segunda-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2009

Sobre os crimes de colarinho branco

No livro Freakonomics existem vários episódios interessantes.
Relato um deles de seguida:

«The bagels had begun as a casual gesture: a boss treating his employees whenever they won a new research contract. Then he made it a habit. Every Friday, he would bring half a dozen bagels, a serrated knife, some cream cheese. When employees from neighboring floors heard about the bagels, they wanted some, too. Eventually he was bringing in 15 dozen bagels a week. He set out a cash basket to recoup his costs. His collection rate was about 95 percent; he attributed the underpayment to oversight.

[...]

He had also -- quite without meaning to -- designed a beautiful economic experiment. By measuring the money collected against the bagels taken, he could tell, down to the penny, just how honest his customers were. Did they steal from him? If so, what were the characteristics of a company that stole versus a company that did not? Under what circumstances did people tend to steal more, or less?

As it happens, his accidental study provides a window onto a subject that has long stymied academics: white-collar crime. (Yes, shorting the bagel man is white-collar crime, writ however small.) Despite all the attention paid to companies like Enron, academics know very little about the practicalities of white-collar crime. The reason? There aren't enough data.

A key fact of white-collar crime is that we hear about only the very slim fraction of people who are caught. Most embezzlers lead quiet and theoretically happy lives; employees who steal company property are rarely detected. With street crime, meanwhile, that is not the case. A mugging or a burglary or a murder is usually counted whether or not the criminal is caught. A street crime has a victim, who typically reports the crime to the police, which generates data, which in turn generate thousands of academic papers by criminologists, sociologists and economists. But white-collar crime presents no obvious victim. Whom, exactly, did the masters of Enron steal from? And how can you measure something if you don't know to whom it happened, or with what frequency, or in what magnitude?

[...]

He is 72, and his business is still thriving. (Thus his request to mask his full name and his customers' identities: he is wary of potential competitors poaching his clients.) His daughter, son-in-law and one other employee now make most of the deliveries. Today is a Friday, which is the only day Paul F. still drives. Semiretirement has left him more time to indulge his economist self and tally his data. He now knows, for instance, that in the past eight years he has delivered 1,375,103 bagels, of which 1,255,483 were eaten. (He has also delivered 648,341 doughnuts, of which 608,438 were eaten.)


[...]

In the real world, Paul F. learned to settle for less than 95 percent. Now he considers companies ''honest'' if the payment is 90 percent or more. ''Averages between 80 percent and 90 percent are annoying but tolerable,'' he says. ''Below 80 percent, we really have to grit our teeth to continue.''

[...]

He has identified two great overriding predictors of a company's honesty: morale and size. Paul F. has noted a strong correlation between high payment rates and an office where people seem to like their boss and their work. (This is one of his intuitive conclusions.) He also gleans a higher payment rate from smaller offices. (This one is firmly supported by the data.) An office with a few dozen employees generally outpays by 3 percent to 5 percent an office with a few hundred employees. This may seem counterintuitive: in a bigger office, a bigger crowd is bound to convene around the bagel table -- providing more witnesses to make sure you drop your money in the box. (Paul F. currently charges $1 for a bagel and 50 cents for a doughnut.) But in the big-office/small-office comparison, bagel crime seems to mirror street crime. There is far less crime per capita in rural areas than in cities, in large part because a rural criminal is more likely to be known (and therefore caught). Also, a rural community tends to exert greater social incentives against crime, the main one being shame.

[...]

Executives, Feldman discovered, also tended to be more dishonest about paying than lower-ranked employees. Delivering bagels to three different floors that comprised the executive, administrative and sales departments, Feldman found that the executive floor had a lower payment rate than the other floors. This could be due either to executives having an over-developed sense of entitlement to things (including bagels) or maybe because cheating was how they got to be executives in the first place.»