Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date





De Gruyter Publishing House




This paper presents a model of penalties that reconciles the conflicting accounts optimal punishment by Becker, who argued penalties should internalize social costs, and Posner, who suggested penalties should completely deter offenses. The model delivers specific recommendations as to when penalties should be set to internalize social costs and when they should be set to completely deter offensive conduct. I use the model to generate a positive account of the function and scope of criminal law doctrines, such as intent, necessity, and rules governing the distinction between torts and crimes. The model is also consistent with the history of criminal penalties set out by Adam Smith.


Updated with published version of paper on 9/25/22

Working paper available on SSRN

Find on SSRN

Working paper available on SSRN

Link to Publisher Site (BU Community Subscription)



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.