Comparisons between rules and standards often revolve around enforcement costs. According to conventional wisdom, rules are cheaper to enforce than standards. We show that there is an additional trade-off by exploring an inverse proposition: not enforcing a rule is costlier than not enforcing a standard. Failing to enforce a rule--not bothering to punish minor infractions--reveals a lot about the government's enforcement costs. Regulated parties can use this information and violate law to a certain extent with impunity. Failing to enforce a standard reveals less information, and this can lead to greater compliance with the law. We identify the specific characteristics of standards that yield these effects. 




Nicholas Almendares, Michael D. Gilbert & Rebecca Kerley, Enforcing Rules Versus Enforcing Standards (2021).