Economics Uncut

Economics Uncut

A Complete Guide to Life, Death and Misadventure

Edited by Simon W. Bowmaker

This highly innovative and intriguing book applies principles of microeconomics to unusual settings to inspire students, teachers and scholars alike in the ‘dismal science’. Leading experts show how economics reaches into the strangest of places and throws light onto the occasionally dark side of human nature.

Chapter 4: Economics of crime

Bruce L. Benson and Simon W. Bowmaker

Subjects: economics and finance, cultural economics, methodology of economics


Bruce L. Benson and Simon W. Bowmaker In this chapter we turn to crime. As early as 1763 in his Lectures on Jurisprudence, Adam Smith observed that, ‘. . . the disorders in any country are more or less according to the number of retainers and dependents in it’. The Scotsman was referring to the ‘idle and luxurious life’ enjoyed by servants, which, ‘renders them altogether depraved both in mind and body’, and hence unwilling and unable to survive when discarded by their masters other than by ‘crimes and vices’. Moving toward a commercial economy was the solution according to Smith. Not only would this ‘give the poorer sort better wages’, but also an independence, which is the most effective means of protection from crime. In the year following Smith’s Lectures, Cesare Beccaria wrote Essays on Crime and Punishment. The Milanese jurist, criminologist and economist was a fervent opponent of the severities and abuses of criminal law, particularly capital punishment and torture. He argued that for punishment to be effective, it should ‘never be an act of violence committed by one or many against a private citizen’, and that the harshest penalties must be imposed in moderation while being both ‘proportionate to the crime, and established by law’. Beccaria’s writings stimulated and provided a guide for reforms in the penal codes of many European nations and his pioneering ideas of presumption of innocence and the protection of civil liberties later impacted upon the US Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights....

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