The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Pecuniary Versus Non-pecuniary Penalties

  • Dan Kahan
Reference work entry


‘Pecuniary’ penalties (fines) seem underutilized relative to ‘non-pecuniary’ penalties such as imprisonment, since they are ceteris paribus cheaper for society to impose. But the public preference for imprisonment over fines might reflect the value that the public attaches to the condemnatory meaning that imprisonment, unlike fines, conveys. An economic theory of punishment should include this sensibility in the social welfare calculus used to appraise the efficiency of various forms of punishment. The expressive utility of imprisonment might more than offset the higher cost of imprisoning offenders who could just as effectively be deterred by fines.


Becker, G. Bentham, J. Fines Imprisonment Pecuniary vs. non-pecuniary penalties Posner, R. Punishment Social norms 

JEL Classifications

C43 E51 
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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan Kahan
    • 1
  1. 1.