The changing nature of economics of crime


  • In 1968 Gary Becker published "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach" in the Journal of Political Economy (Becker, 1968). This is considered the seminal paper of the way modern economics conceptualizes criminal and illegal behavior, and so it gave birth to the field of "economics of crime." Becker applied, for the first time, the formal analytical elements of rational choice and utility maximization to the individual choice between committing a crime or work in the legal sector. Under this framework, criminal actions are not irrational or determined by mental illness but rather a choice that results from a rational cost-benefit analysis. The returns of crime are compared to the expected punishment (weighted by the probability of being caught) and to the opportunity cost of crime. Thus Becker highlighted the economic motives that tilt the balance for potential criminals toward either illegal or productive activities. Five years later, Isaac Ehrlich complemented Becker's insights with additional theoretical considerations as well as with an empirical test of these insights for the U.S. (Ehrlich, 1973).

fecha de publicación

  • 2022

chapter number

  • Chapter 1


  • Edward Elgar Publishing

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