Friday, September 16, 2011

Economic freedom and prisons

Americans are proud of their freedoms, political or economic ones. Yet, they are very trigger happy when it comes to takes one's freedoms, say by taking voting rights from felons, throwing people into prison or even executing them. How could such an apparent disconnect be explained? Why is the US different from Europe, where there is less economic freedom, but also much less punishment?

Rafael di Tella and Juan Dubra note that this apparent paradox does not only appear across countries, but also over time within the United States. For example, over the 30 years including the "Reagan Revolution" that considerably deregulated the economy, incarceration rates were multiplied by seven. They explain this with a theory that states the following. People view that when there are ample opportunities for legal activities in a system where there are many economic freedoms, people who still commit illegal acts must be "meaner" than the average criminal in a world with fewer economic freedoms. This can be supported with some limited empirics, but this is quite an appealing explanation. Indeed, Americans strongly believe that effort, not luck, is the root of success, and thus offer few excuses to those who become criminals out of necessity, an opinion that interestingly more and more African-Americans share.

No comments: