The Imprisoner's Dilemma: The Political Economy of Proportionate Punishment

Daniel D'Amico

Advisor: Peter J Boettke, PhD, Department of Economics

Enterprise Hall, 318
April 21, 2008, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


If society were a civilization of angels there would be no need for rules. If men were governed by God, all knowing and benevolent, then the rules would be enforced perfectly. Society is comprised of men governed by other men plagued by both imperfect knowledge and impure incentives. What punishment theorists have termed proportionality- where the response to crime is well-suited to the crime itself - I frame as a problem of economic coordination. Providing criminal justice proportionately is a task of social coordination that must confront both knowledge and incentive problems simultaneously. This dissertation begins by surveying the potential for cross-disciplinary work in the economic-sociology of criminal punishment. Next I analyze today's criminal punishment system on two margins: it's abilities to overcome Hayekian knowledge problems and its ability to avoid Public Choice-styled rent-seeking and capture. I conclude that centrally-planned criminal justice institutions are ineffective at solving knowledge and incentive problems to produce proportionate punishments.