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Why Not Hang Them All: The Virtues of Inefficient Punishment

David Friedman
Journal of Political Economy
Vol. 107, No. S6 (December 1999), pp. S259-S269
DOI: 10.1086/250110
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/250110
Page Count: 11
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Why Not Hang Them All: The Virtues of Inefficient Punishment
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Abstract

Replacing a criminal punishment with another that both is more severe and has a lower ratio of punishment cost to amount of punishment, while reducing the probability of conviction to maintain the same level of deterrence, lowers both punishment cost and enforcement cost. Hence imprisonment is always dominated by execution and both are dominated by fines and other alternatives. Moden legal systems do not fit that pattern. One possible explanation is that the ability enforces to profit by convictions and produce costly rent seeking. Examples include product liability litigation, civil forfeiture, and fraudulent prosecution motivated by rewards in eighteenth0‐century England. the problem was avoided by the use of infficient punishments in the legal system of saga period Iceland and the private norms of Shasta County, California. Execution, while not directly profitable for enforcers, facilitates rent seeking through threats leading to out‐of‐court settlements.

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