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May 5, 2009

"Uncertainty in the Theory of Deterrence: Experimental Evidence"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper by two economists that I came across on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

We conduct laboratory experiments to investigate the effects of deterrence mechanisms under controlled conditions.  The effect of the expected cost of punishment of an individual's decision to engage in a proscribed activity and the effect of uncertainty on an individual's decision to commit a violation are very difficult to observe in field data.

We use a roadway speeding framing and find that (a) individuals respond considerably to increases in the expected cost of speeding, (b) uncertainty about the enforcement regime yields a large reduction in violations committed, and (c) people are much more likely to speed when the punishment regime for which they voted is implemented.  We also obtain a theoretical result that states that, holding the true expected cost constant, people in an uncertain environment perceive a larger expected cost of speeding in the regime with higher probability.  Our results have important implications for a behavioral theory of deterrence under uncertainty.

May 5, 2009 at 06:58 AM | Permalink


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Prof. Berman: Even you can do it. What does this study imply about the dose response urve of the death penalty and about mandatory sentencing guidelines?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 7:08:48 AM

I just skimmed through this paper and it shouldn't be relied upon for policymaking. These are economists constructing contrived experiments to support their presuppositions and using mathematical models that make invalid assumptions about human behavior to pretend that individuals have perfect information when assessing possible punishments.

The "costs" of speeding in their experiment were much lower than the several hundred dollar fines common today, so their results don't endorse high fines in a real-world context because that's not what they tested. They also assume the government is making "choices" about things that are really just happenstance or vary widely in application because of variables the authors don't consider.

Their most important finding IMO was their conclusion that "It turns out that there is a striking relationship between the choice of whether to speed in a regime and whether or not the person had voted in favor of this regime." (In some of their experiments, participants voted which speeding rules would be enforced.) But most of us never got to directly vote on the existing traffic laws, so the public doesn't feel the kind of ownership over the rules that people in their experiment did.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 5, 2009 8:14:52 AM

Scientific validity is not a requirement of the law, so said a 100 year old decision. That needs to change, since all lawmaking is unauthorized and incompetent, dangerous human experimentation.

Mandatory sentencing guidelines were strongly favored by the public. They decreased crime victimization by 40% after 10 years. The guidelines were lawyer cult response to the public outrage over their protecting criminals and the Fallujah like conditions in many urban centers after the rampage of the out of control Supreme Court of the 1960's and 1970's. They protected vicious criminals. They mass slaughtered babies in the womb. Pure evil.

I like the way the lawyer gets all microscopic and technical when a study endorses greater accountability for the lawyer client, the criminal. On the other hand, nothing else the lawyer does has any empirical data to support it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 9:56:30 AM

The USSC of the 60's and 70's endorsed killings of babies in the womb?

I am confused at how some conservatives can reconcile an anti-abortion stance with anti-immigration. Abortions have prevented the birth of some 42 million since the 1970s, while immmigration laws threaten to deport 11.4 million. It seems the same arguments that militate towards deportation of humans, are in favor of planned parenting.

Posted by: victimless criminal | May 6, 2009 3:43:55 PM

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