The Warnings Puzzle: An Upstream Explanation
22 Pages Posted: 5 May 2017 Last revised: 5 Jan 2022
Date Written: June 7, 2013
Enforcement agencies issuing warnings are an empirical regularity in the enforcement of laws and regulations, but a challenge to the standard economic theory of public enforcement. A number of recent contributions explain the popularity of warnings as a response to information asymmetries between regulator and regulatee. We offer a distinct, but complementary explanation: Warnings can serve as a signaling device in the interaction between the enforcement agency and its budget-setting authority. By using costly warnings for minor offenses that would otherwise not be pursued, the agency can generate observable activity to escape budget cuts in subsequent periods. We show in a stylized model that warnings may indeed occur in an equilibrium of a game in which warnings are entirely unproductive in the agency-regulatee interaction, and thereby derive a testable hypothesis on regulatory agency behavior.
Keywords: Warnings, Enforcement, Information Asymmetry, Signaling
JEL Classification: H11, H83, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation