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Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses

  • Isaac Ehrlich

Crime is a subject of intense emotions, conflicting ideologies. However, economists have generally explained it as a reflection of individual choice and equilibrating market forces. Two major themes of the literature are outlined: the evolution of a 'market model' to explain the diversity of crime across time and space, and the debate about the usefulness of 'positive' versus 'negative' incentives. Systematic analyses generally indicate that crime is affected on the margin by both positive and negative incentives; there are serious limitations to the effectiveness of incapacitation and rehabilitation; and optimal enforcement strategies involve trade-offs between narrow efficiency and equity considerations.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 10 (1996)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 43-67

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:10:y:1996:i:1:p:43-67
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.10.1.43
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  1. Gary S. Becker & William M. Landes, 1974. "Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck74-1, December.
  2. Balkin, Steven & McDonald, John F., 1981. "The market for street crime: An economic analysis of victim-offender interaction," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 390-405, November.
  3. Thaler, Richard, 1977. "An econometric analysis of property crime : Interaction between police and criminals," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 37-51, August.
  4. Sah, R.K., 1990. "Social Osmosis And Patterns Of Crime: A Dynamic Economic Analysis," Papers 609, Yale - Economic Growth Center.
  5. McAleer, Michael & Pagan, Adrian, 1985. "What Will Take the Con Out of Econometrics?," CEPR Discussion Papers 39, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Viscusi, W Kip, 1986. "The Risks and Rewards of Criminal Activity: A Comprehensive Test of Criminal Deterrence," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 317-40, July.
  7. Block, Michael Kent & Nold, Frederick Carl, 1981. "The Deterrent Effect of Antitrust Enforcement," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(3), pages 429-45, June.
  8. Polinsky, Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1979. "The Optimal Tradeoff between the Probability and Magnitude of Fines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(5), pages 880-91, December.
  9. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1982. "The optimum enforcement of laws and the concept of justice: A positive analysis," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 3-27, June.
  10. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  11. Stephen K. Layson, 1983. "Homicide and Deterrence: Another View of the Canadian Time-Series Evidence," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 16(1), pages 52-73, February.
  12. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-90, June.
  13. Isaac Ehrlich, 1975. "On the Relation between Education and Crime," NBER Chapters, in: Education, Income, and Human Behavior, pages 313-338 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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