Criminology is defined as the interdisciplinary study of crime and the criminal justice system. However, as recently as 1990, economists did not regularly study crime. That has since changed, with an explosion of papers and courses in a new crime subfield, created in part by the excitement around Steven Levitt’s book Freakonomics. This class, taught by a contemporary of Levitt (same age, much less famous) will be a celebration of the excitement that comes from applying economic ideas to new topics. Topics covered will include organized crime, illegal drug markets, marijuana legalization, criminal history background checks for employment, and plea bargaining. Where appropriate, the economics of crime will be contrasted with more traditional sociological approaches to the study of crime. Some of the topics will feature research by the instructor, who will also share insights on ongoing policy developments in criminal justice. There will be no lectures – students will spend class time in permanent 5-6 member teams using economics to solve puzzles and exercises, and competing against other teams in a game show format. The winning team gets bragging rights and the opportunity to name the class snow-bandit, to be made in the last week as a class project. Classes will meet twice a week for 3.5 hours a class. Out of class activities will include watching movies about crime, listening to podcasts, reading no more than 2 articles per week and making the class snow bandit. The final week will include virtual classroom visits from recent Williams graduates who have gotten their PhD’s in economics and who specialize in the economics of crime, including Drs. Jen Doleac, Alex Albright, and Emma Harrington. Students are expected to have a working knowledge of micro-economics, at the level of a college Principles of Microeconomics class. Class attendance is mandatory – teams will ensure member preparation and participation with appropriate economic incentives.
The Class: Format: lecture
Grading: pass/fail only
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Final project or presentation
Prerequisites: Principles of Microeconomics
Enrollment Preferences: The Instructor preference is for an equal number of students by class year. If the class is over-enrolled, selections will be made that will create relative equal number of students per class year.
Unit Notes: Shawn Bushway is a Professor of Criminal Justice/Public Administration and Policy at the University at Albany. He recently finished a 3 year stint at the think-tank RAND. He is a nationally recognized expert on background checks and sentencing.
Attributes: STUX Winter Study Student Exploration