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Crime and Uncertain Punishment

Authors: Katz, Barbara G.
Owen, Joel
Keywords: Crime;rule of law;transition;economies in transition;law enforcement;corruption
Issue Date: 22-Jan-2006
Series/Report no.: EC-06-02
Abstract: We consider agents in a country in an early stage of transition from a planned to a market economy. As the transition is in progress, the nature of the government’s policies are unknown to the agents. Property rights once held by the state have already been transferred to the agents, with each agent owning one firm. However, the agents are uncertain of the level of law enforcement the government will provide. Specifically, they are unsure of the tax and confiscation consequences of both legal and illegal acts. Each agent, having a different cost of stealing, must decide how much of the firm to divert to himself. The agents believe the government may become either a traditional democratic government that supplies law enforcement as well as infrastructure leading to positive firm growth, or a corrupt government that may or may not provide law enforcement, does not provide a climate for firm growth, and may be confiscatory. All agents presume the government will choose its behavior as a function of the tax revenue it will collect under each scenario; however, the tax revenue results from the collective decisions of the agents. This interaction between tax revenue and agents’ decisions, together with the uncertainty of law enforcement and tax policy, forms the framework within which the agent chooses his level of honesty. By calculating the percentage of agents who steal some amount from the firm, we investigate the relationship between the level of criminality and the various uncertainties facing the agents. We show how expectations of the agents about the future behavior of their government induce the degree of criminality in society.
Appears in Collections:Economics Working Papers

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