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Social Welfare and the Benefits to Crime


  • Philip A. Curry

    (Department of Economics, University of Waterloo)

  • Matthew Doyle

    (Department of Economics, University of Waterloo)


There exists a large literature on the optimal deterrence of crime. Within the literature, however, there exists a controversy over what the appropriate criterion to determine optimality should be. While the most popular method is that of maximization of a utilitarian welfare function, another criterion sometimes used is that of cost minimization. The controversy stems from the question of whether the benefits to crime enjoyed by criminals ought to be included in the welfare analysis. This paper argues that the controversy is an artifact of the fact that the standard model restricts a potential criminal's choice to one of committing a crime or doing nothing. We show that when potential criminals are given the additional choice of achieving their ends through voluntary methods that maximizing the sum of utilities is in fact equivalent to minimizing the costs of crime. The model developed also provides explanations for sanctions that increase in one's criminal history and why necessity may be a partial defense.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip A. Curry & Matthew Doyle, 2012. "Social Welfare and the Benefits to Crime," Working Papers 1205, University of Waterloo, Department of Economics, revised Jul 2012.
  • Handle: RePEc:wat:wpaper:1205

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Miceli Thomas J. & Bucci Catherine, 2005. "A Simple Theory of Increasing Penalties for Repeat Offenders," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 71-80, April.
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    3. Kenneth Burdett & Shouyong Shi & Randall Wright, 2001. "Pricing and Matching with Frictions," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(5), pages 1060-1085, October.
    4. Louis Hotte & Tanguy van Ypersele, 2008. "Individual protection against property crime: decomposing the effects of protection observability," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 41(2), pages 537-563, May.
    5. Dhammika Dharmapala & Nuno Garoupa, 2004. "Penalty Enhancement for Hate Crimes: An Economic Analysis," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(1), pages 185-207.
    6. Shavell, Steven, 1991. "Individual precautions to prevent theft: Private versus socially optimal behavior," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 123-132, September.
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    8. Steven Shavell & A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 45-76, March.
    9. Keith N. Hylton, 1996. "Optimal Law Enforcement and Victim Precaution," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(1), pages 197-206, Spring.
    10. Peters, Michael, 1984. "Bertrand Equilibrium with Capacity Constraints and Restricted Mobility," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(5), pages 1117-1127, September.
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    12. Curry Philip A., 2017. "Malice Aforethought," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 13(1), pages 1-18, March.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • H0 - Public Economics - - General

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