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Efficient Ideas Are Not Popular

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Mark Grabowski says texting while driving should carry the same penalties as drunk driving because they have equivalent accident risks. He cites some studies and polls about how texting is even worse than drunk driving. But he is mixing up private information and public information, which are treated differently by the law.

Private information is information known only to the criminal, and public information is known by people around him. Intoxication is private information, even though it can be expressed publicly in swerving and colliding with road signs. But the state of intoxication while driving is known only to the driver, especially if he’s good at it. Texting is public because it’s visible, unless one can manage to text without looking. The difference between public and private information laws should be obvious: police can’t detect private information without seeing the side-effects of it. An officer can see someone texting, pull him over before he runs into a pedestrian, and write him a $150 ticket. Since police run the risk of catching drunk drivers too late in the act, the penalty is significantly higher.

A columnist doesn’t understand this difference any more than the average voter, which is why professional, well-paid lawmakers make better laws than popular opinion. Publicly elected lawmakers make bad laws because, just like columnists, their careers depend on their support of popular ideas, not efficient ones. Efficient ideas aren’t popular.

For more information on the economics of lawmaking, check out David Friedman’s Law’s Order. He’s just released it on his website for free.


Written by xout

August 13, 2010 at 11:47 am

Posted in law

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David Friedman on Equality and Gay Marriage

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From here:

“Equal Rights” sounds like a principle practically everyone, at least in our society, is in favor of, which makes claims about equal rights rhetorically effective. It is not at all clear, however, what it means. The problem occurred to me recently while listening to Ted Olsen, who is one of the attorneys trying to persuade the Supreme Court that California’s failure to permit gay marriage is an unconstitutional violation of the principle. His view, widely shared by supporters of gay marriage, is that current California law fails to provide homosexuals the same right it provides to heterosexuals—the right to be married to the partner of their choice.

An opponent could respond, with equal logic, that it is consistent with equal rights. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals have the right to marry a partner of the opposite sex, neither has the right to marry a partner of the same sex. Seen from this standpoint, the difference is not in what rights different people have but in what rights matter to different people. Current California law provides both homosexuals and heterosexuals with the marital right that heterosexuals value and provides neither with the marital right that homosexuals value.

I talked to my father about this, and he asked, “Couldn’t the same logic apply to racist equality, where all people have the right to discriminate against black people?” I said that the argument against gay marriage claims that being gay is a choice, which isn’t the case with racists. It’s easier to legislate against choices as opposed to concrete physical traits like skin color, even if choices are supposedly influenced by genes or family history. A drunk driver, for example, can’t expect leniency if he claims to come from a family of alcoholics.

I assume gay marriage proponents haven’t found concrete evidence of the gay gene yet. I think it shouldn’t matter, since finding the gene makes homosexuality genetic-only and might restrict those who choose to go gay, though the legal process might be simpler if they did find the gene.

Written by xout

June 25, 2010 at 9:38 am

Posted in culture

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