Atlantic Economic Journal

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 46–54 | Cite as

Crime and income inequality: An economic approach

  • Joseph Deutsch
  • Uriel Spiegel
  • Joseph Templeman


When a given pie is redivided in a less equalitarian manner, it is uncertain whether those already undertaking illegal activity will increase or decrease their activities, since the return to illegal activities is countered by the loss due to punishment (which is more painful to a criminal who failed) on one hand, and from the cost of the sacrifice of utility from legitimate activities on the other hand.

If the absolute level of wealth remains constant but relative position declines, an incentive is generated to re-establish a person's standing by joining the crime industry. This is certainly the case at the margin for those close to the boundary of joining, i.e., those who are almost indifferent between joining or remaining within the legal framework.

Assuming an individual is already participating in illegal activities, the effect of either an absolute or relative change in his level of wealth on his level of illegal activities is indeterminate. This applies both to the case where the total wealth of the society is fixed and the share of the pie going to the rich rises and the case where the total pie rose but the entire gain went only to the rich.

In summary, it has been shown that an increase in wealth inequality has an indeterminate outcome both with respect to the decision of the poor on whether or not to enter the crime “industry” and with respect to the decision of those already participating in illegal pursuits to increase or decrease their level of activity. This conclusion is somewhat contrary to the general consensus of the literature, which appears to hold that increases in wealth inequality will tend to increase both the level of participation in the crime industry and the level of output within the industry.


Relative Position International Economic Public Finance Income Inequality General Consensus 
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Copyright information

© Atlantic Economic Society 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Deutsch
    • 1
  • Uriel Spiegel
    • 1
  • Joseph Templeman
    • 1
  1. 1.Bar-Ilan UniversityIsrael

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