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Theft and Deterrence


  • Harbaugh, William T.

    () (University of Oregon)

  • Mocan, Naci

    () (Louisiana State University)

  • Visser, Michael S.

    () (Sonoma State University)


We report results from economic experiments of decisions that are best described as petty larceny, with high school and college students who can anonymously steal real money from each other. Our design allows exogenous variation in the rewards of crime, and the penalty and probability of detection. We find that the probability of stealing is increasing in the amount of money that can be stolen, and that it is decreasing in the probability of getting caught and in the penalty for getting caught. Furthermore, the impact of the certainty of getting caught is larger when the penalty is bigger, and the impact of the penalty is bigger when the probability of getting caught is larger.

Suggested Citation

  • Harbaugh, William T. & Mocan, Naci & Visser, Michael S., 2011. "Theft and Deterrence," IZA Discussion Papers 5813, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp5813

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Christoph Engel, 2016. "Experimental Criminal Law. A Survey of Contributions from Law, Economics and Criminology," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_07, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    2. Tim Friehe & Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch, 2014. "The Individual and Joint Performance of Economic Preferences, Personality, and Self-Control in Predicting Criminal Behavior," CESifo Working Paper Series 4622, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Neanidis, Kyriakos C. & Papadopoulou, Vea, 2013. "Crime, fertility, and economic growth: Theory and evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 101-121.
    4. Draca, Mirko & Koutmeridis, Theodore & Machin, Stephen, 2015. "The Changing Returns to Crime: Do Criminals Respond to Prices?," IZA Discussion Papers 9109, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Marco Faillo & Matteo Rizzolli & Stephan Tontrup, 2016. "Thou shalt not steal (from hard-working people)An experiment on respect for property claims," Econometica Working Papers wp58, Econometica.
    6. Tim Friehe & Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch, 2014. "Crime and Self-Control Revisited: Disentangling the Effect of Self-Control on Risk and Social Preferences," CESifo Working Paper Series 4747, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. M. Caridad Araujo & Pedro Carneiro & Yyannú Cruz-Aguayo & Norbert Schady, 2016. "Teacher Quality and Learning Outcomes in Kindergarten," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, pages 1415-1453.
    8. Markussen, Thomas & Putterman, Louis & Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2016. "Judicial error and cooperation," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 372-388.
    9. Friehe, Tim & Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah, 2017. "Self-control and crime revisited: Disentangling the effect of self-control on risk taking and antisocial behavior," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 23-32.
    10. King Yoong Lim & Pengfei Jia & Ali Raza, 2018. "Crime, Human Capital, and the Impact of Different Taxation," Working Papers 220851234, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    11. Cardak, Buly A & Neelim, Ananta & Vecci, Joseph & Wu, Kevin, 2017. "Would I lie to you? Strategic deception in the face of uncertain penalties," Working Papers in Economics 689, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    12. Matteo Rizzolli & James Tremewan, 2016. "Hard Labour in the lab: Are monetary and non-monetary sanctions really substitutable?," Vienna Economics Papers 1606, University of Vienna, Department of Economics.
    13. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.

    More about this item


    risk; arrest; juvenile; deterrence; incentives; punishment; crime; larceny;

    JEL classification:

    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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