David R. Henderson  

The Best Sentence of the Week

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Some students and I, in a special readings class, were working our way through some chapters of David Friedman's law and economics book, Law's Order.

In an interesting section where he makes a persuasive case for allowing a market in babies, he digresses to talk about cats. Here's the sentence:

Rationing goods in excess supply is not usually a problem.

He goes on to point out that that's what the humane society does, even though the alternative to finding so-so homes for cats is killing them. The section can be found on p. 185.

Here's a bonus: another good passage (from page 8):

You live in a state where the most severe criminal punishment is life imprisonment. Someone proposes that since armed robbery is a very serious crime, armed robbers should get a life sentence. A constitutional lawyer asks whether that is consistent with the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. A legal philosopher asks whether it is just.

An economist points out that if the punishments for armed robbery and for armed robbery plus murder are the same, the additional punishment for the murder is zero--and asks whether you really want to make it in the interest of robbers to murder their victims.


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CATEGORIES: Economics of Crime



COMMENTS (9 to date)
Kurbla writes:

Yes, it is good Friedman's point.

Even mass murderer who left alive witness shouldn't be maximally punished - following the same logic. (Exceptions are those who have enough power not to be frightened by law. )

Steve Sailer writes:

Right. As sentences for lesser crimes of violence became more severe after about 1979, the death penalty would, logically, have become a more important deterrent against witness-murdering.

I don't know why this almost never comes up in discussions of whether the death penalty is effective as a deterrent.

HH writes:

On the robbery/murder point, I'm still amazed how little this comes up, even though Thomas More made the point something like 500 years ago in Utopia (theft/murder and the death penalty in then-England).

desert sailor writes:

...and to think all this time I could have been getting away with murder for the same price at a steal!

alex writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

mike shupp writes:

The young James Boswell argued that robbers and highwaymen ought to be executed without exception; Samuel Johnson refuted him with exactly the same argument. This was in the 1760's and I doubt that Johnson based his reasoning on economics.

Doc Merlin writes:

In the words of a philosopher older than western civilization: "Nothing is new under the sun."

Friedman's very good point has been echoed and ignored time and time again. Much like economists have known for many decades that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment, but everyone ignores that too and does it anyway.

Bill K. writes:

Couldn't Friedman's economist be refuted by the response, "For armed robbery, we execute you. For armed robbery + murder, we torture, then execute you. For armed robbery + murder + leaving no witnesses, we torture, then revive you, then torture you, then revive you, etc. and finally we crucify you."? Seems to me there are worse things than death, such as: a horrible, prolonged death. What say ye, Kurbla?

CJ Smith writes:

@Bill K:

I don't recall the original source, but someone once suggested that the cure for convicted jihadists be smothering in pig fat - thus rendering the soul so unclean that even acts of "martyrdom" could not guarantee a place in heaven....

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