Dirty Laws? That’s the confusing part of EPA regulations. While intended to do good, they end up doing quite the opposite. When a corporation dumps its toxic waste a few miles upstream from your tomato farm – sure, you can go to the EPA, but odds are the offending party has filed all the right permits that allow them to do their dirtiest and you’re screwed. Join Law and Economics Prof. Roger Meiners in this Learn Liberty video as he shows how an age-old, British, free-market concept called “Common Law” may be the best remedy – without bureaucratic trash to stink things up.
Our three most recent presidents have admitted to committing drug offenses in their youth, though they didn’t pay for their indiscretions with jail time. But most people caught up in our criminal justice system aren’t so lucky. Perhaps the worst aspect of the flawed system is mandatory minimum sentences. Consider Weldon Angelos, one victim — a former record producer who won’t get out of jail until he’s eighty and has served a sentence of more than twice what the hijacker of a plane would face. His crime? Selling marijuana twice.
Alex Kreit, criminal law professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, explains three reasons why mandatory minimums are really, really, really bad. For one thing, the sentences can be longer than those for more serious crimes. Second, they get the wrong people, despite the intentions of lawmakers. Third, if the goal is to reduce drug use, they fail on their own terms. Among their targets in practice are people who have been convicted of such minor offenses as possession for personal use. Drugs are as plentiful as ever.
Tired of the corruption, high crime, and poor state of the economy in Venezuela, students and other citizens are taking to the streets to protest. What kind of ideas inspire regular citizens to risk so much in the face of a tyrannical government?
The United States has laws in place to limit the number of immigrants granted entry. How many immigrants should be allowed to call America home? Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that the United States should have open borders. Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, argues that there need to be limits on the number of immigrants.
In this clip, Prof. Ting argues that open borders would result in an enormous increase in the number of immigrants to the United States. He points out that there are so many opportunities here that people would come in huge numbers from less developed countries. The strain on the United States infrastructure and environment could be enormous.
In his response, Prof. Caplan argues that the fact people would want to come in such great numbers is, in his mind, an argument favoring open borders. People should be living in places where they can achieve their potential. For many people around the world, this means they need to move. Would this have effects on the U.S. economy? Absolutely. Prof. Caplan argues that in the short run, housing prices would probably increase, for example. In addition, we may see a move to having personal servants, as many of the low-skilled workers in the world have skill sets that fall below the lowest-skilled workers in the United States. To offset pressures on the environment, Prof. Caplan recommends increasing costs for pollution and other environmental hazards.
What do you think? Do you think the fact that many people would want to immigrate to the United States is an argument in favor or against opening the borders?
Have you ever thought much about property rights? Many believe ownership protections primarily favor the wealthy, but it turns out that the wealthy and politically connected actually benefit more when ownership is vulnerable. Without strong property rights, those with the power are able to take property from those who lack such political connections. In places like Zimbabwe—where the government is able to confiscate profits, merchandise, and even businesses with ease—the lack of property protections has been one cause of the country’s decline. Today, Zimbabwe is the poorest country in the world, and eroded property rights are at least partially to blame. Prof. Dan Russell argues that “doing less to protect ownership turns out to be a really effective way to create poverty.” Perhaps property rights deserve protecting. Except, maybe, among Finnish race car drivers.
Everybody loves free speech, right? It’s in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But Prof. Deirdre McCloskey complicates the picture of free speech by associating it with the Greek word for persuasion: rhetoric. Free speech and advertising go hand in hand. Advertisements and rhetoric both have a negative connotation, but they are essential to the functioning of a free society. The only alternative to persuasion by speech is persuasion by violence. Clearly speech is a safer and superior alternative. And perhaps advertising plays a helpful role in society. What better way is there to make decisions about what to buy or what to believe except by people trying to charm us? What do you think about the role of advertising in a free society? Should advertising fall under the first amendment protections? How do you like to be persuaded about things?
Is it possible the war on drugs is to blame for increased potency in marijuana and for how crack ravaged inner cities in the 1980s? Prof. Adam Martin explains how the drug war has altered incentives for both drug buyers and sellers, leading them to favor higher potency drugs. This is what economists call the potency effect. As penalties for purchasing marijuana go up, for example, the cost difference between high- and low-potency marijuana decreases and people may think that if they’re risking a fine or jail time anyway they may as well buy the stronger drugs. Similarly, cartels and dealers have shifted their focus to high-value, high-potency drugs like cocaine as a result of the steeper fines and penalties for drug trafficking. The potency effect is just one of many economic forces that make markets so complex. Public policies that alter the incentives people face—as the war on drugs does—can lead to unintended and even dangerous consequences.
Many Americans do not know what their constitutional freedoms are or why they were established in the first place. The freedoms Americans have are rare and fragile. They were put in place to protect people and ensure our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Professor James Otteson explains the importance of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prior to the Revolutionary War, King George III issued what are called general warrants. Essentially, this allowed government officials to seek out and look for any wrongdoing without probable cause. Such general warrants were carried out on anyone in America, including among the people that would come to be our Founders.
The Founders instilled in the Constitution rules requiring warrants to have probable cause and limiting them to specific times, places, and people. Why is this important? Prof. Otteson says it’s important “because with unlimited authority, officials inevitably find wrongdoing.” Witch hunts always find witches. Constitutional protections like the Fourth Amendment are especially important for people who want to do things differently than the majority. These freedoms enable Americans to find their own paths to happiness as free and equal citizens.
To understand about ownership, it helps to understand something about surfing. Surfers employ a system of ownership over waves so that everyone gets a turn. Prof. Dan Russell describes a scenario in which three friends are surfing but none wants to be selfish. As a result, the good waves pass by and no one has a good time. If they had prescribed a system of ownership instead, they would all have their turn to the waves. Among people who are not friends, a lack of ownership often leads to pushing and shoving. People who want peace need to instead determine whose wave is whose—or who owns property.
Although many people conflate ownership with selfishness, this is not accurate. Ownership plays an important role in a functional society for several reasons:
- Ownership allows for more creativity and enables us to do the things we want to do.
- Ownership puts a check on selfishness and greed because it gives the owner the right to say no. This also makes conservation possible.
- Ownership fosters greater civility and fairness. Respecting ownership is a way to respect each other, and when ownership isn’t protected, the most vulnerable people usually suffer most for it. As Prof. Russell says, “If we care about fairness for everyone, we have to care about ownership.”
Did you know you own a person? It’s you. When you own something, you have the right to determine who has access to it. This goes for your car as well as for your own body. While this may seem like a simple concept, it makes a big difference in how we live our lives.
Prof. Dan Russell uses an example to discuss how important self-ownership is. If we did not own our own bodies, we could be easily abused. Without self-ownership, others could try to use our bodies, our talents or abilities, or the things we produce for their own gain without our permission. Since we own our own bodies, however, people need our permission before they can have access to us or our talents or production.
If someone wants our help with something, we have the right to give that help freely or to say no. When it comes to our labor, we may make a trade with someone. We may, for example, choose to work for someone in exchange for monetary compensation. The point is, the choice is ours. We can say yes to arrangements that seem beneficial to us and we can say no to the things in which we don’t want to take part. And the right to say no and self-ownership are incredibly important to our everyday lives, although we may seldom realize it.
Are you concerned about the activities government agencies are engaging in? Does it bother you to think the government is spying on you? If you not, what reason do you have to be complacent? Professor James Otteson says we may feel secure today because we know we haven’t done anything wrong. But this is short-sighted.
The powers we give to the people in office today will transfer to the people who are elected tomorrow. Maybe you trust, support, or voted for the current president. But what if the next president were someone you couldn’t agree with? Would you still want that leader to have the same powers?
The government should have to get permission from citizens for everything it does, not the other way around. The government must be accountable to citizens, transparent, and unable to act in ways the citizenry would not condone. This is why we need whistleblowers. We need people to take a stand and point out when the government in not acting in the people’s interest. We need the government to answer to us.
When Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies were looking into the lives of every American, many people were shocked. While claiming to protect us from crime and terrorism, says Professor James Otteson, the government has been recording every digital transmission we make. They are keeping a record of every email, tweet, phone call, Facebook post, and online purchase. Things we may have thought were private are not safe from the government’s watch.
Should we be alarmed? Some say they don’t care that the government is spying on them because they haven’t done anything illegal. Prof. Otteson disagrees. He says the reason we should worry about these invasions of privacy is because they rob us of the right to say no. When we are able to say no—when a slave can say no to the slave-holder or a serf can say no to a lord, or a child can say no to a bully–we establish a boundary of freedom. This is why privacy is important.
Have you thought much about how you value your privacy from the government? Did Snowden’s revelation cause you to think differently about what the government is doing? Is privacy a bigger priority for you today than it was before Snowden’s revelation? Why or why not?
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