Crime and Punishment Again: The Economic Approach with a Psychological Twist
NBER Working Paper No. 1884 (Also Reprint No. r0812)
Akerlof and Dickens (1982) suggested that in a model of criminal behavior which considered the effects of cognitive dissonance, increasing the severity of punishment could increase the crime rate. This paper demonstrates that that conjecture was correct. With cognitive dissonance, people may have to rationalize not committing crimes under normal circumstances if punishment is not severe. The rationalization may lead them to underestimate the expected utility of committing crimes when opportunities present themselves. If punishment is severe, then rationalization may not be necessary and people may be more likely to commit crimes when opportunities arise.
Published: Dickens, William T. "Crime and Punishment Again: The Economic Approach with a Psychological Twist," Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 30, (1986), pp. 97-107.