Killing for Money: Does Crime Pay?

Perhaps surprisingly, contract killers are not as highly paid as you would have thought.

Publishing in the Taylor & Francis journal Review of Social Economy, author Samuel Cameron attempts to dispel the myths behind the economy of crime, paying specific attention to contract killings with his article "Killing for Money and the Economic Theory of Crime." (click on the title for the entire article)

No economist (and even very few criminologists or psychologists) has researched paid killing, adding to the importance of Cameron’s work in the field of economics. There is a wealth of literature on the economics of crime, although most attention is devoted to the deterrence of crime, rather than the contentious issue of contract killing.

Detailed research on this topic is long over-due – the last detailed analysis of contract killings was data taken during 1989-2002 in Australia. Cameron provides fresh evidence taken from a small sample of paid killing cases in the UK from data collected in June 2011 spanning offences from 1972 to 2011. Key sources have also been consulted, such as the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail, and the BBC.

The material and discussion presented in this article draw attention to the fact that the majority of paid killings take place for very small sums much lower than the economic value of life and lower too than what one would expect as compensation for efforts and risks of the contract killer.

Findings include:

  • The total offer ranges from UK£200 up to a rather high offer of UK£1.5 million for an insurance claim case. Payment in perpetuity was offered only in one case at a rate of UK£400 every week for the rest of the life of the perpetrator.
  • The vast majority of cases (86.7%) indicate that the body was simply left on the spot. In a few other cases, disposal of the body took place—none of them very far from the scene of the crime
  • Hirers and paid killers operate in incomplete markets where it is not possible to write down enforceable contracts. A contract between a hirer and a hiree must by its very nature be implicit, as the individuals cannot form a legally binding contract which involves killing someone. This brings a number of risks - backmail, exploitation and failed performance, for example, but also, in case of failure, a crippled, maimed or injured target, as well as death or serious injury for the hiree from a target that fights back. Detection and punishment are risks for the hirer as well as the hiree.

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Suggested reading:

Story source:   Samuel Cameron. Killing for Money and the Economic Theory of Crime. Review of Social Economy, 2013


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