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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsWelcome to Week 4. This week, we will continue looking at the three main determinants of crime under the rational choice model. Last week, we saw how the decision to commit a crime may be influenced by the probability of punishment. This week, we will look at how the decision may also depend on the severity of punishment. Many of us have strong opinions about the appropriate level of punishment for criminals. Some of us feel that the current level of punishment for some crimes is just too lenient, and that’s why we have so many of these crimes.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsFor example, if the number of domestic violence cases is very high, perhaps we should impose more severe punishment for domestic violence in order to reduce the number of such crimes. According to the rational choice model, when the severity of punishment goes up, it will increase the cost of committing a crime, and a potential criminal would be less likely to actually carry out the crime. But the model does not tell us how many crimes will be deterred because of more severe punishment. This is an empirical question that needs to be answered based on data.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 secondsBack in the 80s and 90s in the United States, there was a large public support for imposing more severe penalties on criminals, leading to a number of policy changes by state and federal governments. Our focus this week is going to be on how we can use these policy changes to measure the causal effect of more severe punishment on crime and what the empirical evidence tells us about the relationship between punishment severity and crime. This week we will also continue our discussion on the empirical strategies used by economists to recover a causal relationship between two variables, in the context of measuring the casual effect of punishment severity on crime.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 secondsAs before, we will first talk about how the simple regression analysis may not be very useful in finding out this effect. The main problem here is self-selection. That is, individuals who receive more severe punishment are very likely to be different from those who receive less severe punishment. After all, they are receiving more severe punishment for a reason, right? This week we will be introduced to an empirical method called “regression discontinuity”, and how it can help us overcome the selection problem and allow us to recover the causal effect of punishment severity on crime.

Welcome to Week 4

Can you think of real-life examples in which an increased severity of punishment seems to deter potential criminals?

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This video is from the free online course:

Economics of Crime

Hanyang University

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