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Optimal Fines and Auditing When Wealth is Costly to Observe

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  • A. Mitchell Polinsky

Abstract

This article studies optimal fines when an offender's wealth is private information that can be obtained by the enforcement authority only after a costly audit. I derive the optimal fine for the underlying offense, the optimal fine for misrepresenting one's wealth level, and the optimal audit probability. I demonstrate that the optimal fine for misrepresenting wealth equals the fine for the offense divided by the audit probability, and therefore generally exceeds the fine for the offense. The optimal audit probability is positive, increases as the cost of an audit declines, and equals unity if the cost is sufficiently low. If the optimal audit probability is less than unity, there are some individuals who are capable of paying the fine for the offense who misrepresent their wealth levels. I also show that the optimal fine for the offense results in underdeterrence due to the cost of auditing wealth levels.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10760.

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Date of creation: Sep 2004
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Publication status: published as Polinsky, A. Mitchell. "Optimal Fines and Auditing When Wealth is Costly to Observe." International Review of Law and Economics 26(3): 323-335, September 2006
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10760

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  1. Andreoni, J. & Erard, B. & Feinstein, J., 1996. "Tax Compliance," Working papers 9610, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  2. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1990. "A Note on Optimal Fines When Wealth Varies Among Individuals," NBER Working Papers 3232, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Polinsky, A. Mitchell, 2006. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment when wealth is unobservable," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(4-5), pages 823-835, May.
  4. Chu, C. Y. Cyrus & Jiang, Neville, 1993. "Are fines more efficient than imprisonment?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(3), pages 391-413, July.
  5. Garoupa, Nuno, 1998. "Optimal Law Enforcement and Imperfect Information When Wealth Varies among Individuals," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(260), pages 479-90, November.
  6. Kaplow, Louis & Shavell, Steven, 1994. "Optimal Law Enforcement with Self-Reporting of Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(3), pages 583-606, June.
  7. Cyrus Chu, C. Y. & Qian, Yingyi, 1995. "Vicarious liability under a negligence rule," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(3), pages 305-322, September.
  8. Levitt, Steven D., 1997. "Incentive compatibility constraints as an explanation for the use of prison sentences instead of fines," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 179-192, June.
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Cited by:
  1. A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2004. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment When Wealth is Unobservable," NBER Working Papers 10761, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. José A. Rodrigues-Neto, 2009. "Sex, Money and Corruption," ANU Working Papers in Economics and Econometrics 2009-500, Australian National University, College of Business and Economics, School of Economics.
  3. Alfredo Burlando & Alberto Motta, 2007. "Self Reporting reduces corruption in law enforcement," "Marco Fanno" Working Papers 0063, Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche "Marco Fanno".
  4. Christian Growitsch & Nicole Nulsch & Margarethe Rammerstorfer, 2012. "Preventing innovative cooperations: the legal exemptions unintended side effect," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 1-22, February.
  5. Hsiao-Chi Chen & Shi-Miin Liu, 2007. "Dynamic Incentive Contracts in Multiple Penalty Systems with No-commitment to Tenure-track Auditing," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 90(3), pages 255-294, April.
  6. Rodrigues-Neto, José A., 2014. "On corruption, bribes and the exchange of favors," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 152-162.

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