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Journal of Economic Literature: Vol. 38 No. 1 (March 2000)

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The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law

Article Citation

Polinsky, A. Mitchell, and Steven Shavell. 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law." Journal of Economic Literature, 38(1): 45-76.

DOI: 10.1257/jel.38.1.45

Abstract

This article surveys the theory of the public enforcement of law--the use of public agents (inspectors, tax auditors, police, prosecutors) to detect and to sanction violators of legal rules. We first present the basic elements of the theory, focusing on the probability of imposition of sanctions, the magnitude and form of sanctions, and the rule of liability. We then examine a variety of extensions of the central theory, concerning accidental harms, costs of imposing fines, errors, general enforcement, marginal deterrence, the principal-agent relationship, settlements, self-reporting, repeat offenders, imperfect knowledge about the probability and magnitude of fines, and incapacitation.

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Authors

Polinsky, A. Mitchell (Stanford Law School and NBER)
Shavell, Steven (Harvard Law School and NBER)

JEL Classifications

K42: Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


Journal of Economic Literature


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