What Do Economists Know About Crime?
52 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2008 Last revised: 7 Aug 2010
Date Written: January 2008
In this paper we evaluate what economists have learned over the past 40 years about the determinants of crime. We base our evaluation on two kinds of evidence: an examination of aggregate data over long time periods and across countries, and a critical review of the literature. We argue that economists know little about the empirically relevant determinants of crime. Even hypotheses that find some support in U.S. data for recent decades are inconsistent with data over longer horizons or across countries. This conclusion applies both to policy variables like arrest rates or capital punishment and to less conventional factors such as abortion or gun laws. The hypothesis that drug prohibition generates violence, however, is generally consistent with the long times-series and cross-country facts. This analysis is also consistent with a broader perspective in which government policies that affect the nature and amount of dispute resolution play an important role in determining violence.
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