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David Skarbek

Senior Lecturer in Political Economy 


Contact Details:

Department of Political Economy
Room S2.08
Strand Building
Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7848 1616

Office Hours:

Tuesday: 12:00 - 13:00
Friday: 15:00 - 16:00


Dr David Skarbek is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy. His research interest is to understand how people define and enforce property rights in the absence of strong, effective governments. His work has examined incarceration, gangs, and crime in the United States.

David received a BS in Economics from San Jose State University and a MA and PhD in Economics from George Mason University. He previously taught in the political science department at Duke University.


  • 'Research Methods for Politics'
  • 'Economics of Crime'
  • 'Political Economy of Organized Crime'


David's new book is The Social Order of the Underworld: How Prison Gangs Govern the American Penal System (Oxford University Press). It examines how inmates create self-governance institutions to promote economic and social interactions behind bars.


"Covenants without the Sword? Comparing Prison Self-Governance Globally" American Political Science Review, forthcoming

"Criminal Rituals" (with P. Wang) Global Crime, 16(4) 2015: 288-305.

Prison Gangs and the Community Responsibility System (with M. Garrett Roth) Review of Behavioral Economics 1(3) 2014: 223-243. 

The Effect of Prison Gang Membership on Recidivism (with B. Dooley and A. Seals) Journal of Criminal Justice 42(3) 2014: 267-275. 

Why Didn't Slaves Revolt More Often During the Middle Passage? (with A. Marcum) Rationality & Society 26(2) 2014: 232-262.

The Governance Institutions of a Drug Trafficking Organization (with J. Kostelnik) Public Choice 156(1-2) 2013: 95-103

Sweatshops, Opportunity Costs, and Non-Monetary Compensation: Evidence from El Salvador (with E. Skarbek, B. Skarbek, and E. Skarbek) American Journal of Economics & Sociology 71(3) 2012: 539-561

The Industrial Organization of Street Gangs (with R. Sobel) Journal of Gang Research 20(1) 2012: 1-17

Anarchy, Groups, and Conflict: An Experiment on the Emergence of Protective Associations (with A. Smith and B. Wilson). Social Choice & Welfare  38(2) 2012: 325-353. 

Prison Gangs, Norms, and Organizations. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization  82(1) 2012: 96-109. 

Governance and Prison Gangs. American Political Science Review 105(4) 2011: 702-716.

What Aid Can't Do: Reply to Ranis (with P. Leeson). The Cato Journal 31(1) 2011: 83-86.

Putting the "Con" into Constitutions: The Economics of Prison Gangs. The Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 26(2) 2010: 183-211.

Criminal Constitutions (with P. Leeson). Global Crime 11(3) 2010: 279-298.

Self-Governance in San Pedro Prison. The Independent Review 14(4) 2010: 569-585.

Alertness, Local Knowledge, and Johnny Appleseed. Review of Austrian Economics 22(4) 2009: 415-424.

What Can Aid Do? (with P. Leeson). The Cato Journal 29(3) 2009: 391-397.

F.A. Hayek's Influence on Nobel Prize Winners. Review of Austrian Economics 22(1) 2009: 109-112.

Market Failure and Natural Disasters: A Reexamination of Anti-Gouging Laws. Public Contract Law Journal 37(4) 2008: 771-780.

Occupational Licensing and Asymmetric Information: Post-Hurricane Evidence from Florida. The Cato Journal 28(1) 2008: 71-80.

Sweatshops Wages and Third World Living Standards: Are the Jobs Worth the Sweat? (with B. Powell). Journal of Labor Research 27(2) 2006: 263-274.

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