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Optimal fines and auditing when wealth is costly to observe

  • Polinsky, A. Mitchell

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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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V7M-4MYF665-1/2/f8c5f93b3e6f958191848e7c60e59508
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal International Review of Law and Economics.

Volume (Year): 26 (2006)
Issue (Month): 3 (September)
Pages: 323-335

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Handle: RePEc:eee:irlaec:v:26:y:2006:i:3:p:323-335
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/irle

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  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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. James Andreoni & Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1998. "Tax Compliance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 818-860, June.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
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