Why fines?

A while ago I ended up in a highly contentious debate on Näkökulma, a Finnish web forum for societal‐political discussion. People there seemed to have a lot of trouble understanding why anyone would want to extend the use of fines as a means of law enforcement at the expense of more traditional forms of punishments, like jail time. This essay is an attempt to sum up one libertarian point of view.

Presume we have a law to enforce. The contents of the law are not an issue, just the enforcement. Also presume we are to maximize the sum total of societal welfare, without regard for distributional issues (i.e. we are utilitarians). How should we go about the task?

The first task is to enumerate the costs of associated with enforcement. Some costs involved in enforcing a law include: