Firms’ Compliance to Environmental Regulation: Is There Really a Paradox?
It has often been claimed that firms’ compliance to environmental regulations is higher than predicted by standard theory, a result labeled the “Harrington paradox” in the literature. Enforcement data from Norway presented here appears, at first glance, to confirm this “stylized fact”: firms are inspected less than once a year, detected violators are seldom fined, but still, serious violations seem relatively rare. However, at a closer look, the pattern seems less paradoxical: enforcement of minor violations is lax, but such violations do flourish; serious violations, on the other hand, are subject to credible threats of harsh punishment, and such violations are more uncommon. This seems quite consistent with predictions from standard theory. We argue that the empirical existence of the Harrington paradox is not well documented in the international literature. The claim that firms’ compliance with environmental regulations is generally higher than predicted by standard theory should thus be regarded as a hypothesis rather than an established fact.