The Theory of Public Enforcement of Law

82 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2006 Last revised: 10 Sep 2010

See all articles by A. Mitchell Polinsky

A. Mitchell Polinsky

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

Steven Shavell

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

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 2005

Abstract

This chapter of the forthcoming Handbook of Law and Economics surveys the theory of the public enforcement of law %u2013 the use of governmental agents (regulators, inspectors, tax auditors, police, prosecutors) to detect and to sanction violators of legal rules. The theoretical core of our analysis addresses the following basic questions: Should the form of the sanction imposed on a liable party be a fine, an imprisonment term, or a combination of the two? Should the rule of liability be strict or fault-based? If violators are caught only with a probability, how should the level of the sanction be adjusted? How much of society%u2019s resources should be devoted to apprehending violators? We then examine a variety of extensions of the central theory, including: activity level; errors; the costs of imposing fines; general enforcement; marginal deterrence; the principal-agent relationship; settlements; self-reporting; repeat offenders; imperfect knowledge about the probability and magnitude of sanctions; corruption; incapacitation; costly observation of wealth; social norms; and the fairness of sanctions.

Suggested Citation

Polinsky, A. Mitchell and Shavell, Steven, The Theory of Public Enforcement of Law (November 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11780. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=851689

A. Mitchell Polinsky (Contact Author)

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Steven Shavell

Harvard Law School ( email )

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