Handbook on the Economics of Crime
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Handbook on the Economics of Crime

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.
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Chapter 5: The Historical Development of Public Policing, Prosecution and Punishment

Nicholas A. Curott and Edward Peter Stringham


Nicholas A. Curott and Edward Peter Stringham* INTRODUCTION What can economics add to the analysis of and possible prevention of crime? Almost all scholars and policy advocates take public provision as given and seek to advise government on how to minimize the negative effects of crime. Yet certain economists, including Becker and Stigler (1974), take a somewhat different approach. Not only do they apply economic analysis to the choices of potential criminals, but they apply economic analysis to law enforcers too. Law enforcers respond to costs and benefits just like anyone else, and they are likely to respond differently under different institutional regimes. Becker and Stigler conclude with a proposal that is quite radical to many non-economists: allow private competition in the realm of law enforcement. Private law enforcement has actually been common throughout history, and some economists, including Anderson and Hill (2004), Benson (1990), Ekelund and Dorton (2003), Friedman (1989) and Rothbard (1973), make the case that it can be purely private. If the private sector is so effective at dealing with other problems, could it effectively deal with the problem of crime too? As a practical matter, if one examines historical records and many of the current trends in policing, one can see that private law enforcement has been and continues to be undeniably important.1 In many areas the very foundation of how Western society pursues criminal law enforcement is changing. Policing has been undergoing a sometimes inconspicuous but definite privatization revolution that is one of the more...

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