Get access

Theory and Empirics of Democracy and Crime Revisited: How Much Further Can We Go with Existing Data and Methodologies?


  • Jose Cuesta

    Search for more papers by this author
    • José Cuesta Ph.D. is a Senior Economist at the World Bank and an Affiliated Professor at the Institute of Public Policy at Georgetown University. His research interests include poverty, social policies, and intrahousehold allocation. He has published articles on those topics in Review of Income and Wealth, Journal of International Development, Journal of Latin American Studies, Journal of the Asia Pacific Economies, European Journal of Development Research, and Journal of Income Distribution, among others. Recently, he is working on the relationship between social capital, victimization, and democratization in Latin America. He can be contacted at World Bank, 1818 H Street, NW, Washington DC 20433; 1-202-4737781;

  • The author thanks E. Alda, M. Cox, L. Hastings, W. Reech, and participants at the 2009 MPSA Meetings for comments and suggestions to previous versions of this article. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of World Bank or its Board of Directors, but exclusively those of the author. Usual disclaimers apply.


The vast empirical work on the criminogenic nature of democracies has produced strong—albeit suspiciously wide-ranging—claims. This article reviews existing evidence and methodologies that link crime and democracies. It asks three questions: Do theories generate separable and exclusionary predictions enabling their identification and testing? Could results be more conclusive given existing data limitations and the current methodological state of the art? How far are we from obtaining such results? We conclude that there are far too many arguments with blurry lines predicting just about any result. Data are more likely to constitute the binding constraint rather than methodology issues, despite the fact that the estimation of causality between democracy and crime can still be improved. Finally, the priority should be the harmonization of existing information sources, which will require overcoming externalities associated with the public good nature of global information generation.