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

27 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2004

See all articles by Philip A. Curry

Philip A. Curry

University of Waterloo

Steeve Mongrain

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 2004

Abstract

This paper provides an efficiency explanation for laws regulating sex, drugs and gambling. The argument is motivated by the observation that the design 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 on behalf of the individual who engages in such activities. Since discretion is often difficult to regulate, the activities are instead proscribed thereby giving individuals incentive to hide their actions from others. In addition, since some level of activity is efficient, the optimal sanctions are not maximal.

Keywords: Crime, externality, law and economics, morality, enforcement

JEL Classification: K42, K32, H32

Suggested Citation

Curry, Philip A. and Mongrain, Steeve, What You Don't See Can't Hurt You: An Economic Analysis of Morality Laws (November 2004). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=614521 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.614521

Philip A. Curry (Contact Author)

University of Waterloo ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

Steeve Mongrain

Simon Fraser University (SFU) - Department of Economics ( email )

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6
Canada
604-291-3547 (Phone)
604-291-5944 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.sfu.ca/~mongrain/

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