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The Optimal Probability and Magnitude of Fines for Acts that Definitely are Undesirable

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  • Louis Kaplow

Abstract

Even when society would wish to deter all acts of some type, such as tax evasion and many common crimes, the benefits from deterrence often will be insufficient to justify the expenditures on enforcement that would be required to deter everyone. If some individuals are not deterred, however, they will bear risk when fines are employed as a sanction. As a result, it may be optimal to reduce total risk-bearing costs by reducing the number of individuals who bear any risk. This can be accomplished by increasing enforcement above the level that would be justified considering only the benefits of deterrence and the direct costs of enforcement. Another possibility is that it may be optimal reduce the risk borne by those who act, by employing fines below the maximum feasible level. This latter result constitutes an instance in which the well-known implication of Becker's analysis that it is optimal to employ extreme sanctions for all offenses is invalid.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3008.

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Date of creation: Jun 1989
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Publication status: published as International Review of Law and Economics, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 3-11, (1992) .
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3008

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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
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Cited by:
  1. Sanjit Dhami & Ali al-Nowaihi, 2011. "An extension of the Becker proposition to non-expected utility theory," Discussion Papers in Economics 11/41, Department of Economics, University of Leicester.
  2. Polinsky, A Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1991. "A Note on Optimal Fines When Wealth Varies among Individuals," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(3), pages 618-21, June.
  3. Polinsky, Mitchell, 1999. "Corruption and Optimal Law Enforcement," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt35h389gd, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  4. Insaf Bekir & Sana El Harbi & Gilles Grolleau, 2012. "The strategy of raising counterfeiters’ costs in luxury markets," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 33(3), pages 645-661, June.
  5. Nuno Garoupa, 2000. "Optimal magnitude and probability of fines," Economics Working Papers 454, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  6. 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.
  7. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 2005. "The Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," NBER Working Papers 11780, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 2006. "Public Enforcement of Law," Discussion Papers 05-016, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  9. Dominique Demougin & Claude Fluet, 1999. "Costly Sanctions and the Maximum Penalty Principle," Cahiers de recherche CREFE / CREFE Working Papers 100, CREFE, Université du Québec à Montréal.
  10. Marceau, Nicolas, 1997. "Self-selection and violence in the market for crime," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 193-201, June.
  11. Forest, Adam & Kirchler, Erich, 2010. "Targeting occupations with varying reputations to increase tax revenue," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 400-406, June.
  12. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 2001. "Corruption and optimal law enforcement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 1-24, July.
  13. K. Forslind, 2007. "The economics of environmental law enforcement: end-of-life vehicles," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 23(3), pages 223-236, June.
  14. Matteo Rizzolli & Margherita Saraceno, 2009. "Better that X guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," Working Papers 168, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised Jul 2009.
  15. Alfred Endres & Bianca Rundshagen, 2012. "Escalating penalties: a supergame approach," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 13(1), pages 29-49, March.

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