Defining Rewards

Last year I briefly discussed a project that I’m working on that treats “rewards” as a distinctive legal category.  Well, I’m still working on it, but I thought I would do a series of posts about this topic, as I’m getting close to writing up my work.

What do I mean by rewards?  I’m referring to money or status that is given by the state, acting in its regulatory capacity, to induce socially valuable behavior.  As a result, I am excluding rewards by private parties (“Find my lost cat and I’ll give you $50”), property rights (e.g., patents or copyrights), or state action as an employer (“Sally did a great job — give her a raise.”)  The distinction with property rights is conceptual, as rewards are closely related to liability rules because the state establishes the valuation.  The other exclusions are a matter of convenience, though I’m also unsure that there is anything distinctive about private rewards or how the state acts as an employer.

What are some examples of rewards as I have defined that term?

1.  Qui Tam actions

2.  Subsidies

3.  Salvage

4.  Bounties

5.  Titles or medals

6.  The Volunteer Military

7.  The Ancient Roman Tax System (governors got to keep 10% of the tax revenues they collected)

Note that in all of these cases the party received the money or status is not being compensated for a harm. Nor in most of these instances (except for qui tam) is any wrongful conduct being sanctioned by taking the money from the wrongdoer and giving it to the party being rewarded.  Finally, many of these rewards are set by an executive agency rather than by a court.  Thus, rewards operate rather differently from traditional liability rules.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of using rewards as a regulatory device.

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