A few weeks ago I wrote: The usual rationale for “free speech,” which seems persuasive, is that in the long run we as a society learn more via an open competition for the best ideas, where anyone can try to persuade us as best they can, and listeners are free to choose what to hear.
But before jumping to the signalling suggestion, why not simply observe that goverment-enforced compulsory speech on certain subjects has a rather poor track record?
I wonder how Robin would explain his apparent fondness for "inside view" explanations involving signaling and social interactions, when they conflict with commonly-held "outside view" beliefs such as the above. Perhaps something along these lines?
Excess inside viewing usually continues even after folks are warned that outside viewing works better; after all, inside viewing better show offs inside knowledge and abilities.
You make a good case, Robin, given an idealized court. However, when it comes to practice, I don't feel good about a trial where no one involved was directly harmed. The court will end up meting out more punishment than is just, for two reasons.
The first is that the victim is not there to call the trial off. In practice, many times when someone has legal standing to sue someone else, they don't bother. They might feel that they have gotten restitution through an outside channel. Or, they might think that the whole matter is a technicality. There is no such check when a government agent is doing the prosecuting. The agent doesn't have to stop, and indeed might feel compelled to press on as part of their job description.
The second problem is that such courts use far-mode judgments. If a specific harmed person were there, the members of the court could make judgments about that specific person's harms. Without such a person present, they have to weigh the harms done to an amorphous set of the general public.
I think there needs to be a distinction here between mere lying, as an exaggeration of credentials (like padding a resume, impressing a lady at the bar) and outright impersonation. There are laws against impersonating police officers and doctors aren't there? If a person claims he has a medal, but doesn't, isn't he impersonating a war hero? I can see where pretending to be a doctor or policeman could compromise safety and be dangerous.
Misrepresenting yourself as a war hero doesn't seem to endanger anyone physically, or cause financial harm, but it does cause harm. This isn't just an issue of insulting real soldiers' service to the country, but lying about a government bestowed honor is like claiming all the people in the US think you are worthy and deserving of such. (The government represents the people after all). Real war heroes did a lot to earn their decoration, and it cheapens their award for someone undeserving to claim it also. As an American taxpayer, I expect the honors my government bestows on the behalf of its citizens to go to someone worthy and deserving. Copyright or trademark violation might hurt an individual, or even an entire corporation, so couldn't it be argued thatlying about a government award insults and hurts the citizens represented by that government, even if it costs us nothing monetarily?
Even if you consider it as a lie, not an impersonation, it is still a lie affecting the honor of a nation of people. This is the kind of thing, if legislated, should be enforced by giving the offenders a great deal of community service, so they can know what it really means to serve.
But I see no point at all in making such a law in order to simply protect the public from a lying scumbag. It was no doubt enacted as an honorary gesture to service people.
I tend to frame the issue not as "should lying be legal" but as "should prosecutors or people with lawyers be able to inflict ruinous legal costs on speakers that they disagree with".I feel the same way about libel laws.
One special category of lies that no one seems to have discussed yet is perjury. That certainly carries a penalty.
Robin, the slippery slope I referred to was that of telling putative "white lies" which actually become self-serving and do harm. NOT the slippery slope of legal remedies to every ill. How do I know which harmful behaviors should be "discouraged" by laws? I don't, I simply speculated on some reasons why trying to ban "lying" would be impractical. In my own life I find that the most effective "lies" that drive me crazy are either accompanied by self-delusion or are "not technically lies" -- ie bullshit. A person who can not assimilate delusions OR lie and bullshit would have no career in many fields, so the arms race must continue unless uniform disarmament is possible. C'est la vie.
So what you're saying is that politics should be illegal?
I’m having trouble thinking of a lie that causes financial harm and is of a private nature. Maybe someone else can.
"I don't have HIV."
One should be allowed to file a suit on behalf of a large group of people who were all similarly harmed by a $10 (or 50 cent) product.
Anyway, if you buy a $10 pressure cooker and it explodes under normal use, causing you severe injury, you should be able to sue.
Actually, at Wal-Mart at least, the magic number is $25, not $10.
As Tim correctly noted, the collateral damage from not punishing somebody can be significantly higher than whatever the defendant is being charged with. These unknown costs should be incorporated into the true cost when making a final decision. But even with all that in mind, I doubt the slight reduction in lying is worth all the expense.
And I wouldn't be opposed to banning lawsuits on items worth less than $10. The most that should be done is confinement for a few hours if the police spot the attempt.
It's unclear whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with David, given that you hardly ever reply to agree, but it seems obvious that a one-time event that costs less than $10 is, indeed, too little to bring suit. These only become lawsuit-worthy if there are enough aggregate events to surpass the cost of the legal action.
I'm going to reply one more time to this. No, I don't believe the database solution is appropriate when the "lying" involved causes financial harm, aka "fraud". I have yet to hear of an example from you of "lying" which is not "fraud" that I don't think could be addressed with a database.
Not every truth should have a database, not all lies are wrong. Sometimes lies protect people from harm.
Many people choose to lie about their sexual orientation. This can harm others in a nonfinancial way - I've embarrassed myself by heavily flirting with a man I later learned was gay. Should that lie be illegal? Should there be a database? He should have been confident in a lack of negative repercussion if he were truthful, and I'm disappointed that he wasn't, but I'm sure we would all agree that it would be odious to implement either a database or legal "solution".
So maybe the line we draw regarding "database" is whether lies are regarding information of a public nature, rather than private?
How about this:If a lie causes financial harm, it is "fraud" and illegal.If a lie does not do this, but is information of a public nature, the lie can be discouraged by making that information easily accessible with a database.If a lie causes no financial harm and is of a private nature, there should be no database.
I'm having trouble thinking of a lie that causes financial harm and is of a private nature. Maybe someone else can.
Robin Hanson asks "who wants to publicly signal they are bad at lying or at detecting lies?"One theory is that we evolved blushing precisely to make deception harder.
As for medals and other credentials, digital signatures should make it possible to check them in realtimewithout network access in most cases.
Maybe people want to reduce the risk incurred by sending false signals. Say lying is basically a gamble: if you win, you signal your high status; if you lose, you signal your low status. Weakening those low-status signals from losing increases the expected return.
Sure, I'll bite:(1) If you claim that you played varsity basketball when in high school, as part of a job application to (for example) coach basketball or to write a sports column, then you are guilty of misrepresenting your credentials. If discovered after hiring, this could be grounds for your dismissal. And if for some reason big money were involved, I think you could be charged with fraud too.(2) If you falsely claim you know how to change your spark plugs as part of a job application to work as an auto mechanic... same reasoning as above.(3) It seems less likely, but not impossible, that the other lies you mentioned could also be actionable as fraud. It would depend on the context! For example, if you insincerely asserted that George W. Bush was a Nazi so as to improve your odds of being hired as a writer for the Huffington Post or as an editor at Time magazine or as a newscaster for MSNBC, then... well, you get the idea.
Taking no position on the philosophical issue, legal precedent gives false statements of fact receive less protection (at least if the speaker knows the statements are false), even when no monetary damages are present. Look at the false light tort.