The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

225. A. M. Polinsky and S. Shavell, Public Enforcement of Law, 12/97; subsequently published in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and the Law, Peter Newman (ed.), (New York: Stockton Press, 1998), Vol. 3, P-Z, 178-188; and in Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, Boudewijn & Gerrit De Geest (eds.), (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2000), Vol. V, 307-344.

Abstract: This article discusses 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, including accidental harms, costs of imposing fines, mistake, marginal deterrence, settlement, self-reporting, repeat offenses, and incapacitation. Applications to criminal law, the control of driving, environmental enforcement, and tax evasion are included.

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