Salience and the Severity Versus the Certainty of Punishment


The certainty aversion presumption (CAP) in the economics of law enforcement literature asserts that criminals are more responsive to increases in the certainty rather than the severity of punishment. In simple economic models, this presumption implies that criminals must be risk-seeking. Some scholars claim that this and similar anomalous implications are caused by the exclusion of various behavioral considerations in theoretical analyses. This article investigates whether a model in which criminals over-weigh probabilities attached to more salient outcomes (as in Bordalo et al. (2012) and (2013)) performs better than the simple expected utility theory model in explaining CAP-consistent-behavior. The analysis reveals that the answer is negative unless the probability of punishment is unreasonably high. This finding suggests that we should exercise caution in incorporating salience -- a la Bordalo et al. -- in simple law enforcement models.