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Economic Crime: Theory - Criminal Cooperation

people rationality actions research

Other scholars have used game theory research to understand a characteristic common to many economic crimes: the presence of co-offenders. For example, Bill McCarthy, John Hagan, and Lawrence Cohen argue that like other economic activities, co-offending requires people who recognize that, in some cases, the probability of attaining a desired outcome rises with a cooperative effort. Yet, working cooperatively with others typically involves uncertainty: there are often few if any ways to enforce people's pledges to cooperate, people may benefit from the actions of others and then fail to fulfill their commitments (i.e., they may cheat), and people may take advantage of the actions of others without providing any reciprocity (i.e., they may "free-ride").

Critics note that the neoclassical model offers little insight into the cooperative process. Criminal cooperation is typically more unpredictable than offending alone, and the neoclassical model offers few insights into the process by which people choose actions that have uncertain outcomes. As well, the assumption of instrumental rationality suggests an individual who makes decisions based solely on his or her preferences and is oblivious to those of others; such an individual is an unlikely cooperator. Social dilemma theorists resolve these problems, suggesting that people have both instrumental and "collective rationality." Like instrumental rationality, collective rationality involves cost-benefit analyses aimed at maximizing one's preferences; however, it includes the recognition that in some situations, one's interests may be best met as a result of the decisions and actions of others. Cooperation further requires that people, including offenders, "trust" others to fulfill their obligations.

Experimental research suggests that several conditions promote collective rationality, trust, and cooperation in economic activities. These include the type, history, and strength of the relationship between people; people's fear of reprisals for noncooperation; their beliefs about each other's honesty and cooperativeness; their knowledge other's past cooperation; and their tolerance for risk. Nonexperimental research also suggests that cooperation may be encouraged by mutual need. Consistent with some of these findings, McCarthy et al.'s research on theft among Canadian street youth indicates that need, associations with other offenders, and a willingness to take risks all increase criminal cooperation. Furthermore, offenders who cooperate steal more frequently than do those who steal alone.

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