When Does Transparency Backfire? Putting Jeremy Bentham's Theory of General Prevention to the Experimental Test

28 Pages Posted: 28 May 2020 Last revised: 29 Oct 2020

See all articles by Christoph Engel

Christoph Engel

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 2019

Abstract

Jeremy Bentham brought enlightenment to criminal policy. He argued that the primary purpose of criminal sanctions should be deterring future crime. To that end he advocated complete transparency. This article investigates Bentham's intuition in a public goods lab experiment by manipulating how much information on punishment experienced by others is available to would‐be offenders. Compared with the tone that Jeremy Bentham set, the result is unexpected: when would‐be offenders learn about punishment of others at the individual level, they contribute much less to the public project. This is due to an inevitable side effect. Information about punishment is only meaningful together with information about the infraction.

Suggested Citation

Engel, Christoph, When Does Transparency Backfire? Putting Jeremy Bentham's Theory of General Prevention to the Experimental Test (December 2019). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 16, Issue 4, pp. 881-908, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3607367 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12231

Christoph Engel (Contact Author)

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Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

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