24 November 2017

PhD on Law and Economics of Enforcement in Russia


On 2 November Dmitriy Skougarevskiy defended his PhD thesis in International Economics, titled “Essays in Law and Economics of Enforcement”. Associate Professor Nicolas Berman presided the committee, which included Professor Jean-Louis Arcand, Thesis Director, and Professor Roberto Galbiati from Sciences Po, France. Viewing the law as a policy tool that shapes agents’ actions to match the expected outcomes, Dr Skougarevskiy studies how criminal law affects decision-making and behaviour in the world’s second largest jurisdiction, Russia.

Where does your interest in Law and Economics stem from?

My interest in Law and Economics was ignited by Professor Damien Neven’s courses on law and economics of antitrust which I took as a Master’s student at the Institute. But I was equally fascinated with Professor Arcand’s command of structural and reduced-form estimation. At the end of the day I realised that I could take the best of both worlds: apply microeconometric models to answer legal questions. The data were the final component to estimate my models: with colleagues (led by Professor Vadim Volkov) of the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University at St. Petersburg, we obtained the data on all the decisions made by Russian judges adjudicating criminal cases over five years. So, in contrast to the black-letter law of legal documents and instruments, I was able to examine the law in action as manifested in judicial decision-making.

What were your main research questions and findings?

With data of unprecedented scope and quality an economist can ask a wealth of questions. In the chapters of my thesis I focus on three:

  1. If you plead guilty to a crime, will you receive a reduction in sentence?
  2. If you are a repeated offender, will you commit more serious crimes along your criminal career?
  3. Are punishments for crimes simply prices for bad behaviour or do they carry additional meaning?

My models, estimated on real-world data, suggest the following answers, respectively:

  1. Pleading guilty benefits most those defendants who do not plead guilty (modern econometrics allows researchers to uncover outcomes of counterfactual scenarios: what could have happened if you had made the opposite choice).
  2. Your next crime will be more severe than your previous ones.
  3. The law has a pronounced expressive function and the sanctions for crimes signify what the society views as the social norm.

Can you give an example of the policy relevance of your thesis?

I conceived my second chapter with a policy application in mind. In the summer of 2015 a Russian man killed his wife, mother and six children. Before that tragedy the late wife had filed a complaint for domestic violence with the local police on six occasions. The police, however, had discarded her grievances, citing work overload. Local police officers in Russia have a wide set of duties. One of them is postrelease supervision of individuals who have committed a crime. In my thesis, inter alia, I estimate which groups of individuals are likely to commit more serious crimes after release. Imagine a local police officer with a phone app. S/he would enter observable characteristics (gender, age, occupation, previous crimes, etc.) of individuals under the supervision in his/her area. The app would then use the model estimated in my thesis to identify individuals who are more likely to commit more serious crimes. This would make the inspector’s monitoring duties more automated and evidence-based, and less laborious. The app is my dream application of the findings that is yet to come true.

What are you doing now?

I am a lead researcher at the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University at St. Petersburg. Thanks to a grant from the Russian Science Foundation, I will focus on turning my thesis into academic contributions. My second intention is to provide capacity for evidence-based criminal justice policy in the country. Unfortunately, my university is now under attack from the Russian authorities and is facing eviction and suspension of educational license. But unsubstantiated optimism keeps our team going.

Full citation of the PhD thesis: Skugarevskiy, Dmitriy. “Essays in Law and Economics of Enforcement”. PhD thesis (defended cumma sum laude), Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2017.

Illustration: retrieved from Pixabay.