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Slides for this module (draft)

In Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote:

“All is in a man’s hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that’s an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most.”

“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”

“When reason fails, the devil helps!”

“I wanted to murder, for my own satisfaction … At that moment I did not care a damn whether I would spend the rest of my life like a spider catching them all in my web and sucking the living juices out of them.”

“Crime? What crime? … That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one! … Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people. Was that a crime?

“What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?”

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”

As we have seen in previous modules, rational choice theory is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. The basic premise of rational choice theory is that aggregate social behavior results from the behavior of individual actors, each of whom is making their individual decisions. The theory also focuses on the determinants of the individual choices (methodological individualism).

Rational choice theory in criminology views man as a reasoning actor who weighs means and ends, cost and benefits, and makes a rational choice. The foundation of rational choice theory is behavioral choices, that includes the choice of the person to engage in criminal activity based on intent/premedication and that the possible benefits outweigh the risk.

Rational choice theory was first introduced by economists and later adopted by criminology studies in the late 1970s. Rational choice theory in criminology grew out of same utilitarian philosophy as deterrence associated with the classical school of criminology developed by Cesare Beccaria. Working from the classical school of criminology and the theoretical framework of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham discuss the concept of calculus of pleasure or hedonistic calculus. Hedonistic calculus states that people will weigh the possible pleasures from committing the crime against the possible pain from punishment, and act accordingly.

Here a couple of videos presenting these classical ideas.

Then, Jeremy Bentham:

A very different view was proposed by Cesare Lombroso. He postulated that criminals represented a reversion to a primitive or subhuman type of person characterized by physical features reminiscent of apes, lower primates, and early humans and to some extent preserved, he said, in modern “savages”. Through years of postmortem examinations and anthropometric studies of criminals, the insane, and normal individuals, Lombroso became convinced that the “born criminal” could be anatomically identified by such items as a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face, prognathism, excessive length of arms, asymmetry of the cranium, and other “physical stigmata”. The following video give you more information.

Please answer the following questions before proceeding.

Questionnaire 4.1



We have seen that rational choice theory implies that criminals are rational in their decision-making, and despite the consequences, that the benefits of committing the crime outweigh the punishment. Gary Becker uses this rational choice framework to explain why people commit crime. Under this framework, an individual looks at the expected gains and losses from crime and compares them with the gains and losses from staying out of crime. An individual will choose to commit crime if the net expected gains from crime (left-hand side of the inequality above) is greater than the net gains from not committing crime (right-hand side of the inequality).

Here a short lecture on Gary Becker’s simple model of crime:

The following video summarize this theory and test it its implications with real world data [you can start from min 9:58 and stop at min 40:43].

Please answer the following questions before proceeding. 

Questionnaire 4.2



Discussion: Listen the podcast “Should We Defund The Police?”

Screenshot 2020-06-18 at 10.12.38

“Defund the police” has become one of the central demands coming from the protests that have arisen following George Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white police office. On this episode, Kate Waldock and Luigi Zingales take an economist’s look at the concept of defunding the police.

Summary of Module :

  • To understand why people commit crime, we need to understand their incentives (costs and benefits).
  • Rational Choice Theory provide a framework to study crime.
  • We need data (and creative ways to collect them) to confirm or reject the results of these models.

Suggested movie for tonight: The Platform (2019) Netflix


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