Annu. Rev. Law Soc. Sci. 2006. 2:147–64doi: 10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.2.081805.105856Copyrightc
2006 by Annual Reviews. All rights reservedFirst published online as a Review in Advance on August 22, 2006
ONTRIBUTIONS TO THE
Steven D. Levitt
and Thomas J. Miles
Department of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637; American Bar Foundation, Chicago, Illinois 60611; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, Illinois 60637;email: email@example.com
deterrence, incapacitation, criminal justice
Thepastdecadehasseenasharpincreaseintheapplicationofempiricaleconomic approaches to the study of crime and the criminal justice system. Much of this research has emphasized identifying causal impacts, as opposed to correlations.These studies have generally found that increases in police and greater incarcerationlead to reduced crime. The death penalty, as currently used in the United States, doesnot appear to lower crime. We also review the evidence on three other crime-relateddebates in which economists have played a central role: racial proﬁling, concealedweapons laws, and the impact of legalized abortion.
The casual observer might expect that economics has little to contribute to the un-derstanding of criminal activity. Economics is a discipline seemingly concernedwithmarket-basedtransactionsinwhichpartiesactpurposefullytorealizetheben-eﬁts of exchange. In contrast, many criminal acts, such as homicide and theft, areinherentlynonconsensual,evencoercive.Moreover,manycrimesappeartobeactsof impulse or emotion rather than the kind of rational decision making associatedwithmarketbehavior.Despitethisapparentmismatchofmethodologyandsubjectmatter, the economic approach has made signiﬁcant contributions to the study of crime, and in the past decade, the pace of these contributions has accelerated. Inthis review, we examine some of the recent contributions that economics has madeto the understanding of crime, and, as much of the recent work by economists oncrime is empirical rather than theoretical, we emphasize empirical research overtheory. The discussion is organized around two broad categories of inﬂuences oncriminal behavior: (
) the criminal justice system and (
) other legal rules that, al-though distinct from the criminal justice system, nonetheless potentially inﬂuencecriminal behavior.Asaninitialmatter,itisworthclarifyingwhatwemeanbythephraseeconomicapproach. We believe four characteristics distinguish the economic approach to
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