Table of Contents

Handbook on the Economics of Crime

Handbook on the Economics of Crime

Elgar original reference

Edited by Bruce L. Benson and Paul R. Zimmerman

While few economists analyzed criminal behaviour and the criminal justice process before Gary Becker’s seminal 1968 paper, an enormous body of economic research on crime has since been produced. This insightful and comprehensive Handbook reviews and extends much of this important resulting research.

Preface: Background and Overview

Bruce L. Benson and Paul R. Zimmerman

Subjects: economics and finance, public choice theory, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public choice


* Bruce L. Benson and Paul R. Zimmerman BACKGROUND Economists have been thinking about crime for centuries. Adam Smith, in his 1763 Lectures on Jurisprudence, explained that ‘the disorders in any country are more or less according to the number of retainers and dependants in it’. Smith was referring to the ‘idle and luxurious life’ enjoyed by servants that ‘renders them altogether depraved both in mind and body’ and, as a result, both unwilling and unable to survive except by ‘crimes and vices’ when released by their masters. The solution to this problem, according to Smith, was to create an environment that was conducive to a free and competitive economy, as this will ‘give the poorer sort better wages’ as well as independence. The hypothesized relationship between labor markets and crime suggested by Smith has been extensively explored in the modern literature, as explained by David Mustard in Chapter 14 of this volume. Cesare Beccaria’s essays on Crime and Punishment (1964 [1764]) appeared about a year after Smith’s Lectures. Beccaria was a jurist in Milan who also studied and wrote about criminology and economics. He assumed that individuals choose to commit crimes when the expected benefits are greater that the expected costs, and contended that punishment could deter crimes. The deterrence hypothesis provides the focus of much of the modern economics of crime literature. Part I’s Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as Chapters 6, 7 and 16, in this volume all address theoretical and/or empirical issues about deterrence...