What Do Economists Know About Crime?

According to a new paper by Jeff Miron and coauthors, not very much at all. They focus almost solely on time series variation (hence missing some of the more interesting local variation), but the results are provocative nonetheless.

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4 Responses to What Do Economists Know About Crime?

  1. Kymbos says:

    Economists have always been obsessed with unpacking crime. So will you write a piece on the first home buyers loan scheme?

  2. MikeM says:

    A rather unhelpful blog post, Andrew. For anyone who actually wants to know what the paper is about and doesn’t have access to NBER, there is, as is often the case with papers coauthored by Harvard economists, a draft copy at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~gsummers/papers/Crime_Summersetal.pdf.

    In their introduction they write:

    “… we argue that economists know little about the empirically relevant determinants of crime. This conclusion applies both to policy variables like arrest rates or capital punishment and to indirect factors such as abortion or gun laws. The reason is that even hypotheses that find some support in U.S. data for recent decades are inconsistent with data over longer horizons or across countries. Thus, these hypotheses are less persuasive than a focus on recent U.S. evidence might suggest.”

    This will come as unwelcome news to those shrilly advocating Laura Norda as the way to stamp out crime.

    The authors do suggest one field as fruitful for future investigation though:

    “The hypothesis that drug prohibition generates violence, however, is consistent with the long time-series and cross-country facts. Previous research has considered this hypothesis; we focus on a broader set of data and show the potentially large role that drug prohibition plays in determining violence. The evidence we present is only suggestive, but it indicates this hypothesis deserves further exploration. This analysis is also consistent with a general perspective in which government policies that affect the amount and nature of dispute resolution play an important role in determining violence.”

  3. MikeM says:

    Consider the interest that, following Becker, economists have shown in topics that were formerly considered outside their discipline and the amount of space the paper devotes to discussing papers by Levitt et al on matters related to crime. Rather than characterising the thrust of the paper as “economists know little about the empirically relevant determinants of crime”, it could be presented as “economists venture cautiously into analysing causes of crime; a field that nobody knows much about”.

  4. Kymbos says:

    Don’t criminologists know a fair bit about crime, MikeM?

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