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What You Don't See Can't Hurt You: An Economic Analysis of Morality Laws

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Abstract

This paper provides an efficiency explanation for regulation of sex, drugs and gambling (the so-called ``morality laws''). The argument is motivated by the observation that the design an enforcement of these laws often promotes discretion by the people engaging in such activities. We propose that morality laws can be best explained by considering the proscribed activities to impose a negative externality on others when the activity is observed. In such a case, efficiency requires discretion by the individual who engages in such activities. When discretion is difficult to regulate directly, the activities can instead be proscribed thereby giving individuals incentive to hide their actions from others. We find conditions for the first-best levels of consumption and hiding to be implementable. In addition, since some level of activity is efficient, this paper provides another environment in which the optimal sanctions are not maximal.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip A. Curry & Steeve Mongrain, 2007. "What You Don't See Can't Hurt You: An Economic Analysis of Morality Laws," Discussion Papers dp07-05, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp07-05
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1984. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-99, June.
    2. Kaplow, Louis, 1990. "A note on the optimal use of nonmonetary sanctions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 245-247, July.
    3. James Andreoni, 1991. "Reasonable Doubt and the Optimal Magnitude of Fines: Should the Penalty Fit the Crime?," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, pages 385-395.
    4. Jeffrey A. Miron & Jeffrey Zwiebel, 1995. "The Economic Case against Drug Prohibition," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 175-192, Fall.
    5. Arun S. Malik, 1990. "Avoidance, Screening and Optimum Enforcement," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(3), pages 341-353, Autumn.
    6. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy & Michael Grossman, 2004. "The Economic Theory of Illegal Goods: The Case of Drugs," NBER Working Papers 10976, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tim Friehe & Thomas J. Miceli, 2016. "Law Enforcement in a Federal System: On the Strategic Choice of Sanction Levels," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(1), pages 73-103.
    2. O'Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2010. "The racial geography of street vice," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 270-286, May.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Crime; Externality; Laws; Morality; Enforcement;

    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • H32 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - Firm

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