The Protection Exception

We have many regulations, justified in many ways. One common type of regulation prevents people from making and enforcing certain voluntary agreements, and one common justification for such regulation is that we protect people from hurting themselves via such agreements. For example:

Chief Justice Robert Bauman ruled in favour of the section of the [Canadian] Criminal Code outlawing polygamous unions. … Bauman said while the law does infringe on religious freedom, it is justified given the harm polygamy causes to children, women and society. (more)

However, almost every such protection comes with one huge loophole, big enough to drive many a truck through: we let people emigrate to other countries. For example, we protect you and your kids from the harms of voluntary polygamy agreements, except that you and your kids may move to a nation that allows polygamy. The same applies to pretty much any other regulatory protection we offer, such as protections against buying unsafe products, hiring unlicensed professionals, paying for sex, or selling yourself into slavery. You are allowed to do any of these things as long as you first move to another nation that allows it.

This raises an obvious question: why do we allow this huge hole in the “protections” we maintain? It would seem to me more consistent to either:

  1. Prevent people from moving to nations that do not preserve the protections we think important, or
  2. Let locals make voluntary agreements that violate our basic protections, as long they plausibly demonstrate that they are so committed to such arrangements that they’d consider leaving the nation to get them.

Its seems pointless to consistently let people leave the nation to evade our “protections,” since after they leave, they aren’t protected. What gives?

Added 11p: Some responses to comments:

I am addressing paternalistic regulation rationales. Of course rules to limit local externalities are consistent with letting folks emigrate.

Some say the only way to show a willingness to move is to move. But similar folks moving for similar reasons could be evidence that you’d move, and we could invite folks who have moved to come back with fewer limits.

Some say we shouldn’t expect law to make any sense so its a mistake to try to explain legal patterns. That seems a head-in-sands approach to me.

Some say it is hard to prevent people from leaving. But we don’t even try. And we wouldn’t have to prevent leaving to any nation, just to nations that are especially unprotective.

Some say we let people leave because we realize our rules might be wrong. But that would equally justify stopping those rules at home.

My best guess here: We don’t limit emigration because the nations that have done so are now low status and we don’t want to look like them. Limiting people at home does much less to lower our status, so we feel more free to do that. We mostly make such limits for other reasons, and pretend we want to protect people.

Added 8a: This also can’t just be that we don’t care about people who are not longer part of “us”, since we let people temporarily travel to other nations to evade limits. People travel to Holland for weed, Thailand for prostitutes, and Spain for watching bulls killed.

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  • http://makemeahypocrite.blogspot.com Steve S

    I would imagine the pro-regulation crowd would take your reasoning as proof for the need of a stronger, worldwide government (i.e. the UN, but with actual powers) to enforce certain norms across the world. Don’t you think Congress would just love to extend our dietary guidelines to protect the children all across Canada, Mexico, and even Africa?

    But you are correct in pointing out how silly it is that our worries and prejudices extend up to arbitrary political borders, at which point we couldn’t care less.

  • http://libertardian.posterous.com mtraven

    How do you expect to be taken seriously on the subject of regulation when you:

    a) write manifestly silly arguments

    b) are in thrall to to the Kochtopus? Maybe you need to overcome some bias.

    The original post is silly because “we” don’t prohibit polygamy, a particular regime of government does and it has limited powers (obviously). The people who ban polygamy here would almost certainly ban it in the rest of the world if they had the power to do so, but they don’t.

    I don’t understand your second option. If someone so wants to practice polygamy that they would move from the US to (say) Qatar to do it, then they can demonstrate their commitment by doing just that. There is no other plausible way to demonstrate commitment, and why should there be?

    • John

      Jeez, the Kochs really ought to reevaluate their strategy. I mean sure, Hanson’s a libertarian and makes the occasional post questioning government. But he also posts criticisms of just about every human institution, relationship, ideology, academic field, hobby, etc. in existence! Way to dilute the message!

    • http://lesswrong.com/user/Jayson_Virissimo Jayson Virissimo

      How does this work exactly? Would you not take seriously what INET associated economists have to say about regulation because it is funded by George Soros (who certainly has a special interest particular regulations)? Also, since most economists are “are in thrall to the” USG (which very much has an interest in particular regulations) does that mean that you do not take seriously the views of the large majority of economists on the topic of regulation?

  • Phil

    Perhaps the idea is that EVERY country has at least one thing that they don’t protect and we do. Your principle would effectively ban ALL emigration — or perhaps, even tourism.

    The answer you’re hinting at, perhaps, is that protection laws are just signalling that we care, rather than actually caring. I think that’s actually true. But, in this particular example, I suspect the other plausible reasons that are more important.

  • Matt

    I think you have what I call the Misanthropic Bias. Which can be defined as, wishing humans were more logical and less human. It is at its base a type of utopianism. This comes out whenever you write on borders or immigration.

    Also your argument proves to much… It seems to imply that any law in any country is not really being enforced if A) there is another country where the banned thing or act is legal, and B) if you can move there. So obviously we shouldn’t really ban female circumcisions, people can move to africa.

    We actually do restrict travel to other countries for illicit purposes. However don’t confuse the difficulty of enforcement with lack of will. Restricting traveling, by purpose is very hard to enforce, whereas restricting actions within a countries borders varies by the action. You are assuming intent based on enforcement problems. Don’t assume that we wouldn’t punish Americans who moved abroad to brake our laws if it were easy or cheap.

    Don’t expect logic in human affairs, where there are practical constraints there is rarely philosophical purity.

    • http://makemeahypocrite.blogspot.com Steve S

      “So obviously we shouldn’t really ban female circumcisions, people can move to africa.”

      If a woman volunteered for such an operation I don’t see why it should be banned. I think you are forgetting (with this example) the difference between laws that protect others from force or fraud – e.g. forced female circumcision in Africa – with laws that prevent two willing parties from engaging in some kind of mutually agreed upon activity, such as polygamy.

      • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

        If only the distinction were that tidy in real life.

    • Wonks Anonymous

      I am a misanthropist. I want to live longer, and be less human. I want to have better eyesight, and be less human. I want to have less allergy problems, and be less human. I want to have better memory, and be less human. I want to drive a car to the store where I can buy food rather than running naked across the savannah throwing sharpened sticks at passing herbivores, and if I were a female I’d want not to have a huge probability of dying during childbirth. What a terrible misanthropist I am.

      I think a key element of Hanson’s post is that the legislation is justified based on paternalism. If the laws are responses to externalities, and the externalities can be kept mostly within national borders, then we don’t care so much if some benighted country chooses to have bad policies. It’s their loss.

      mtraven’s point about demonstrating your willingness to move through the most obvious form of revealed preference is quite a good argument. Odd that it’s combined with stuff about the “Kochtopus” (what would SEK3 think of the current use of that term?). But perhaps there’s something I don’t know about Koch investments in far farmer emulations, descended from cryonauts, who signal their Bayesian updating in response to prediction markets on the probability that they live in a mangled simulation world.

  • Faul_Sname

    One obvious reason comes to mind: certain behaviors are dangerous enough that it’s worthwhile to prevent people from casually doing them. Moving to another country is not something most people do on a whim, so enforcing within one country prevents people from easily doing the undesired behavior.

    • http://makemeahypocrite.blogspot.com Steve S

      “Moving to another country is not something most people do on a whim, so enforcing within one country prevents people from easily doing the undesired behavior”

      That is American thinking. Imagine you live in Switzerland, surrounded by French, Italian, and German neighbors. Why would you care that a stranger in Geneva wants to engage in polygamy, but if he were to move two miles across the French border and practice polygamy, you somehow wouldn’t want to stop it?

      I think that’s what Robin is getting at. Obviously you care about children enough to ban it in your own country but why would you allow those parents to move right across the border and be subjected to what you believe is a terrible situation? Shouldn’t you prevent immigration “for the children”?

      Is it a tale of asymmetric information? You will never know why a person is immigrating and thus be unable to sort through “legitimate” and “non-legitimate” reasons?

      • John

        I’m actually with Mtraven here (except for the Kochtopus comment). If “we” could, we’d ban polygamy everywhere. American “federalism” is a good example. The decision about whether to ban something (from plastic bags to polygamy to gay marriage to firearms) at the municipal, state, or federal level invariably follows from the political reality for each level of government, not moral philosophizing about whether citizens of Texas should have the right to tell citizens of California what to do.

        So it’s not that the Swiss don’t care if the French have polygamy. If the Swiss could ban polygamy in France, they probably would.

        And banning emigration just isn’t a plausible solution to our tragic inability to control the lives of those overseas, since a) the costs of enforcing an emigration ban would be extremely high and b) for most people, the costs (social and economic) of emigration are probably already high enough to dissuade most emigrants looking for less restrictive laws (even in Europe).

      • Someone from the other side

        Still a strong signal to pay significantly more taxes just to enjoy polygamy (which, unless you are hell bent on enshrining it in contracts before the law, you are allowed to do anyhow in most Western countries)

  • Preferred Anonymous

    That point of view seems simply alarmist (and slightly nationalist).

    Why not simply take over the whole earth, and declare one nation state? After all, it would be safer if one dictator/oligarchy/bought-out democracy had control over everyone, rather than all these haphazard dictators running around the place. Silly us.

    United Nations/NATO, etc. are a good idea to communicate standards and essentials of humanity, within those communities of nations, especially to reduce war, etc., but the idea of unilaterally forcing rules upon everyone seems misguided.

    The reason we don’t force people to remain in their countries of origin (despite the humanitarian issues, or maybe you should go live in China, where they do do this sort of thing, to a degree at least :P ), is because we recognize that they are community values that may or may not be correct. The US finds polygamy unacceptable; this does not mean the US is necessarily correct, and that every country should do the same as the US.

  • Mark M

    The United States does have laws that remain in force while our citizens are abroad. Torture and human trafficking are two of them. Those are the things we really care about. We can indict anyone from anywhere, whether they are citizens of the U.S. or not, and prosecute them if we can get our hands on them. These are the crimes we really care about preventing.

    Other crimes that we do not prohibit abroad – like polygamy – are those things we’ve decided we don’t want around us. We won’t complain, much, as long as you happen to be far, far away. But we’re too good – too moral – for that.

    I agree with Phil – many of these laws are signalling. We prohibit polygamy. You can have a whole house full of adults living and sleeping together and acting as a family without breaking any laws. You can even have marriage and commitment ceremonies. It’s all good, as long as you don’t get a piece of paper legally binding someone who is already legally bound to someone else. That would be illegal, and we won’t stand for it!

    • http://cryptome.org Peter

      And the law gets really wierd in some cases especially with sex tourism.

      It’s illegal for an American to travel abroad to have sex with a person under the age of eighteen. Where it gets really tricky is lets say you travel abroad for other reasons and then end up having sex with a seventeen year old (technical legal but hard to prove) or (more common) it’s not illegal to have sex with a seventeen year old in the country you are visiting (or even the US state you are a resident of).

      These laws have always bothered me. I’m pretty much against making it illegal to break your laws in a different nation and prosecuting them on return. Imagine if Germany passed a law stating that it was illegal for French citizens to exceed Germany speed limits while in America and then prosecuting French tourists when they crossed the border to get good beer.

  • Michael Wengler

    There is no uniformity within a country about where laws come from or even necessarily why. I doubt most energy against polygamy goes beyond the “eewww” factor for those against it, as with so much else, after the decision is made the neo-cortex is called in to write a white paper about why that decision makes sense.

    Of course, anybody who actually is committed enough to an idea to move out of the country simply moves out of the country, and virtually everybody who DOESN”T move out of the country for a rule change should not be believed when they make their case that they are also just as committed as the emigrants.

    Further, in real human life we are tribal, clannish. Americans typically care much more about Americans than foreigners, preferring, for example, to consign some hypothetical illegal immigrant to work for $2/day in Mexico rather than eroding the ability of dumb Americans to get jobs for $13/hour in the U.S. Who wants to keep a bunch of polygamists around to set bad examples for other Americans just because they proved they were plausibly willing to leave the U.S.? America, love it or leave it is not such a bad way to run a country, is it?

  • y81

    I’m not sure who the “we” is in Prof. Hanson’s question. Probably different individuals would give very different accounts of why polygamy should be banned. An overwhelming majority, based on their various individual reasons, is able to concur on banning polygamy across America, but evidently there isn’t sufficient concurrence on making and enforcing a ban outside the borders of the United States.

    There are probably lots of idiosyncratic reasons for this lack of consensus in favor of extraterritorial enforcement: Some people think that it doesn’t matter if foreigners do wicked things to other foreigners, some people think that extraterritorial enforcement violates principles of justice (i.e., the sovereignty of other nations, the right to travel freely) that don’t apply domestically, some people think extraterritorial enforcement would be more expensive and difficult than domestic enforcement, and that polygamy isn’t important enough to justify that cost, etc.

    There’s no reason to expect that there exists a single coherent substantive (as opposed to prodedural) theory of justice to explain the actions of democratic legislative processes.

  • http://parenthesis.co.nz Mark

    You raise an interesting point Robin, one that seems to suggest that people who would pass laws against voluntary and consensual agreements for reason x care less for the people who these laws are designed to ‘protect’ and more about their own values and building a society around them.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

    Hanson, your questions have a typical form: we have law X and law Y; logically, by the same principle, way should have law Z. But we don’t. What does this tell us about our psychology?

    But a general answer can be given to problems of this sort. Very often the problem is logical rather than psychological or political-economical. This is the thesis of Leo Katz in Why is the law so perverse? Katz provides a general social-choice solution to these problems—or at least many of them. (One would have to look at your problems specifically to be sure they are resolved by means of Arrow’s Theorem.) You should take a look at the book. If you’ve wasted … how many years … on seeking psychological insight through a problem resolvable by logic alone, you should still avoid wasting any more time.

    • Dave

      This leads to a typical Hansonian head scratcher. One of three things has to go. 1.) Laws against consenting people doing bad things. 2.) National sovereignty. 3.) Logic. If you favor free emigration, and oppose allowing people to do bad things they want to do, what choices are there?

      You could prohibit emigrating to other countries. But that is not right. So in order to maintain logic you must admit that it is all right to emigrate but if another country lets you in we have the right to send cops or the Marines in to keep them from doing bad things. And if other people who live there are doing the same bad things, we need to stop them too.

      But we have this concept of national sovereignty. And this must be a bad thing if people can hide behind it to do bad things. Therefore let’s do away with sovereignty. But we can keep sovereignty if we allow people to do bad things that they want to in the first place. It is just simple logic. However the easiest thing to do is just eliminate logic.

      • http://lesswrong.com/user/Jayson_Virissimo Jayson Virissimo

        Jasay examines the prospects for reconciling “National sovereignty” and “logic” in his essay Is National Rational?. The prospects don’t look good.

      • Anonymous

        Your link it broken, just copy and paste this:

        http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_03_1_jasay.pdf

      • http://lesswrong.com/user/Jayson_Virissimo Jayson Virissimo

        Anonymous, thanks for fixing my link.

    • Wonks Anonymous
    • Jeff

      This. Stephen Diamond has hit the nail exactly on the description of your questions, and his general answer is partially correct.

      But here’s another piece: In general, laws are passed in response to problems. You could argue that there simply isn’t time to deal with all the problems that we have, or that we only care about the things that cause politicians to get campaign funding, or any of a number of other complaints about the political process, but ultimately, the things that get passed tend to have at least a passing relationship to things that have recently happened.

      We’ve never had a trend of people moving to other countries to practice things that are illegal here. It’s not terribly surprising that we haven’t, since it’s so difficult to move to another country, and there are few countries that are enjoyable to live in and allow exactly the thing that our country does not. But even if it does surprise you, that trend has never happened here in the United States.

      But it has happened elsewhere. Communist countries consistently had problems of people moving to the West because of freedoms they denied, and so, for the protection of the people, they banned emigration. Exactly as you say no one does.

  • Lord

    So to prevent a harm we should commit a greater harm, which is 1, or because we can’t prevent all harm we should do nothing at all, which is 2. You could argue these against doing anything or for doing everything but these are just unreasonable demands and limits to place in the real world. We would do 1 for if one of the spouses did not want to go, the other could not force them, and we do allow 2 to a considerable extent, for example the Amish or vaccination or communal living. You are not asking whether they can do it but that the state recognize it but states can do pretty much whatever they like.

  • http://www.flowidealism.org Michael Strong

    I’ve used similar arguments for why we should democratize consent and let ordinary people make choices within the U.S. that they could make if they went to another country or out to sea. Rich people, or even upper middle class educated people, can choose what jurisdiction they want to go to and thus what rules they wish to follow (or escape).

    The polygamy example distracts commenters from the more fundamental issue. Suppose there is a drug that is legal in the EU but not yet approved by the FDA? An educated person, or a person of means, can if need be go to Europe for treatment. But most Americans are screwed until (and unless) the FDA gets around to approving the drug. There are countless such examples (how many laws are there that in some way or another penalize mutually consenting acts between adults?).

    To take another example: Corporations engaged in international commerce typically use choice of law and choice of forum clauses in their contracts, in effect giving them de facto access to any legal system on earth. Why should we only allow wealthy multi-nationals this privilege? Why is a poor Mexican entrepreneur stuck with crappy Mexican law but Wal-Mart has access to U.S. law?

    It is disappointing that none of the commenters seem to appreciate just how profound, and constructive, are Robin’s entirely logical suggestions on this issue.

    • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

      Suppose there is a drug that is legal in the EU but not yet approved by the FDA?

      And suppose that drug is thalidomide? As it happens, your scenario is not hypothetical, that actually was available in the Europe but not in the US, thanks to the FDA.

      This idea that government regulation only imposes costs without any benefits is amazingly stupid. Do you think the only purpose of government is to annoy you?

      • Anonymous

        Do you think the only purpose of government is to annoy you?

        No, but it is also a vehicle to sell ideology to other voters, while impacting my life negatively without my consent.

  • Dog of Justice

    Huh?

    While there may be other systems that also work, there is nothing at all strange about the US legal system enforcing policies that work to the benefit of the US without absolutely binding any particular individual within. Even in the 21st century, the nation is a useful and evolutionarily stable abstraction.

  • Anonymous

    X isn’t about X. Protecting people from themselves isn’t about protecting people. Think about incest or prostitution. Many voters and politicians would be against it even if it never harmed anybody. But in a so-called “free society”, “we don’t like your private behavior, so we make it a crime” is a hard sell, whereas “we respect you deeply, but feel the need to protect you from yourself” is a display of nobility.

    As for emigration, don’t underestimate the transition costs. Those are high enough for legislators to simply ignore this option, far more people will simply stay and change their behavior, or at least pretend to, which is already a win for the politicians.

  • Abel

    Well, does this hold historically?

  • Cody

    You’ve written before that people treat nations as tribes, and this seems to take care of the inconsistency.

    So re:1 – We “protect” and regulate folks from engaging in certain behaviors while they’re members of our community, but once they’ve left they become outsiders and we no longer care what people do, assuming no externalities on us. This also explains why we don’t distinguish between protective and unprotective nations. Re:2, letting locals make voluntary agreements doesn’t solve the problem, because we still see locals as members of our ingroup. Spatial distance and other cultural cues such as language, religion, ethnicity etc. may matter here.

    Empirical support:

    -The Romans let Jews practice their own religion as long as they payed taxes, but most Jews weren’t considered Roman citizens.

    -The US allows Native Americans to avoid paternalistic laws concerning gambling and other things. However, the US does enforce things like murder and theft (crimes with externalities). I think Native Americans are seen as sufficiently distinct and isolated from the rest of the country that this counts in favor of the ingroup/outgroup explanation.

    -Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and other non-Islamic groups aren’t subject to Sharia law, but Muslims are.

    I think our-tribe/not-our tribe matters more than low status countries having banned emigration in the past.

    • Andrew

      Right.

      We either have a plurality of sovereign nations each with their own set of laws (which in principle) suit the cultural needs of those within their borders.

      The alternative is either global government or attempting to enforce your laws overseas which gets tricky kind of fast.

  • botogol

    people in this country are ‘near’
    people who go and live in another country are ‘far’

    • Anonymous

      lol, I never get tired of hearing that crap-

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    Consider the following: Paternalists tend to have a communitarian social outlook, they tend to see humans as parts of the ingroup/tribe/community first, and as individuals second. Once you emigrate you cease to be a member of the society they care about – out of sight, out of mind. Therefore, there is a willingness to maintain the standards one sees as necessary for proper functioning of the ingroup but outgroups and emigrants are of much less interest.

    Sometimes emigration is seen as weakening the desire to conform to ingroup rules (e.g. by facilitating spread of knowledge about outgroups through personal contacts with emigrants, providing alternative role-models) and in that situation paternalists, especially the totalitarian ones, will definitely impose limits on emigration, as in most communist and fascist states.

    One way or another, the paternalist is ingroup-oriented, and IMO that would explain the usual lack of controls on emigration.

  • loopholes arbitrageur

    I’ve got a similar situation and it’s quite funny. People at my previous work in northern Poland seemed really strict on rules imposed by a Warsaw company investing in a poorer region with cheap labour. However, they admitted some of them worked abroad earlier during vacations, they admitted reading salary surveys even from bigger cities in Poland in the press, yet they were still surprised when after three months I quitted and said that their main problem is that they can’t give me a 500% raise and not that I sometimes arrive late, have some performance problems in certain areas or lack certain skills.

  • loopholes arbitrageur

    On a similar onte – people are OK with entrepreneurs use information assymetry in the business and pay them salary, but they are not OK with a coworker using information assymetry to maintain an expert position and be qualified for salary raises. “Proletaryat” is expected to share knowledge and not count it as a debt that less knowledgeable person gets.

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    Re: My best guess here: We don’t limit emigration because the nations that have done so are now low status and we don’t want to look like them.

    It looks bad – because it is a crappy thing to do to your own citizens.

  • http://scrambledbrains.net Mike McGranahan

    If you think about this from a market perspective, the fact that countries with both these regulations as well as the given loophole are able to maintain large populations might indicate that life in those countries provides enough benefits to outweigh the regulatory cost. Regardless of culture/heritage, factors like safety/security, welfare, job opportunities, freedom of expression, etc, might be compelling enough that the governing bodies can impose a degree of regulations (for its own benefit or ostensibly for the benefit of society). The arguments about nationalism are secondary, since they speak to an individual’s secondary identity. Things affecting quality of life are primary, since they directly affect the self (an individual’s primary identity) and survivability.

  • Jeff Semel

    Ireland tried to close the leaving-the-country loophole in the 1992 “X Case.”

    The case of a 14-year-old Irish rape victim barred from traveling to England to obtain an abortion has provoked a debate over how far judges and officials in Ireland can go in enforcing the nation’s explicit prohibition against abortion.

    Today, an Irish High Court judge in Dublin affirmed an earlier court order and issued a permanent injunction forbidding the young woman to obtain an abortion in England, where the procedure is legal. Members of the Irish Parliament who are sympathetic to the girl’s plight say they expect her family to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

    The injunction was later overturned by the (Irish) Supreme Court.

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad it was overturned. I see no philosophical reason why a nation should have the right to force citizens to stay. I’m amazed how humans can be treated like cattle and people tend to accept it because “it’s the law”.

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    Well, it’s true that there are few Americans who would wish to prevent their compatriots from traveling to Thailand to use cheaper prostitutes, but my observation still applies – “Out of sight, out of mind”. What happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand, the purity of sacred homeland (the territory claimed by the ingroup) is preserved and the johns skulk back without much notice. Homo hypocritus is mainly interested in maintaining appearances close to home.

    I must say, I know of one exception to this indifferent attitude – a former secretary of the WTA, who earnestly insisted in a mailing list exchange that UN troops should be sent to Thailand to prevent American males from frequenting local houses of ill repute. A rather unexpected demand from a self-proclaimed polyamorist yet perhaps less surprising in view of his advocacy of dolphin and ape rights which may indicate he has an unusually broad ingroup, at least when thinking in the far mode. But I guess I have digressed enough already.

    • Anonymous

      You can be a utilitarian who rejects groupism completely and reject paternalistic interventionism and coercive migration barriers if he sees more harm then good in them.

  • Joe Knapka

    Emigrating may not be illegal, but it is very inconvenient.

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/f1/beware_trivial_inconveniences/

  • http://pragmatarianism.blogspot.com/ Xerographica

    What would happen if taxpayers were allowed to directly allocate their taxes? In other words…what would happen if people were forced to put their money where their mouths are?

    It’s one thing to vote for marijuana to be illegal but it’s another thing to spend your own money on enforcing the rule. It’s one thing to vote for polygamy to be illegal but it’s another thing to spend your own money on enforcing the rule. It’s one thing to vote for prostitution to be illegal but it’s another thing to spend your own money on enforcing the rule.

    The key concept here is “opportunity cost“. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. How much national defense, public education, public healthcare, infrastructure, etc would people be willing to forgo in order to ensure that laws against victimless crimes are properly enforced?

    • y81

      I would certainly vote for not allowing drug sales, prostitution etc. in my neighborhood, and for using my local taxes to enforce those rules. I would be more enthusiastic about using my taxes for that purpose than for more public health care or public schools. Bars don’t bother me so much, but the majority of my neighbors on Central Park West evidently feel differently, which is why the zoning prohibits such activities. I don’t know as polygamy affects the neighborhood, but I would certainly oppose allowing polyamorous individuals to live in our building, as we wouldn’t want our children exposed to that sort of thing. So for me, spending my tax dollars to enforce my morality in my immediate neighborhood would definitely be utility-enhancing, especially compared to the sort of nonsense that the City Council is usually trying to spend my taxes on.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      We all have a taste for altruistic punishment.

  • Cody

    I don’t think you can dismiss the us/them theory so quickly just by pointing out that we allow people to go to Thailand to see whores. The set of people who are willing to go through the trouble and expense of traveling overseas in order to do something is a small fraction of the people who would engage in it if it were legal at home.

    Additionally, that fraction which travels abroad is going to be the wealthiest subset of the lot; it’s more difficult AND we’re less interested in regulating the behavior of the rich.

  • valter

    Status considerations may be important in many cases, but you guys are obsessing about them :-)

    Isn’t the refusal of alternative 1 simply a problem of avoiding “cures that are worse than the disease”?

    There can be many credible and legitimate reasons why someone wants to migrate from country X to country Y (for all X and for most Y).

    “We” may not want to cause harm by preventing such legitimate migration just because it would open a loophole for someone who would be migrating just to do something-we-don’t-like-even-if-they-do-it-far-away-from-us (probably a small fraction of those who would like to do something-we-don’t-like-even-if-they-do-it-far-away-from-us anyway).

    As to alternative 2, it seems unrealistically complicated and costly to implement – and not only because, as said in some comments already, it would be very hard to prove that someone would leave the country unless it is exempted from some laws.

    Anyway, I’d guess that if the State got sufficient information that a family would migrate to do “something bad” to a “vulnerable member” of that family, then that “vulnerable member” would be put in the care of social services and the other members would be given restraint orders (to be clear: I am saying that it would be politically feasible to commit to do otherwise). And if no family member could be identified as “vulnerable”, then “we” would say that “they” are not part of “us” and they may just as well get out of “our” country.

  • mobile

    You can just travel to Nevada for prostitutes.