NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Free to Punish? The American Dream and the Harsh Treatment of Criminals

Rafael Di Tella, Juan Dubra

NBER Working Paper No. 17309
Issued in August 2011
NBER Program(s):   LE   PE

We describe the evolution of selective aspects of punishment in the US over the period 1980-2004. We note that imprisonment increased around 1980, a period that coincides with the “Reagan revolution” in economic matters. We build an economic model where beliefs about economic opportunities and beliefs about punishment are correlated. We present three pieces of evidence (across countries, within the US and an experimental exercise) that are consistent with the model.

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