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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

Tagged with , , ,