Private Versus Public Enforcement of Fines

38 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2004 Last revised: 6 Dec 2008

See all articles by A. Mitchell Polinsky

A. Mitchell Polinsky

Stanford Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: April 1979


The present paper analyzes the competitive, monopolistic, and public enforcement of fines allowing for the costs of enforcement to differ by the choice of the enforcer. There are a number of reasons to expect such differences. First, the benefits from coordinating enforcement -- for example, avoiding duplication of investigative effort and exploiting economies of scale in information processing -- are obtained under public enforcement and monopolistic enforcement, but not under competitive enforcement. Second, the profit motive might be imagined to lead to lower costs under either form of private enforcement relative to public enforcement. Third, when the revenue from fines under public enforcement is not sufficient to finance enforcement costs, there may be a deadweight burden incurred in making up the deficit from other sources. Conversely, if the fine revenue exceeds enforcement costs, the effective cost of enforcement would be lower. On balance, these considerations suggest that monopolistic enforcement may be cheaper than competitive enforcement, but that public enforcement could be more or less expensive than private enforcement.

Suggested Citation

Polinsky, A. Mitchell, Private Versus Public Enforcement of Fines (April 1979). NBER Working Paper No. w0338, Available at SSRN:

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