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Debtors' Prisons in America: An Economic Analysis

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  • Mathhew Baker

    (Hunter College, City University of New York)

  • Metin Cosgel

    (University of Connecticut)

  • Thomas J. Miceli

    (University of Connecticut)

Abstract

Debtors' prisons have been commonplace throughout history, including in the United States. While imprisonment for debt no doubt elicited some repayment by benefactors of the debtor, we argue that its primary function was to deter default in the first place by giving borrowers an incentive to disclose hidden assets. Because of its cost, however, imprisonment was destined to be replaced by more efficient ways of preventing borrowers from sheltering assets. Empirical analysis of state laws banning imprisonment for debt provides support for this argument. In particular, the results suggest that states in which the publishing industry developed sooner (thus facilitating the flow of information) were more likely to enact early bans on imprisonment for debt.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2009-33.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2009-33

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Web page: http://www.econ.uconn.edu/
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Keywords: Debtors' prison; default; imprisonment;

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  1. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment," NBER Working Papers 0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. 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.
  4. Bester, Helmut, 1987. "The role of collateral in credit markets with imperfect information," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 887-899, June.
  5. Rea, Samuel A, Jr, 1984. "Arm-breaking, Consumer Credit and Personal Bankruptcy," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 22(2), pages 188-208, April.
  6. Townsend, Robert M., 1979. "Optimal contracts and competitive markets with costly state verification," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 265-293, October.
  7. Gale, Douglas & Hellwig, Martin, 1985. "Incentive-Compatible Debt Contracts: The One-Period Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 647-63, October.
  8. Patrick Bolton & Mathias Dewatripont, 2005. "Contract Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262025760, December.
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