Essays on crime, hysteresis, poverty and conditional cash transfers
Loureiro, Andre Oliveira Ferreira
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This thesis encompasses three essays around criminal behaviour with the first one analysing the impact of programmes aimed at poverty reduction, the second one developing a theoretical model of hysteresis in crime, and the third one empirically investigating the hysteresis hypothesis in crime rates. In the first chapter I investigate the impact of conditional cash transfers (CCT) on crime rates by analysing the Brazilian Bolsa Familia, the largest CCT programme in the world, in a panel data between 2001 and 2008. The related existing economic literature analysing general welfare programmes usually ignores the crucial endogeneity involved in the relationship between crime rates and social welfare policies through poverty, since poorer regions are focused in the distribution of resources. I use the existing temporal heterogeneity in the implementation of the programme across the states to identify the causal impact of CCT programmes on poverty and criminality. The guidelines of the Brazilian programme established that the amount of resources available for each state should be based on the poverty levels in the 2000 Census. However, due to reasons unrelated to poverty levels and crime rates, some states were able to implement the programme to a greater extent more quickly than others. States that reached the level of cash transfer expenditures proposed by the guidelines of the programme more promptly had a more significant reduction in poverty rates. Similar but less robust results are found for crime rates as robbery, theft and kidnapping, while no significant effects were found for homicide and murder, indicating a weak or non-existent relationship between conditional cash transfers and crime. I also develop, to my knowledge, the first theoretical model to explicitly account for hysteresis - a situation where positive exogenous variations in the relevant economic variables have a different effect from negative variations - in both criminal behaviour and crime rates in order to fill the gap between the theoretical predictions and the empirical evidence about the efficiency of policies in reducing crime rates. The majority of the theoretical analyses predict a sharp decrease in crime rates when there are significant improvements in the economic conditions or an increase in the probability of punishment. However, the existing empirical studies have found lower than expected effects on crime rates from variations in variables related to those factors. One important consequence of hysteresis is that the effect on an outcome variable from positive exogenous variations in the determining variables has a different magnitude from negative variations. For example, if hysteresis is present in the criminal behaviour and part of the police force in a city are dismissed in a given year, resulting in an escalation in crime, a reversal of the policy in the following year by readmitting all sacked police officers in an attempt to restore the original crime levels will result in lower crime rates, but higher than the original ones, yielding an asymmetric relationship between police and crime. Hysteresis is considered in a simple framework to model illicit behaviour. At the individual level, if criminal activity is associated with intrinsic sunk costs and learning, then the cost of leaving a criminal career is higher than entering it. At the aggregate level with homogeneous agents, this is translated into a hysteresis effect that will only occur if a specific threshold is surpassed. With heterogeneous agents, this phenomenon is reinforced generating a hysteresis effect that exists for all possible values of the variable affecting the crime decision. There are multiple equilibria at both levels. In the last chapter I empirically investigate the existence of hysteresis in crime rates. To my knowledge, this is the first empirical study to consider the existence of asymmetric effects on crime from variations in the probability of punishment and in the opportunity cost of crime. More specifically, I investigate whether positive variations on variables associated to those factors, respectively police officers and average level of income, are statistically different from negative variations. Using US crime data at the state level between 1977 and 2010, I find that police force size and real average income of unskilled workers have asymmetric effects on most types of crimes. The absolute value of the average impact of positive variations in those variables on property and violent crime rates are statistically smaller than the absolute value of the average effect of negative variations. These effects are robust under several specifications. A closer inspection of the data reveals a relatively monotonic negative relationship between wages and property crime rates, as well as negative variations in police and most crime rates. However, the relationships between positive variations in law enforcement size and most crime rates are non-linear. The magnitude of the observed asymmetries supports the hypothesis of hysteresis in crime, and suggests that no theoretical or empirical analysis would be complete without careful consideration of that important feature in the relationships between crime, police and legal income. These results corroborate the argument that policy makers should be more inclined to set pre-emptive policies rather than mitigating measures.