Social Meaning and the Economic Analysis of Crime
Dan M. Kahan
Yale University - Law School; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
This (short) essay examines the importance of social meaning for the economic analysis of crime. Against the background of social norms, the actions of individuals and communities convey information about what they value. Individuals take these meanings into account when they are responding to the incentives created by criminal law; communities take them into account when they decide what to punish, how to punish it, and how severely. Because meaning matters in these ways, economic analyses of criminal law that abstract from meaning -- by, say, considering only how various policies affect the expected penalty for wrongdoing -- produce unreliable predictions and prescriptions. The essay makes this claim out by considering a number of concrete examples, including tax evasion, juvenile gun possession, gang criminality, alternative sanctions (such as shaming penalties), and corporate criminal liability.
JEL Classification: K14working papers series
Date posted: April 17, 1997
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