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Economic Crime: Theory - Returns Versus Costs

resources people calculations example

A further extension of the neoclassical approach is critical of the tendency to focus on calculations that involve the costs associated with offending. Several scholars disagree with the suggestion that calculations of the probabilities and consequences of detection are based solely on the amount of information gathered; instead, they argue that calculations can be influenced by a number of demographic characteristics (e.g., Cornish and Clarke). For example, young people may have a greater tendency to disregard information about detection probabilities because they are more likely to believe that they are immune to negative consequences. Compared to adults, youth may be more likely to believe that they are the ones who will "get away with it."

Several writers also argue that, like the assessment of other economic options, the decision to offend is more profoundly influenced by beliefs about the possible gains rather than potential costs (e.g., Ehrlich). Thus, the decision to offend focuses on a crime's capacity to provide one or more valued resources including an emotional thrill, a means to impress others, and financial resources (e.g., Katz; Shover; Fagan and Freeman). This approach further suggests that people make offending decisions in ways that resemble their decisions made about noncriminal activities. For example, several studies of drug sellers and property offenders indicate that they increase their incomes by combining illegal work with work in the legal economy (see Fagan and Freeman). Offenders who are adept at making use of their resources are also more likely to succeed (Grogger). For example, success in noncriminal economic activities is influenced by a person's ability to make the most effective use of their human (e.g., knowledge and specialized skills), social (e.g., connections with others), personal (e.g., competency, entrepreneurial skills, or business acumen), and financial (e.g., wealth) capital. Research also suggests that people who effectively utilize these resources profit the most from their decisions to offend: thus, the most successful offenders learn from previous experiences. They specialize, use their associations as a source of information, are willing to work with others, and are competent entrepreneurs (e.g., see Matsueda, Gartner, Piliavin, and Polakowski).

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