IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/eee/pubeco/v92y2008i7p1564-1584.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

Crime and punishment in the "American Dream"

Author

Listed:
  • Di Tella, Rafael
  • Dubra, Juan

Abstract

We observe that countries where belief in the "American dream"(i.e., effort pays) prevails also set harsher punishment for criminals. We know that beliefs are also correlated with several features of the economic system (taxation, social insurance, etc). Our objective is to study the joint determination of these three features (beliefs, punitiveness and economic system) in a way that replicates the observed empirical patterns. We present a model where beliefs determine the types of contracts that firms offer and whether workers exert effort. Some workers become criminals, depending on their luck in the labor market, the expected punishment, and an individual shock that we call "meanness". It is this meanness level that a penal system based on "retribution" tries to detect when deciding the severity of the punishment. We find that when initial beliefs differ, two equilibria can emerge out of identical fundamentals. In the "American" (as opposed to the "French") equilibrium, belief in the "American dream" is commonplace, workers exert effort, there are high powered contracts (and income is unequally distributed) and punishments are harsh. Economists who believe that deterrence (rather than retribution) shapes punishment can interpret the meanness parameter as pessimism about future economic opportunities and verify that two similar equilibria emerge.

Suggested Citation

  • Di Tella, Rafael & Dubra, Juan, 2008. "Crime and punishment in the "American Dream"," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(7), pages 1564-1584, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:7:p:1564-1584
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047-2727(07)00195-8
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Alesina, Alberto & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2005. "Preferences for redistribution in the land of opportunities," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 897-931, June.
    2. Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 163-190, Winter.
    3. Gilles Saint-Paul, 2001. "The Dynamics of Exclusion and Fiscal Conservatism," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 4(2), pages 275-302, April.
    4. Richard B. Freeman, 1996. "Why Do So Many Young American Men Commit Crimes and What Might We Do about It?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 25-42, Winter.
    5. Roland Benabou & Efe A. Ok, 2001. "Social Mobility and the Demand for Redistribution: The Poum Hypothesis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 447-487.
    6. Alberto F. Alesina & Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2006. "Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2005, Volume 20, pages 1-100 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. John Hassler & José V. Rodríguez Mora & Kjetil Storesletten & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2003. "The Survival of the Welfare State," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 87-112, March.
    8. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 699-746.
    9. Thomas Piketty, 1995. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 551-584.
    10. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Shavell, Steven, 1987. "The Optimal Use of Nonmonetary Sanctions as a Deterrent," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 584-592, September.
    12. Federico Echenique, 2002. "Comparative Statics by Adaptive Dynamics and the Correspondence Principle," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(2), pages 833-844, March.
    13. Thierry Verdier & Yves Zenou, 2004. "Racial Beliefs, Location, And The Causes Of Crime," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(3), pages 731-760, August.
    14. David K. Levine, 1998. "Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiment," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 593-622, July.
    15. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1975. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 65(3), pages 397-417, June.
    16. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1894, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    17. Alberto Alesina & George-Marios Angeletos, 2005. "Fairness and Redistribution," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 960-980, September.
    18. W. Guth & R. Schmittberger & B. Schwartz, 2010. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Levine's Working Paper Archive 291, David K. Levine.
    19. Julio J. Rotemberg, 2002. "Perceptions of Equity and the Distribution of Income," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(2), pages 249-288, Part.
    20. Milgrom, Paul & Shannon, Chris, 1994. "Monotone Comparative Statics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(1), pages 157-180, January.
    21. Mookherjee, Dilip & Png, I P L, 1992. "Monitoring vis-a-vis Investigation in Enforcement of Law," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 556-565, June.
    22. Harris, John R, 1970. "On the Economics of Law and Order," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 165-174, Jan.-Feb..
    23. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2009. "Why Doesn't Capitalism Flow to Poor Countries?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 40(1 (Spring), pages 285-332.
    24. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Why Doesn't The US Have a European-Style Welfare State?," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1933, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    25. Denzau, Arthur T & North, Douglass C, 1994. "Shared Mental Models: Ideologies and Institutions," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(1), pages 3-31.
    26. Roland Benabou, 2000. "Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 96-129, March.
    27. Di Tella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert, 2006. "Europe vs America: Institutional hysteresis in a simple normative model," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(12), pages 2161-2186, December.
    28. George Baker & Michael Gibbs & Bengt Holmstrom, 1994. "The Internal Economics of the Firm: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(4), pages 881-919.
    29. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1994. "Comparing Equilibria," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 441-459, June.
    30. Fong, Christina, 2001. "Social preferences, self-interest, and the demand for redistribution," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(2), pages 225-246, November.
    31. Rotemberg, Julio J., 2008. "Minimally acceptable altruism and the ultimatum game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 66(3-4), pages 457-476, June.
    32. Casey B. Mulligan & Andrei Shleifer, 2005. "The Extent of the Market and the Supply of Regulation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(4), pages 1445-1473.
    33. Juan Dubra, 2004. "Optimism and Overconfidence in Search," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 7(1), pages 198-218, January.
    34. Alesina, Alberto & Angeletos, George-Marios, 2005. "Corruption, inequality, and fairness," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(7), pages 1227-1244, October.
    35. Forsythe Robert & Horowitz Joel L. & Savin N. E. & Sefton Martin, 1994. "Fairness in Simple Bargaining Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 347-369, May.
    36. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
    37. Ruggie, John Gerard, 1998. "What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(04), pages 855-885, September.
    38. Searle, John R., 2005. "What is an institution?," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(01), pages 1-22, June.
    39. Jean-Pierre Benoit & Juan Dubra, 2004. "Why Do Good Cops Defend Bad Cops?," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(3), pages 787-809, August.
    40. Kahneman, Daniel & Schkade, David & Sunstein, Cass R, 1998. "Shared Outrage and Erratic Awards: The Psychology of Punitive Damages," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 49-86, April.
    41. Eaton, B Curtis & White, William D, 1991. "The Distribution of Wealth and the Efficiency of Institutions," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 29(2), pages 336-350, April.
    42. Alberto Alesina & Edward Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2001. "Why Doesn't the US Have a European-Style Welfare System?," NBER Working Papers 8524, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    43. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2002. "Self-Confidence and Personal Motivation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 871-915.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. La Reversión de las desgracias: El crimen en EE.UU. versus Europa
      by Sebastian Galiani y Laura Jaitman in Foco Económico on 2015-03-02 03:45:37

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. María Laura Alzúa & Catherine Rodriguez & Edgar Villa, 2010. "The Quality of Life in Prisons: Do Educational Programs Reduce In-Prison Conflicts?," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 239-264 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Ulrich Krotz, 2008. "The (Beginning of the) End of the Political Unity of the West? Four Scenarios of North Atlantic Futures," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 31, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
    3. Rafael Di Tella & Ernesto Schargrodsky, 2013. "Criminal Recidivism after Prison and Electronic Monitoring," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(1), pages 28-73.
    4. Rafael Tella & Juan Dubra, 2014. "Anger and Regulation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 116(3), pages 734-765, July.
    5. repec:bla:econom:v:84:y:2017:i:335:p:365-392 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Rafael Di Tella & Juan Dubra, 2011. "Free to Punish? The American Dream and the Harsh Treatment of Criminals," NBER Working Papers 17309, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Rafael Di Tella & Ernesto Schargrodsky, 2009. "Happiness, Ideology and Crime in Argentine Cities," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 1662, Inter-American Development Bank.
    8. Rafael Di Tella & Juan Dubra & Robert MacCulloch, 2008. "A Resource Belief-Curse? Oil and Individualism," NBER Working Papers 14556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2011. "Prison Conditions and Recidivism," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 103-130.
    10. Rafael Di Tella, 2010. "Comment on "Does Arrest Deter Violence? Comparing Experimental and Nonexperimental Evidence on Mandatory Arrest Laws"," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America, pages 453-456 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Gustavo Adolfo Caballero Orozco, 2016. "Luck and Effort: Learning about Income from Friends and Neighbors," 2016 Papers pca706, Job Market Papers.
    12. Juan Dubra & Rafael Di Tella, 2011. "Free to Punish? The American Dream and the harsh Treatment of Criminals," Documentos de Trabajo/Working Papers 1105, Facultad de Ciencias Empresariales y Economia. Universidad de Montevideo..

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:7:p:1564-1584. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578 .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.