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week 9- Rational choice lecture notes

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Sociology 2266A/B
Stacy Hallman

Rational choice, economics, bounded rationality, and crime Introduction “Not making a choice is a choice” - Anonymous List of topics • The economic perspective on crime • Cornish & Clarke’s “crime as a rational choice” • Can rational choice explain violence? • Pure rationality vs. bounded rationality • Deterrence studies • Criticisms and limitations The economic perspective on crime • Economics: the science of incentives • Economic theory is useful to study any kind of behaviours, including seemingly “irrational” behaviours (e.g. selection of sexual partners, drug addiction, suicide). The goal is to understand the hidden rationality behind these behaviours. o Has to do with anything involving incentive, there are many other forms of incentive, such as making new friends, engaging in behaviours to get an incentive o Any thing that increases or decreases incentive is economics o Rationality in decision may play a role, should be taken into consideration o The drug addiction example, we don’t understand from the users perspective, for example the rush they may get, the life worth living is based on cocaine, rush, pleasure, strong incentive that’s why there is a rationality behind the behaviour. They may like it so much its worth loosing your job and going to prison o Suicide: we can also see it as a rational behaviour, you see more negative than positive in your life; before saying suicide is irrational, suicide can be seen as a liberation from a terrible life o Overall the point of this page is to consider rationality and give things a chance o Behavioural economics, rationality tainted by bias that does not mena it is irrational • Incentives are probabilistic. They do not affect everyone the same. For example, if the price of cocaine goes down, some people will use more, but not everyone will become a cocaine user. o Incentives are not the same for everyone • Similarly rational choice theory implies that people behave rationally on average, not that everybody behave rationally all the time. o Does not need to explain everything 100% of the time The economic perspective on crime • Economic theory posits that individuals try to maximized their outcome based on perceived rewards and costs of behaviours, including perceived rewards and costs of alternative behaviors • Therefore, an economic understanding of crime involves not only the perceived rewards and costs of criminal activities, but also the perceived rewards and costs of non-criminal activities o you consider other options, what is the positive and what is the negative of the rewards and costs o crime is an option but not committing one is also an option The economic perspective on crime: Incentives for non-criminal activities Rewards • Earn legal income • More predictable lifestyle • Engage in long term goals • Engage in everyday pleasures • Relatively safe • Moral reward? o Crime is not the only way to make money o Most people do not like chaos people like predictability, something positive, as a reward o Easier to engage in a long term goal which is easier to do if you stay away from crime o Having a partner etc. are legal things people enjoy o Most people live healthy lives and want to continue that, life is relatively safe o I may not be a saint but I do not commit crime and am a moral person Costs • Legal income too low for desired lifestyle • Boring everyday routine • Requires discipline and sacrifice The economic perspective on crime: Incentives for criminal activities o Not every job pays that well, some people have low income jobs, what if it is too low for you o Society is stealing my life away with a boring everyday routine o A lot of the good things require a lot of work for example you want a house you need to pay a mortgage, long term, a lot of effort some people are impatient and want it now Rewards • Earn illegal income; “fast money” • Intense lifestyle • Use force or fraud to “get what you want” • Requires little discipline or sacrifice o Fast easy money, make more money for less the effort, legit jobs are not that appealing, also you do not have to pay taxes o A lot of people do not want routine they want to live a glamorous life and can only finance that through criminal lifestyle o Libertarian definition can be taken into consideration. Non-criminal may take no for an answer, criminal may not o You can get reward from crime relatively fast Costs • Negative label • Stressful & dangerous • Difficult to invest in long term goals • Legal sanctions • Health consequences of the intense lifestyle • Moral cost? o A bad reputation that one is not be trusted, as a deviant, etc. negative labels o Not everyone can handle the stress and danger of an active criminal lifestyle o If always in and out of prison it is difficult to move up and have long term goals; all goals are jeopardized by long term goals o legal sanctions restrict freedom, the more you commit crime the more legal sanctions pile up o drug effects, being shot at etc. o problem with having to look at yourself in the mirror and deal with yourself; face the fact that you are not a good person Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • The decisions to commit crime – (1) General decision to begin: Initial involvement model – (2) Specific decision to commit a particular criminal act: Event model – (3) Decision to recidivate: Continuing involvement model – (4) General decision to stop: Desistance model Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • General decision to become a criminal: Initial involvement model • Similar to the economic theory presented earlier • Also includes specific incentives and facilitators: – Easy criminal opportunities; for many people, there was an opportunity that they took it, for example using ecstasy for the first time – Peer pressure; – Alcohol and drug consumption; many crimes are not committed by sober people, – Urgent (desperate) need for money; some criminal decision involves being in a tough situation where you need money and need it fast for example you have a gambling debt o Similar to economic theory, costs and rewards and deciding rewards are the best Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • The decision to burglarize a specific home: Event model • Selecting the best neighborhood – Is the neighborhood easily accessible? A lot people commit burglary near where they live but not always the case – Is there a lot of police patrol or a neighborhood watch? – Is the potential loot worth the effort? Not everything you steal is worth a lot of money – Is the neighborhood familiar or unfamiliar? People like familiarity Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • Selecting the best home – Are the people living there away? Burglars do not like confrontation – Is the loot easy to carry and sell? Accessibility and value – Is there a dog, an alarm system, a close neighbor? Higher chances of getting caught – Is there an easy entry point (e.g. patio door)?  The “event model” can be used for a variety of crimes; burglary is an example o Other crimes can be broken down with this model such as selling drugs o Suggests that criminals who think about all this are still rational Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • Decision to recidivate and commit more burglaries: Continuing involvement model – Increased professionalism: develop skills and knowledge; better planning; more lucrative loots; learn to reduce risks; more criminal contacts • The more you do something the better you become, you develop your skills, you also plan better, more rewards as you go on – Lifestyle changes: enjoy living off burglaries; enjoy “life in the fast lane”; develop rationalizations for crime “bling kids example, stealing from P.Hilton” – Peer group changes: spend more time with criminal friends; labeled as criminal; spend less time with non- criminal friends; quarrels with family/loved ones Cornish & Clarke’s “Crime as a rational choice” • General decision to stop: Desistance model – Internal events: incarceration; fear/stress; injury(committing crime you hurt yourself); irregular income(you can make good money but there are up and downs); fewer criminal contacts(they might quit); understand what is going on in the mind of the criminal; – External events: marriage; parenthood; ultimatum from loved ones; ageing – Legitimate alternatives: become satisfied with a legitimate job – Illegitimate alternatives: move to other forms of criminality (e.g. from burglary to fencing) Can rational choice explain violence? • H1: Violence as irrational behaviour – Many scholars believe that violence is the result of irrational emotions: frustration, anger,
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