Expand full comment

>few are interested in my proposal to radically lower the cost of lawsuits.

I notice that you frequently make inferences about what people want from lack of interest in your proposals, but isn't it possible that people are just uninterested in new ideas generally, or uninterested in Robin Hanson proposals, or something like that? You don't spend a lot of time marketing your proposals; that seems a sufficient explanation for lack of interest.

Expand full comment

Your site is called "Overcoming Bias". I hope you are aware of the bias of Western culture, with its focus on the individual. This leads to a pattern of justifying small actions which help the person doing them and harm others, which would be seen as less acceptable in other cultures like China. Any generalizations or explanations you make based on observations in Western culture should consider the context and the limitations of that context.

Considering your first example, about "snitches". What if we just treat law enforcement as another group? Its members have a large interest in protecting its other members; occasionally it sacrifices some members who have acted egregiously bad in order to protect the reputation of the group; and its overall actions respond to the pressure put on it by other groups (government demands, politics, etc.; Seattle's temporarily police-free zone is an example of this). It's well-known that betraying one's group can often result in a large cost to one's group, but benefit to another group, and that other groups will often attempt to incentivize such betrayals. We could explain hatred of "snitches" in terms of the overall cost to the group: better to limit punishment to within the group, than to have the group as a whole suffer from interaction from another group (law enforcement).

Expand full comment

I think you're probably right to say "[t]ypically one can’t sue for harms suffered unless one can show a monetary harm", but the statement "fan fiction isn’t a copyright violation if you don’t make cash from it" is categorically untrue. See, e.g., https://scholar.smu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2182&context=smulr

Expand full comment

Maybe it's because most interactions with the law are high-risk and low reward, when even in the USA, broadly ranked in various indices as being less corrupt than the average country, cops steal as much or more than they recover from robbers and burglars every year, cops can murder you with impunity and generally the worst that happens is they get a paid vacation, and that old standby of "when seconds matter, the police are only a half hour away."

Has anyone here ever tried to report a theft or other crime? The cops won't even bother *pretending* that they'll do anything about it. Given these trends, i.e. them never doing anything positive for you in any specific case, and the inherent risk in involving them with anyone you care about, why would you want to ever involve the law or law enforcement in your life?


Cops steal more than they recover stolen goods:

$63B civil forfeited 2002-2018 https://ij.org/report/policing-for-profit-3/pfp3content/forfeiture-is-lucrative-for-governments-nationwide/

$50B recovered over same period, FBI crime data explorer:


99% of cops get paid vacations when murdering people:

There were more than 1,000 "known police killings" every year from 2013 through 2019, according to Mapping Police Violence, most of them shootings, according to the Washington Post. Ninety-nine percent of those cases never resulted in criminal charges.


Expand full comment

Isn't this partly because of the difficulty in applying law to some domains? The "transaction costs" involved in using law is quite high.

Expand full comment

Could you put up a link to wherever you outlined your low cost legal dispute settlement process please

Expand full comment
Feb 25, 2023·edited Feb 26, 2023

The prohibition against snitching is not about wanting areas in life that are law free. It is a signaling exercise. Snitching is often highest in communities (can't find the source) where these admonitions are most proffered. It is that information about illegality should not be given freely. See the literature about legal mobilization. Also see https://freakonomics.com/2007/09/help-the-police-help-yourself/ for an extreme example. Ethan Brown's "Snitch" talks about how false witnessing becomes important in the drug trade.

Women make use of child and family services (CFS) as a tool for policing each others behaviors. I have heard anecdotes from working class women that the CFS are sometimes weaponized in disagreements about other matters. Reporting to CFS, threatening to report to CFS or being accused of snitching to CFS are strategies employed when disagreements raise to the level of violence by other means.

Without the police, the threat of incarceration and the exchange of information about other illegal conduct for leniency snitching has no value. In fact in these markets the persons who don't snitch are at a severe disadvantage. The police and family services exist in these areas because ancient styles don't work as well with non elites.

Thus it is the other way around. The laws exists in these domains because the mechanisms that high status elites use to police each others conduct don't work for low status individuals. The whore cannot be slut shamed but the socialite can. The confidence man/fraudster can't be humiliated and shunned but the braggart can be gossiped about in secret and publicly humiliated or shunned if necessary. We like these style because they allow for policing of each other. Competing hierarchy ladders meant the ancient ways could not longer be applied to the new underclasses. The law exists because our societies grew too large to be police with these ancient style.

Expand full comment

I expect you've heard of Robert Ellickson's "Order Without Law", as Bryan Caplan has reviewed it. The people discussed there were ignorant of what the law actually was and very averse to it intruding on the status quo. To them things should be settled in a "neighborly" fashion without resorting to the law.

Expand full comment

"the US Supreme Court struck down a law that would have punished people from lying about having military medals, saying citizens have a free speech right to make such lies"

This is insanely wrong. Lying cannot be considered a 'free speech' right unless we know the implications of such lies. How about someone lies in a business deal and loots someone's money? They will be and must be punished for 'fraud', instead of being saved in the name of 'free speech'.

Expand full comment

The case in question (US v Alvarez) hinged on the fact that the law punished people for lying about having military honors whether the person was defrauding people or not. The cases went to great lengths to specify fraud is not protected, but absent an attempt to steal something through fraud, lying is in fact a protected form of speech.

Expand full comment
Feb 25, 2023·edited Feb 25, 2023

In Canada it is an offence under Sections 419 A and B of the Criminal Code of Canada for anyone, other than the recipient, to wear a uniform of the Canadian Armed Forces or Service Insignia, such as medals, ribbons, badges, chevrons or other decoration.

A stolen valour act like the one above is what the U.S. supreme court ruled as unconstitutional. The free speech provisions in America are unique in the world. The stolen valour act will not be overturned in Canada.

Free speech boundaries in the US.

Holmes writing in the unanimous decision of supreme court of the united states (SCOTUS) Schenck v. United States:

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic... The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."

In this ruling the court said that passing out pamphlet against WWI was not protected speech.

Later SCOTUS partially overturned Schenk in Brandenburg v. Ohio:

In which the Court held that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action".

"Specifically, the Court struck down Ohio's criminal syndicalism statute, because that statute broadly prohibited the mere advocacy of violence. In the process, Whitney v. California (1927) was explicitly overruled, and Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v. United States (1919), Gitlow v. New York (1925), and Dennis v. United States (1951). were effectively overturned."

Expand full comment

> How about someone lies in a business deal and loots someone's money?

From the above post:

"And in general while we economists are falsely accused of being obsessed with money, law is in fact so obsessed. Typically one can’t sue for harms suffered unless one can show a monetary harm."

Expand full comment

In 7th paragraph... They like about.. Shouldn't it be lie about?

Expand full comment