U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Doctor Ehrlich's Magic Bullet - Economic Theory, Econometrics, and the Death Penalty

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 26 Issue: 4 Dated: (October 1980) Pages: 485-502
R M McGahey
Date Published
18 pages
A review of econometric studies confirming the deterrent effect of capital punishment shows that the techniques used in the studies were not valid and did not provide reliable data for assessing deterrence.
A review of Dr. Isaac Ehrlich's 1975 study supporting the idea that executions significantly deter homicides, as well as of other time-series analyses of the deterrent effect of executions, demonstrates that the flawed techniques used to analyze data yielded unreliable results. The time-series analyses have been based on an underlying microeconomic theory which holds that homicide is a maximization of personal utility by those who commit the crime. Critics of Ehrlich's work emphasize that his microeconomic model of individual homicidal behavior had no necessary ties to an analysis of national homicide and execution rates. Cross-sectional analyses conducted by economists, comparing homicide and execution rates in different jurisdictions for one time period, have also been criticized. Most studies have determined that no deterrent effect could be noted, while Ehrlich and Cloninger, proponents of the deterrent theory, published reports of analyses that supported their hypotheses significantly and overwhelmingly. The combined findings of all the econometric studies examined point to the lack of support for the notion that executions deter homicides, but that increased levels of law enforcement activities may deter crime. Overall, studies of execution and of crime and deterrence in general should be accepted only with the greatest caution. The complex social issues surrounding crime and punishment cannot be realistically studied through economic analyses of alternative punishments. Footnotes are included.


No download available