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This chapter explores an alternative economic theory of crime based on the work of Richard Adelstein. Unlike the Becker model, it argues that the criminal process operates as part of the “exchange order” of society. The goal of punishment is, therefore, to mediate criminal exchanges, defined to be involuntary transfers of legal rights between offenders and their victims. Within this setting, criminal liability is specifically aimed at “completing the exchange” by imposing proportional punishment on offenders. That is, offenders pay for the crime that they committed, while at the same time the public nature of punishment implicitly compensates society for the moral costs of the crime. The guiding principle of this system is retribution, or corrective justice on a case-by-case basis, rather than deterrence.
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Also see Adelstein ( 1981).
Specifically, the concept of “collective responsibility” in Chap. 7 will illustrate this point.
This envisions each buyer as purchasing at most one unit. Alternatively, if buyers can purchase more than one unit, the negative slope reflects a diminishing marginal benefit of additional units.
The closest analogy in actual markets is when retailers add a price premium to account for shoplifting, thereby requiring paying customers to compensate the store for the costs of non-paying customers.
Victims of crime can sometimes seek actual compensation through the tort system, as will be discussed below.
See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 454 U.S. 247 (1981).
This reflects the idea of “demoralization costs,” which Michelman ( 1967) first introduced as one of the costs associated with uncompensated government takings of property.
The standard for conviction in all criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt, but that phrase is vague enough to admit some discretion. For example, Posner ( 2003, p. 620) suggests that it can encompass anywhere from 75% to 95% certainty.
We pursue this point in more detail in Chap. 5.
The following is based on Miceli ( 2018).
Recall from Chap. 2 that optimal deterrence when enforcement is costly generally does not involve setting the expected fine equal to the dollar-equivalent in harm from the crime; rather, it should be set below it, resulting in some underdeterrence.
The logic is a bit more subtle for prison—see the discussion in Chap. 2.
The supply curve does not, however, reflect that component of the moral cost of crime not directly incurred by immediate victims.
See Phlips ( 1983) for a survey of the economics of price discrimination.
As we have noted, some harms are both crimes and torts, meaning that both the state and the victim can pursue actions concurrently. However, this does not explain the co-existence of both areas of law, and how acts are classified into one or the other category. Economists have studied this issue but have not provided a completely convincing explanation. See, for example, Shavell ( 1993), Friedman ( 2000, Chap. 18), Harel ( 2012), and Mungan ( 2012).
There is, however, a category of torts called “intentional torts.” See Landes and Posner ( 1987, Chap. 6).
Liability rules also govern some exchanges in property law, such as government takings under eminent domain; and in contract law, such as damage remedies for breach of contract.
In a radical proposal, Posner and Weyl ( 2018) argue for an expanded use of liability rules as a way to overcome the inherently monopolistic nature of private property and the consequent inefficiency of markets.
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- Crime As Exchange: Retribution
Thomas J. Miceli
- Chapter 3
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