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Optimal Punishment Schemes with State-Dependent Preferences


  • Neilson, William S


The optimal trade-off between the certainty and severity of punishment is studied in a setting in which individuals are more sensitive to changes in certainty than severity and have state-dependent preferences--being convicted of a crime reduces utility at every wealth level. In this setting, it is not optimal to set the probability of punishment at one even if it is costless in convict criminals because reducing the certainty of punishment also reduces the probability that offenders' utility functions shift downward. The optimal level of certainty is therefore lower than that implied by prior studies based on state-independent preferences. Copyright 1998 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Neilson, William S, 1998. "Optimal Punishment Schemes with State-Dependent Preferences," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(2), pages 266-271, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:36:y:1998:i:2:p:266-71

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Griliches, Zvi & Hausman, Jerry A., 1986. "Errors in variables in panel data," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 93-118, February.
    3. Benson, Bruce L. & Rasmussen, David W. & Kim, Iljoong, 1998. "Deterrence and Public Policy: Trade-Offs in the Allocation of Police Resources," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 77-100, March.
    4. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1984. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-99, June.
    5. Grogger, Jeffrey, 1991. "Certainty vs. Severity of Punishment," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 29(2), pages 297-309, April.
    6. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-235, April.
    7. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-323.
    8. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-290, June.
    9. James Andreoni, 1991. "Reasonable Doubt and the Optimal Magnitude of Fines: Should the Penalty Fit the Crime?," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(3), pages 385-395, Autumn.
    10. George J. Stigler, 1974. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 55-67 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Helen Tauchen & Ann Dryden Witte & Harriet Griesinger, 1993. "Criminal Deterrence: Revisiting the Issue with a Birth Cohort," NBER Working Papers 4277, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1981. "On the Usefulness of Controlling Individuals: An Economic Analysis of Rehabilitation, Incapacitation, and Deterrence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 307-322, June.
    13. Waldfogel, Joel, 1993. "Criminal Sentences as Endogenous Taxes: Are They "Just" or "Efficient"?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 139-151, April.
    14. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-565, May-June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nuno Garoupa, 1998. "Crime and punishment: Further results," Economics Working Papers 344, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    2. Langlais, Eric, 2006. "Criminals and risk attitude," MPRA Paper 1149, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 15 Sep 2006.
    3. Éric Langlais, 2010. "Les criminels aiment-ils le risque ?," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 61(2), pages 263-280.
    4. Eric Langlais, 2008. "Detection Avoidance and Deterrence: Some Paradoxical Arithmetic," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 10(3), pages 371-382, June.
    5. Eric LANGLAIS, 2009. "Deterrence Of A Criminal Team: How To Rely On Its Members' Short Comings ?," Journal of Applied Economic Sciences, Spiru Haret University, Faculty of Financial Management and Accounting Craiova, vol. 4(1(7)_ Spr).
    6. Liqun Liu & Andrew Rettenmaier & Thomas Saving, 2009. "Conditional payments and self-protection," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 38(2), pages 159-172, April.
    7. Liqun Liu, 2008. "Spillover of cause-specific longevity interventions: an independent mortality risk model," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 9(2), pages 193-201, May.
    8. Nuno Garoupa, 2003. "Behavioral Economic Analysis of Crime: A Critical Review," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 5-15, January.
    9. Chiu, W.Henry & Madden, Paul, 2007. "Crime, punishment, and background risks," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 62(4), pages 543-555, April.
    10. Liu, Liqun & Neilson, William S., 2006. "Endogenous private safety investment and the willingness to pay for mortality risk reductions," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(8), pages 2063-2074, November.

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