Do We Really Want Perfect Law Enforcement?

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5 Responses

  1. Ralf Grötker says:

    Two more general points:

    * Too strict enforcement violates our moral self-esteem: We somehow want to be free to brake the rules – even if we don’t intend to do so. Automated law enforcement comes up to treating citizens as criminals of the sort which can’t be reached by moral reasoning. Brute force is the only means to deal with them. – This isn’t exactly the way we want to live.

    * Too strict enforcement is probably not the best modell, economically – compared to cooperation out of free choice.

    Cf., e.g., experimental psychology by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gächter: Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity, in: Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14 (2000), S. 159-181.


  2. Mike says:

    I think all of us would like perfect enforcement of rape, murder, child molestation, kidnapping, and robbery. Most of us don’t care to have speeding laws enforced at all (except against that jag off going going 90 miles). The same could be said of seatbelt laws. In my native state, police could ticket a person for not wearing a seat belt, but failure to wear a seat belt did not give the cop cause to pull over the vehicle. When the law changed, allowing the seat belt omission to serve as a basis for the stop (thus allowing more efficient enforcement), people were outraged.

    Anyhow, I think there is a mala prohibita-malum in se dichotomy. Most people hate the stupid/nanny state laws, and would not like to see them enforced at all, let alone frequently. But we’re too lazy to vote people out of office for enacting, say, a mandatory seat belt law. We thus live in under a system of laws where we frequently break laws that should never have been laws.

  3. Bruce says:

    I’ve been interested in this issue ever since reading Mike Adler’s note, Cyberspace, General Searches, and Digital Contraband: The Fourth

    Amendment and the Net-Wide Search, 105 Yale L.J. 1093 (1996). I think part of what drives our intuitions here is that most laws are drafted broadly because they assume some amount of non-enforcement due to the costs of detection and enforcement. Lower those costs, and the laws start to look unjustly strict. E.g., speed limits. Aside from a few Stakhanovites, no one — literally, no one — obeys speed limits. With perfect enforcement, we would all be slowed a good 10-15 mph in our daily commutes. Or check out this article concerning “zero tolerance” for blood alcohol levels in D.C.

  4. Randy Hurst says:

    Two thoughts: One: we have a 2- (or possibly 3- or 4-) tiered system of laws. Those that we all agree should be strictly enforced and those that serve more as guidelines. I think most would agree that we need speed limits as guides for what is a safe speed. If you’re new to the area, the speed limit tells you what’s generally expected. 25 means slow down to 35, 65 means 75’s OK. No one expects strict enforcement, but we do know what’s expected. But which laws fit which category changes. Used to be everyone stopped for red lights; now it’s common for 1 or 2 cars to go thru after the lite turns red. Becoming more like a guideline than a rule. (Is this a result of the rise of situational ethics in the late 20th Century?)

    Two: We will tolerate limited strict enforcement. Speed traps are OK, as long as they’re not everywhere, everyday. They serve to keep us within the tolerable limits. And the rest of us are glad when they catch that Jag doing 95: he’s outside the guidelines.

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