A better approach to fighting crime

THE EDITOR: The paradigm of crime as a public health problem is over 40 years old, dating from a 1979 report by the surgeon-general of the US. The concept has proved useless in preventing crime.

The basic idea is that crimes are like infectious diseases. Thus one murderer causes other people to commit murders. This epidemiological paradigm removes all responsibility from criminals and instead treats them as victims.

By contrast, the economics approach to crime, created by Gary Becker (winner of the 1992 Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences), views crime as a matter of incentives. In this paradigm, government policies encourage or discourage criminal activity. Criminals’ decisions to commit crimes are thus seen as entirely rational (ie, a beneficial trade-off of benefits vs costs).

The latter approach is not only a better theory but, insofar as it has been applied to crime-fighting, has proven far more effective than the public health paradigm.




"A better approach to fighting crime"

More in this section