Encyclopedia of Law and Economics

2019 Edition
| Editors: Alain Marciano, Giovanni Battista Ramello

Crime and Punishment (Becker 1968)

  • Jean-Baptiste FleuryEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-7753-2_17


Gary Becker’s 1968 “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach” is one of the first papers using economics to address the questions of crime and law enforcement. To Becker, crime generates costs to society, but fighting crime is also costly. There is, therefore, an optimal amount of crime which minimizes society’s total loss and which can be attained by setting the optimal levels of punishment and probability of apprehension and conviction. From that analysis, Becker further claims that the role of criminal law and law enforcement policies should be limited to the minimization of society’s loss. Crime is, therefore, framed as an external effect, and criminal law’s purpose is redefined as the activity of assessing the harm incurred by crime in order to enforce optimal compensation.

Becker’s 1968 “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach”

Gary Becker’s 1968 “Crime and Punishment: an Economic Approach” is one of the first articles by a modern economist (post-World War II) to...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.THEMA, University of Cergy-PontoiseCergy-PontoiseFrance