Article | Cato Papers on Public Policy | 2011

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

by Rafael Di Tella


We describe the evolution of selective aspects of punishment in the U.S. 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 U.S., and an experimental exercise) that are consistent with the model.

Keywords: Crime and Corruption;