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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Law and Economics

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Law and Economics

I found the David Friedman quote in “The Pursuit of Justice: Law and Economics of Legal Institutions” and thought that it was worth passing on.

[Suppose you] live in a state where the most severe criminal punishment is life imprisonment.  Someone proposes that since armed robbery is a very serious crime, armed robbers should get a life sentence.  A constitutional lawyer asks whether that is consistent with the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  A legal philosopher asks whether it is just.  An economist points out that if the punishment for armed robbery and for armed robbery plus murder are the same, the additional punishment for murder is zero—and asks whether you really want to make it in the interest of robbers to murder their victims (Friedman, “Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters”).


  1. This is a very interesting point. If the marginal punishment between armed robbery and murder is nothing, then criminals might not see the point in stopping with the robbery itself. A similar, though less severe, example is that of an employee who decides to take $100 from his job. If he knows that the company he works for will fire him for theft no matter how much he takes, but not file any criminal charges, he may as well take $1000. This makes it clear that society must ensure that the worst punishments are reserved for the most serious crimes, and that there is enough of an incentive to criminals to keep from committing the most serious crimes if they are already engaged in criminal activity.

  2. Very controversial matter, This situation proves in deed that justice needs to be equal and according to levels. Because it is unbelivable that murder comes out to be zero and a robbery life sentence. No, instead our goverment should find better ways to punish more equally because if not where these legal actions going to take us?

  3. Maddie Morris6/12/10 9:57 PM

    Very very interesting and controversial situation here. Obviously justice needs to be carried out in both situations, but to put these two crimes on the same playing field is wrong. Authorities need to make it clear that the worst punishment matches up with the worst crime instead of mix matching. This tends to help hold criminal activity to a lower rate.

  4. I like this, i still beileve that if you stole 500 dollars you should not get the same punishment as someone who murdered a human being. If they were to receive the same consquences of their actions then of course, why stop with just 500 when your can have their everything and end their life.

  5. Johnathan Gidney15/12/10 8:49 PM

    I believe, If you have a gun and walk into a store, with the intent to use the gun. Than that puts you on the same category as a murderer. I dont believe they should be getting the same punishment of a murderer but they should be very closely looked at.

  6. Corey Castillo15/12/10 11:33 PM

    I can agree with both point of views on this matter.
    One shouldn't commit a crime in the first place. If the punishment is hard then a person is less likely to commit a crime. I agree with that completely.
    The thing is no matter what, there are evil people in this world that will commit crimes no matter what. So if someone commits armed robbery and knows the punishment will be no worse than killing someone, he would end up committing murder as well.
    Personally I believe that all punishments should be hard, but on different levels. Murder: Life in prison. Armed robbery: 30-55 years in prison.