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Free to Punish? The American Dream and the harsh Treatment of Criminals


  • Juan Dubra


  • Rafael Di Tella


We describe the evolution of selective aspects of punishment in the US over the period 1980-2004. We note that imprisonment increased around 1980, a period that coincides with the “Reagan revolution” in economic matters. We build an economic model where beliefs about economic opportunities and beliefs about punishment are correlated. We present three pieces of evidence (across countries, within the US and an experimental exercise) that are consistent with the model.

Suggested Citation

  • 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..
  • Handle: RePEc:mnt:wpaper:1105

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    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:81:y:1987:i:04:p:1289-1319_20 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Thomas Piketty, 1995. "Social Mobility and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 551-584.
    3. Benoît, Jean-Pierre & Dubra, Juan, 2007. "Overconfidence?," MPRA Paper 6017, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Nov 2007.
    4. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Fernando Borraz & Cecilia Chouhy & Irene Mussio & Máximo Rossi, 2013. "Vigilante Justice and Police Protocols in the Latin American South Cone," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 0913, Department of Economics - dECON.

    More about this item


    Beliefs; Multiple equilibria; Illegal behavior; Sentences;

    JEL classification:

    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism
    • 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


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