Today Glenn Reynolds tackles the subject of drug dealing:
I don't know Levitt's answer here, but one explanation (besides the obvious "they're idiots") for why people become drug dealers when the economic returns are poor is that being a drug dealer offers -- and, especially during the crack boom, offered -- nonmonetary returns, by having much more status than working minimum wage. (Read Richard Price's excellent book, Clockers for some very good illustrations of that phenomenon).
My historian-brother often says that one of the most interesting phenomena that he's observed is the cross-cultural willingness of people to trade away economic benefits for status. I suspect that this is one example of that. So, in a surprisingly similar way, is being a politician. That's an obviously poor economic move for most folks. But one of the drug dealers in Price's book talks about how he likes the way he becomes the center of attention when he enters a room full of junkies . . .
Surely he jests. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the work of Jay-Z, 50 Cent, The Game et al knows, drug dealing is but a momentary way station on the path to an extremely lucrative career as a rapper. Right?