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Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Understanding Disparate Results


  • Salvador Navarro

    (University of Western Ontario)

  • Chao Fu

    (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

  • Steven Durlauf

    (University of Wisconsin)


The panel data literature on deterrence and capital punishment contains a wide range of empirical claims despite the use of common data sets for analysis. We interpret the diversity of findings in the literature in terms of differences in statistical model assumptions. Rather than attempt to determine a "best" model from which to draw empirical evidence on deterrence and the death penalty, this paper asks what conclusions about deterrence may be drawn given the presence of model uncertainty, i.e. uncertainty about which statistical assumptions are appropriate. We consider four sources of model uncertainty that capture some of the economically substantive differences that appear across studies. We explore which dimensions of these assumptions are important in generating disparate findings on capital punishment and deterrence from a standard county-level crime data set.

Suggested Citation

  • Salvador Navarro & Chao Fu & Steven Durlauf, 2012. "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Understanding Disparate Results," 2012 Meeting Papers 53, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed012:53

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Theo S. Eicher & Alex Lenkoski & Adrian Raftery, 2009. "Bayesian Model Averaging and Endogeneity Under Model Uncertainty: An Application to Development Determinants," Working Papers UWEC-2009-19-FC, University of Washington, Department of Economics.
    2. Ethan Cohen-Cole & Steven Durlauf & Jeffrey Fagan & Daniel Nagin, 2008. "Model Uncertainty and the Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 11(2), pages 335-369.
    3. Heckman, James J. & Schmierer, Daniel & Urzua, Sergio, 2010. "Testing the correlated random coefficient model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 158(2), pages 177-203, October.
    4. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul H. Rubin & Joanna M. Shepherd, 2003. "Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Postmoratorium Panel Data," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 344-376, August.
    5. John J. Donohue III & Justin Wolfers, 2006. "Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate," NBER Working Papers 11982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Durlauf, Steven N. & Navarro, Salvador & Rivers, David A., 2010. "Understanding aggregate crime regressions," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 158(2), pages 306-317, October.
    7. Abbring, Jaap H. & Heckman, James J., 2007. "Econometric Evaluation of Social Programs, Part III: Distributional Treatment Effects, Dynamic Treatment Effects, Dynamic Discrete Choice, and General Equilibrium Policy Evaluation," Handbook of Econometrics,in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 6, chapter 72 Elsevier.
    8. 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.
    9. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1977. "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 452-458, June.
    10. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
    11. Hashem Dezhbakhsh & Paul Rubin, 2011. "From the 'econometrics of capital punishment' to the 'capital punishment' of econometrics: on the use and abuse of sensitivity analysis," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 43(25), pages 3655-3670.
    12. 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 453-478, October.
    13. James J. Heckman, 2000. "Causal Parameters and Policy Analysis in Economics: A Twentieth Century Retrospective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(1), pages 45-97.
    14. Paul R. Zimmerman, 2004. "State executions, deterrence, and the incidence of murder," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 7, pages 163-193, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Weisbach, 2015. "Introduction: Legal Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S2), pages 319-335.

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