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83 Va. L. Rev. 349 (1997)
Social Influence, Social Meaning, and Deterrence

handle is hein.journals/valr83 and id is 367 raw text is: SOCIAL INFLUENCE, SOCIAL MEANING, AND
Dan M. Kahan*
W HY do individuals commit crimes? What policies should
a community adopt to discourage criminality?
The economic conception of deterrence bases its answers
on the assumption that individuals behave rationally to maxi-
mize their utility. Individuals commit crimes, this account pre-
dicts, when the expected utility of law-breaking exceeds the ex-
pected disutility of punishment. To promote obedience, the
community should adopt the most cost-effective policies for
raising the price of crime.' This model yields prescriptions on a
diverse range of subjects-from the optimal tradeoff between
probability of conviction and severity of punishment, to the
relative advantages of public and private investments in dis-
couraging crime,' to the most efficient form of punishment.4
 Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Law School. I am grateful to the
Russell J. Parsons Fund for Faculty Research at the University of Chicago Law
School for its generous financial support; to Richard Craswell, Randal Picker,
Richard Ross, Stephen Schulhofer, and the students in my Winter 1997 Criminal Law
Seminar for helpful discussions; to Albert Alschuler, Richard Epstein, Elizabeth
Garrett, Lawrence Lessig, John Lott, Tracey Meares, Martha Nussbaum, Richard
Pildes, Eric Posner, Richard Posner, and Cass Sunstein for instructive written
comments; to participants in the workshops at the University of Pennsylvania Law
School and at the University of Virginia Law School for probing questions; and to
Kenworthey Bilz for phenomenal research assistance.
' The classic exposition is Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of
Morals and Legislation (J.H. Burns & H.L.A. Hart eds., The Athlone Press 1970)
(1780). For contemporary accounts, see Gary S. Becker, Crime and Punishment: An
Economic Approach, 76 J. Pol. Econ. 169 (1968); Richard A. Posner, An Economic
Theory of the Criminal Law, 85 Colum. L. Rev. 1193 (1985); Steven Shavell, Criminal
Law and the Optimal Use of Nonmonetary Sanctions as a Deterrent, 85 Colum. L.
Rev. 1232 (1985).
2 See Becker, supra note 1, at 191-93; George J. Stigler, The Optimum Enforcement
of Laws, 78 J. Pol. Econ. 526,530-31 (1970).
' See, e.g., Omri Ben-Shahar & Alon Harel, Blaming the Victim: Optimal Incentives
for Private Precautions Against Crime, 11 J.L. Econ. & Org. 434 (1995) [hereinafter


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