Rothbard and Double Restitution
Murray Rothbard’s theory of punishment has often been misunderstood. Economists who have written on punishment and mentioned Rothbard find his “double restitution” idea puzzling, because they think about it only in terms of economic efficiency. This isn’t what he has in mind. He is combining economics and moral philosophy.
Many economists reason in this way. Suppose we have a society in which the penalty for theft is that you have to return the item you stole. If you no longer have the item, you have to pay the monetary value of it. In that case, a thief has nothing to lose if he is caught, and something to gain if he isn’t caught. In other words, if the thief is motivated by self-interest, he should steal when he thinks he can get away with it. He has at least some chance of succeeding.
In “Punishment and Proportionality,” Rothbard acknowledges this argument: “if there were no punishment for crime at all, a great number of people would commit petty theft, such as stealing fruit from a fruit-stand.” But he rejects a pure deterrence principle of punishment:
most people have a far greater built-in inner objection to themselves committing murder than they have to petty shoplifting, and would be far less apt to commit the grosser crime. Therefore, if the object of punishment is to deter from crime, then a far greater punishment would be required for preventing shoplifting than for preventing murder, a system that goes against most people’s ethical standards. As a result, with deterrence as the criterion there would have t
Article from Mises Wire