For Adam Smith, a crime is not the result of a rational calculation of loss and gain but the consequence of envy and a vain desire to parade wealth to attract the approbation of others, combined with a natural systematic bias in overestimating the probability of success. Similarly, Smith does not conceive of legal sanctions as a rational deterrent but as deriving from the feeling of resentment. While the prevailing approach of the eighteenth century is a rational explanation of crime and a utilitarian use of punishment, Adam Smith instead builds his theory of criminal behavior and legal prosecution consistently on the sentiments. A well-functioning legal system is thus an unintended consequence of our desire to bring justice to the individual person, not the result of a rational calculation to promote the public good, just like a well-functioning economic system is the unintended consequence of our desire to better our own condition, not the result of a rational calculation to promote public good.
Cambridge University Press
Paganelli, M. P., & Simon, F. (2022). Crime and punishment: Adam Smith's theory of sentimental law and economics. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 44(2), 268-287. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1053837220000437
Journal of the History of Economic Thought
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.