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Model Uncertainty and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment

  • Ethan Cohen-Cole
  • Steven Durlauf
  • Jeffrey Fagan
  • Daniel Nagin

The reintroduction of capital punishment in 1976 that ended the four-year moratorium on executions generated by the Supreme Court in the 1972 decision Furman v. Georgia has permitted researchers to employ state-level heterogeneity in the use of capital punishment to study deterrent effects. However, no scholarly consensus exists as to their magnitude. A key reason that this has occurred is that the use of alternative models across studies produces differing estimates of the deterrent effect. Because differences across models are not well motivated by theory, the deterrence literature is plagued by model uncertainty. We argue that the analysis of deterrent effects should explicitly recognize the presence of model uncertainty in drawing inferences. We describe methods for addressing model uncertainty and apply them to understand the disparate findings between two major studies in the deterrence literature, finding that evidence of deterrent effects appears, while not nonexistent, weak. Copyright 2008, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal American Law and Economics Review.

Volume (Year): 11 (2008)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 335-369

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Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:11:y:2008:i:2:p:335-369
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  1. Passell, Peter & Taylor, John B, 1977. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Another View," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 445-51, June.
  2. Mocan, H Naci & Gittings, R Kaj, 2003. "Getting Off Death Row: Commuted Sentences and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(2), pages 453-78, October.
  3. Leamer, Edward E, 1983. "Let's Take the Con Out of Econometrics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 31-43, March.
  4. Carmen Fernandez & Eduardo Ley & Mark Steel, 1999. "Model uncertainty in cross-country growth regressions," Econometrics 9903003, EconWPA, revised 06 Oct 2001.
  5. 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.
  6. Ehrlich, Isaac & Liu, Zhiqiang, 1999. "Sensitivity Analyses of the Deterrence Hypothesis: Let's Keep the Econ in Econometrics," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 455-87, April.
  7. Steven N. Durlauf, 2006. "Assessing Racial Profiling," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(515), pages F402-F426, November.
  8. Rubin Paul H., 2006. "Reply to Donohue and Wolfers on the Death Penalty and Deterrence," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 3(5), pages 1-3, April.
  9. repec:rus:hseeco:70719 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Donohue, John J & Wolfers, Justin, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," CEPR Discussion Papers 5493, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Bruce E. Hansen, 2007. "Least Squares Model Averaging," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 75(4), pages 1175-1189, 07.
  12. Hjort N.L. & Claeskens G., 2003. "Frequentist Model Average Estimators," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 98, pages 879-899, January.
  13. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Joanna M. Shepherd, 2006. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment"," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 44(3), pages 512-535, July.
  14. Xavier Sala-I-Martin & Gernot Doppelhofer & Ronald I. Miller, 2004. "Determinants of Long-Term Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates (BACE) Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 813-835, September.
  15. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul H. Rubin & Joanna M. Shepherd, 2001. "Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Post-moratorium Panel Data," Emory Economics 0101, Department of Economics, Emory University (Atlanta).
  16. Lawrence Katz & Steven D. Levitt & Ellen Shustorovich, 2003. "Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 318-343, August.
  17. Donohue John & Wolfers Justin J, 2006. "The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence," The Economists' Voice, De Gruyter, vol. 3(5), pages 1-6, April.
  18. McManus, Walter S, 1985. "Estimates of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: The Importance of the Researcher's Prior Beliefs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(2), pages 417-25, April.
  19. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1977. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Some Further Thoughts and Additional Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(4), pages 741-88, August.
  20. Randi Hjalmarsson, 2008. "Does Capital Punishment have a "Local" Deterrent Effect on Homicides?," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(2), pages 310-334.
  21. McAleer, Michael & Veall, Michael R, 1989. "How Fragile Are Fragile Inferences? A Re-evaluation of the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 71(1), pages 99-106, February.
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