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Citizen Rights and the Cost of Law Enforcement


  • Melvin Reder


There is an inherent tension between the idea that individuals have certain inalienable (natural) rights and the economist's postulate that the rate if utilization of anything whose production requires scarce resources must be limited by considerations of opportunity cost. Remarks about rights to life, liberty, health, justice and the like are readily inserted into political pronouncements, legislative preambles and court decisions, but they (should) cause economists to raise questions about costs and quantities. Unfortunately, neither in ordinary language nor in the jargon of moral philosophy can such ultimate desiderata as liberty and justice be related to costs or quantities. Hence in the first section we sketch a model of social choice in which the necessary relationships can be defined. In section II, we give instances where, despite protestations to the contrary, the Law Enforcement System (LES) has made de facto reductions of citizen rights (liberties) in order to increase the efficiency if law enforcement. The final section considers some of the normative implications suggested by the positive arguments of section II.

Suggested Citation

  • Melvin Reder, 1973. "Citizen Rights and the Cost of Law Enforcement," NBER Working Papers 0012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0012

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-795, December.
    2. Harris, John R, 1970. "On the Economics of Law and Order," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 165-174, Jan.-Feb..
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