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Belief in a Just World, Blaming the Victim, and Hate Crime Statutes

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  • Dharmapala Dhammika

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Garoupa Nuno

    (University of Illinois;)

  • McAdams Richard H.

    (University of Chicago)

Abstract

The earliest economic theory of discrimination proposed the subsequently neglected idea of a "vicious circle" of discrimination (Myrdal, 1944). We draw on psychological evidence (that people derive utility from believing that the world is just) to propose a behavioral economic model in which the vicious circle envisaged by Myrdal can arise. We demonstrate the power of this approach through an application to the issue of whether and how to justify penalty enhancements for hate crimes against members of disfavored groups. The crucial assumption is that individuals engage in biased inference in order to preserve their Belief in a Just World, thus attributing the disproportionate victimization of a group to that group's negative characteristics, rather than to the hate-motivated preferences of offenders. In a simple two-period setting, we show that disproportionate victimization of the disfavored group in the first period can lead to additional crime against that group in the second period. The reason is that potential offenders' inferences about the victimized group's characteristics become more negative as a consequence of disproportionate victimization, raising the net benefits of crime against that group (under the assumption that the benefits of crime depend partly on the victimized group's perceived characteristics). Our main result is that penalty enhancements can reduce the social harm due to these extra crimes.

Suggested Citation

  • Dharmapala Dhammika & Garoupa Nuno & McAdams Richard H., 2009. "Belief in a Just World, Blaming the Victim, and Hate Crime Statutes," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 311-345, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:rlecon:v:5:y:2009:i:1:n:14
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Steven Shavell & A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 45-76, March.
    2. Li Gan & Roberton C. Williams Iii & Thomas Wiseman, 2011. "A Simple Model Of Optimal Hate Crime Legislation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 49(3), pages 674-684, July.
    3. Dhammika Dharmapala & Nuno Garoupa, 2004. "Penalty Enhancement for Hate Crimes: An Economic Analysis," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 185-207.
    4. Dhammika Dharmapala & Richard H. McAdams, 2003. "The Condorcet Jury Theorem and the Expressive Function of Law: A Theory of Informative Law," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(1), pages 1-31.
    5. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carbonara, Emanuela & Pasotti, Piero, 2010. "Social dynamics and minority protection," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 317-328, December.

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