Combining this insight with theories of nascent state building, I argue that in some cases, profit driven criminal gangs have incentives to promote social order. In areas with low levels of competition between criminal organizations, social order can make illicit drug markets more profitable by attracting customers while deflecting the attention of the authorities; gangs are thus less likely to engage in and more likely to punish predatory behavior. I test this theory using spatial data on gang territory and crime in Chicago.