Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Economics of Sociological Criminology

The article New Economics of Sociological Criminology, written by Bill McCarthy, looks at the intersection of rational choice approach theory and game theory as applied to predictions of criminal behavior. The study not only looked at rational choice approach theory in regards to the acts committed by criminals, but the author looked at how the combination of rational choice and game theory can be used in conjunction with one another to not only gain an understanding but also a prediction of criminal behavior.

Rational choice theory argues that individuals commit crimes to achieve certain outcomes, particularly economic gain. Therefore, the application of the theory in combination with game theory creates a persuasive argument for the combination of rational choice and game theory to predict criminal behavior.

McCarthy looked at some elements that influence decisions and the choices people make -- particularly the fact that people do not make choices in a vacuum,  Therefore, there are a number of factors that are incorporated into the decision to commit a crime. The application of game theory is relevant because it relates to the process of creating and generating a decision based on either simultaneous or subsequent actions that impact the way in which a decision is made.  Game theory incorporates assumptions that individuals will make assumptions regarding the actions of others and how they will react to the situation. Additionally, it incorporates the assumption that individuals will act rationally and strategically.  The theory also looks at the majority, where people typically act on the decisions of other individuals.

This theory was applied to offenders and their interactions with law enforcement.  The relationship between offenders and law enforcement typically is that they obey the law when law enforcement is present and prefer to commit crimes when law enforcement is absent. This relates the interactions between the two parties to the idea that individuals often make decisions based on the actions of others.

Game theory gives insight into the decisions that individuals make, while simultaneously operating under the assumption that everyone will act rationally and in their best interest. While there is a deductive manner to the application of the games and the outcomes that will likely result from it, the underlying assumption incorporated is that criminals will be rational and act in their best interest and with the best outcome.

It was interesting to look at the application of game theory and the intersection of rational choice and crime as an entity.  Specifically, the element that addressed the likelihood of offenders acting when law enforcement personnel are present is decreased coincides with the application of game theory and the influence that other actors have on the main individual.  This theory is not without flaws, but it does appear to be applicable to the general society as well as the reasoning behind certain individuals and their motivation to commit crimes.

McCarthy, C. (2002). New economics of sociological criminology. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 41-22. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3069248?seq=6&Search=yes&searchText=%22Game+Theory%22&list=hide&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoAdvancedSearch%3Fq0%3D%2522Game%2BTheory%2522%26f0%3Dall%26c1%3DAND%26q1%3D%26f1%3Dall%26acc%3Don%26wc%3Don%26fc%3Doff%26Search%3DSearch%26sd%3D%26ed%3D%26la%3D%26pt%3D%26isbn%3D&prevSearch=&item=20&ttl=17489&returnArticleService=showFullText&resultsServiceName=null


  1. I though it was interesting that McCarthy used both the rational choice theory and game theory to forecast criminal behavior. I think these two theories go hand in hand because the rational choice theory will highlight the factors leading to criminal behaviors and game theory will focus on how a decision is made to commit a crime. Rational theory assumes that individuals can make a rational choice based on pros and cons. As you mentioned in the summary, the criminals will strategically decide not to commit crimes based on consequences of getting caught while law enforcement authorities are present and will commit crimes when a much safer opportunity arises.

  2. I came across a few articles combining game-theory with another theory/methodology and their application to a particular topic, but none that combined it with rational choice theory. I believe this to be a good combination as I noticed in the article I read that the authors were often referring to terrorists (the topic of the methodology) as "rational actors". A part of game theory is predicting what the other actor will do and operating under the assumption that you can in fact to some degree predict the action based on the idea that they are rational actors. In this sense, this seems to be a very beneficial combination of methodologies. I'd like to see the outcome of its application to terrorist organizations.