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Crime, Expectations and The Deterrence Hypothesis

Empirical tests of the deterrence hypothesis - the idea that crime can be deterred through changes in the costs or benefits derived from committing crime - typically focus on estimation of the relationship between current crime rates and contemporaneous measures of economic conditions, demographics, and enforcement levels. We argue this approach is misguided because both past behavior and future conditions should impact decisions to commit a crime in the present. Accordingly, we develop an econometric model of aggregate crime rates that includes past behavior and expectations of future conditions. Model estimates suggest that expectations of future conditions are important in determining current crime rates. One implication of this finding is that the long run elasticity of crime rates with respect to policy variables may be orders of magnitude larger than short run elasticities, and depend upon whether the change is permanent or transitory. A second implication of this finding is that credibility and the ability of policy makers to commit are important in thinking about policies designed to deter crime.

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Paper provided by Hunter College Department of Economics in its series Economics Working Paper Archive at Hunter College with number 425.

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Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:htr:hcecon:425
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  14. Cameron, Samuel, 1994. "A review of the econometric evidence on the effects of capital punishment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 197-214.
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  21. Steven D. Levitt, 1995. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," NBER Working Papers 5268, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  26. Marvell, Thomas B & Moody, Carlisle E, 2001. "The Lethal Effects of Three-Strikes Laws," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 89-106, January.
  27. Lott, John R, Jr & Mustard, David B, 1997. "Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(1), pages 1-68, January.
  28. Ted Joyce, 2004. "Did Legalized Abortion Lower Crime?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
  29. Lott, John R, Jr, 1992. "Do We Punish High Income Criminals Too Heavily?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(4), pages 583-608, October.
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