Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Employees in a Mad Max World: Kidnapping

When we think of what you might lose with the loss of our civil society, most people prepare by stocking up on supplies, possibly finding an alternate power source, and plan for the sufficient application of bullets to deal the loss of social cohesion.  They are all very useful items to be looked at.  The only problem is that there are people who live today who live in a form of chaos, arguably very close to a collapsed society, and yet those are not their primary concerns.

Even in  a society were 98% of reported crime goes unpunished, they can still get food.  In fact they often still have jobs.  They are worried about people attacking them, but not in some sort of high-cost frontal assault.  What they worry the most about is kidnapping.  And we will get to the difficulties associated with kidnapping in a moment.
I have an obvious predilection for trying to model the possibilities of the future based on what has been known to happen in the past.    In some cases, the difficulty is in finding sources that are specific enough and detailed enough and have enough numbers behind them to make them statistically relevant rather than interesting anecdotes.
But every now and then, you really get surprised.
I came across an interesting study that discusses the dynamics of the kidnapping plague in Mexico not from the breathless frenzy of the media, but within the context of a sociological study.   Who would have figured?
So we Have Rolando Ochoa’s A Looking at Kidnapping, Trust, and Employer: Employee Relationships in Mexico City Households.”  Since I am heavily paraphrasing I won't put in the quote block, but the subject information is primarily from there.
The study first notes that the criminal justice system within Mexico is essentially non-functioning.    In Mexico City in 2007 there were 25,700 reported crimes for every 100,000 inhabitants.  That is mayhem.  In the first three months of 2009 there were 5,207 gang related killings.  Only 3% of the reported crimes ever make it to court, leading to an impunity of close to 98%. Even with all the drug related killings, kkidnapping is the crime most feared by the general populace.  Statistically it effects less than 1%, but it is likely highly under reported.  I also is a crime where the extended threat to a family member, puts an extreme amount of stress on the most people.  That there are going to be suspicions of betrayal, as we shall see, do not help with the stress.
Kidnapping is organized mostly by people in close contact with the victim (employees and family). This coupled with high impunity and high crime rates make the decision to hire someone a very delicate one.  What is unusual is that even though the wealthy are obviously more lucrative targets, they suffer from kidnapping less then the poor and middle class; even when adjusting for their smaller proportion of the population.
Why do they suffer less?  They have the most money.   They should be the favorite target.  They suffer less because they have the education and resources to be more selective and careful of whom they associate with.  They also live within a culture of intra-family dependence that makes for a very tough defense against all but the most professional of criminals.
The most important issue is the matter of trust. If every relationship requires some sort of self- or third party- enforcement, than it becomes too expensive to maintain all but a handful of relationships.  Vulnerability is when an agent is free to defect or betray with a low probability of penalty.
An employer would need to know what properties to look for: a clean drivers license, no criminal record, good health and freedom from addictions, as well as less tangible characteristics such as punctuality, discretion, and efficiency.
Two methods are used in the actual hiring practice:
There is an extended hiring process that may last up to a month, which includes many interviews with different people
Once hired, there is an extended trial period where the employee is given secondary assignments so that their behavior can be observed.

The following charts are from the study.  They show some signs that an employer might look for, and conversely ways that an honest dedicated employee might signal their acceptability.

However, there is still the problem, that bad-actors can do what is referred to as mimicking.  They can imitate the behavior of the honest and trustworthy until they are in a position to do harm.  How does the employer avoid this problem.
The employers look for traits that cannot be mimicked.    In a corrupt society a clean criminal record, or letter from a former employer can be forged.  But the personal verbal recommendation from a close friend, trusted family member, or long term trusted employee is hard to falsify.  Unlike the United States, personal relations in Mexico can extend for years.   Mexicans can use an extended network of social ties to hunt for prospective employees.   These social ties extend to their household employees.  Household employees often work for the same family for decades.  The employees parents may have worked for the parents or relations of the employer. These are very valuable economic relationships for both the employer and the employee.  The employee is likely to guard their family and their own reputation very closely.  Trouble to the employing family will not only reflect poorly on them, but will damage the reputation of an entire family.  They are not very likely to recommend the black sheep of the family.
And the numbers bear this out.  Once the sophisticated kidnapping gangs of the 1990s were captured and put in jail, less sophisticated criminals remained.  They generally have not been able to penetrate the closed social groups of the wealthy: which extend to include the people who work for the wealthy.
None of this should really be all that surprising.  It is reflected in Anglo-Saxon society prior to the introduction of modern law enforcement, and the record keeping of the modern bureaucracy.  It is not simply chivalric romance that made Southern U.S. culture one that was so sensitive to its honor.  And Victorian tales of the poor young serving girl (wrongfully in the story of course) turned out by the evil mistress of the house and facing destitution, are based on the very real experiences of that time.
Oddly enough, although criminals are often more limited in their ability to be selective, the more organized groups will often try very similar vetting procedures.   Of course in their mirror-image world, verification that someone went prison and did their time would be seen in a positive light.  It is not only for the skills learned that prisons are viewed as a training ground for criminals: it is also the possibilities for networking.  Oddly enough, as the study eludes to, the breaking up of these criminal cultures (by taking out the head-men) often causes these cultures to fall apart and leads to a completely chaos.

I don't have some magical suggestion as to how to create this extended community of trust that most earlier societies tried very hard to promote.  There are neighborhoods that come together and act as a community.  But as they are under no current external threat, it often does not take much to break up these groups and have them spinning off in their various lives directions.  I suspect simply an awareness of what we (generally) don't have that others do or did would be a helpful starting point.


Freyja said...

Interesting post. I liked the table of desirable attributes, and look for some of the same things as a vetting process in community. (and did when I was an employer)
I would add honesty, consistency and good listening skills to that list.
I think communities of neighbors are much more likely to come together and act as a community in times of external threat. Post Katrina definitely saw "militias" of neighbors patrolling the neighborhood and protecting each others' property.
Many solid friendships were forged during that time.
When people know they depend on each other for their safety and survival, many petty differences are quickly forgiven.

Maybe we need a good threat to kick people's butts into gear.
My new personal project is to organize a meeting of our neighbors in this valley to discuss "sustainability" aka security (of all sorts).....
It's on the 'to do' list.

russell1200 said...

“Maybe we need a good threat to kick people's butts into gear”

LOL, I realize that your comment was somewhat rhetorical, but be careful what you ask for: sometimes people rally, and sometimes they are overwhelmed. France rallied to the cause in World War 1 and were (easily) the major allied contributor to victory, and then blew apart In World War 2.

I have a friend on the MS coast. There was no neighborhood after Katrina, and as far as I know there still is no neighborhood where he lived. His good “fortune” was to a have a small inland rental property that was empty at the time. People distinguish between those who ran and stayed gone until it settled down, and those who did their best to get things back together. He was giving out information on SBA loans, and trying to direct people how to recover within a week. None of this was paid work.

Meeting your neighbors is a very proactive approach. Dealing with people takes a lot of time and energy. But the multiplier on group endeavors is absolutely huge. I have posted ,and been ignored, on other boards numerous times that your most valuable assets are your (true) friends. And if you are a good person who has dealt fairly with others, you will often find that you have friends that you did not even know you had. Orlov has often made this point. In a choice between an extra 1000 rounds, or extra friends, I would take the friends every time.