Skip to main content
Log in

A simple model of crime waves, riots, and revolutions

  • Articles
  • Published:
Atlantic Economic Journal Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Standard economic models of criminal behavior analyze the criminal's decision in a partial equilibrium context. The standard model does not recognize that the probability of being punished is a function of the total amount of crime that occurs. As the total amount of crime increases, police resources become strained, courts become congested, and prisons become overcrowded. As a result, proportionately fewer criminals are apprehended, convicted, and imprisoned. The feedback effects from one criminal's decision to participate in crime to another criminal's decision can be highly significant. In one parameterization of the model developed here, the individual commits twice as many crimes for a given parameter shift than is implied by the standard model. The model also sheds light on other areas where criminal actions are interdependent such as riots, crime waves, and revolutions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Becker, Gary S. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,"Journal of Political Economy, 76, 2, 1968, pp. 169–217.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berck, Peter; Sydsaeter, Knut, eds.Economists' Mathematical Manual, New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1993.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blumstein, A. "Prisons," in J. Q. Wilson; J. Petersilia, eds.,Crime, San Francisco, CA: ICS Press, 1995, pp. 387–420.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blumstein, A.; Cohen, J.; Miller, H. "Demographically Disaggregated Projections of Prison Populations,"Journal of Criminal Justice, 8, January 1980, pp. 1–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cooper, Russell; John, Andrew. "Coordinating Coordination Failures in Keynesian Models,"Quarterly Journal of Economics, 103, August 1988, pp. 441–63.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cournot, A.Recherches Sur Les Principes Mathematiques De La Theorie Des Richesses (Researches into the Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth), Bacon, N., ed. (English edition), New York, NY: Macmillan, 1897.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixit, A. "Comparative Statics for Oligopoly,"International Economic Review, 27, 1986, pp. 107–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ehrlich, Isaac. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: An Economic Analysis," in Gary S. Becker; William M. Landes, eds.,Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1974, pp. 68–134.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeman, Richard B. "Why Do So Many Young American Men Commit Crimes and What Might We Do About It?,"Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10, 1, 1996, pp. 25–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • __. "The Labor Market," in J. Q. Wilson; J. Petersilia, eds.,Crime, San Francisco, CA: ICS Press, 1995, pp. 171–92.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuran, Timur. "Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Political Revolution,"Public Choice, 61, 1, April 1989, pp. 41–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mandel, M. J.; Magnusson P.; et al. "The Economics of Crime,"Business Week, December 13, 1993, pp. 72–81.

  • Pyle, David J.The Economics of Crime and Law Enforcement, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sah, Raaj K. "Social Osmosis and Patterns of Crime,"Journal of Political Economy, 99, 6, 1991, pp. 1272–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sherman, L. W. "The Police," in J. Q. Wilson; J. Petersilia, eds.,Crime, San Francisco, CA: ICS Press, 1995, pp. 327–48.

    Google Scholar 

  • Varian, H.Microeconomic Analysis, 3rd ed., New York, NY: Norton and Co., 1992.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tabarrok, A. A simple model of crime waves, riots, and revolutions. Atlantic Economic Journal 25, 274–288 (1997).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: