Thinking, Fast and Slow
In another study of incoherence in the legal system, Sunstein compared the administrative punishments that can be imposed by different U.S. government agencies including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. He concluded that “within categories, penalties seem extremely sensible, at least in the sense that the more serious harms are punished more severely. For occupational safety and health violations, the largest penalties are for repeated violations, the next largest for violations that are both willful and serious, and the least serious for failures to engage in the requisite recordkeeping.” It should not surprise you, however, that the size of penalties varied greatly across agencies, in a manner that reflected politics and history more than any global concern for fairness. The fine for a “serious violation” of the regulations concerning worker safety is capped at $7,000, while a violation of the Wild Bird Conservation Act can result in a fine of up to $25,000. The fines are sensible in the context of other penalties set by each agency, but they appear odd when compared to each other. As in the other examples in this chapter, you can see the absurdity only when the two cases are viewed together in a broad frame. The system of administrative penalties is coherent within agencies but incoherent globally.
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