Wednesday, November 4, 2009

So apparently we don’t need laws

If I understood Mr. Roberts’s point correctly, we should allow people to steal both music and stereos because that will spawn innovation--creating products that will help protect people’s property. To extend that idea further, we shouldn’t prosecute any crime because if we do we might forestall the development of the crime prevention industry. In fact we probably don’t need any government at all. We could take all the money we would save in taxes and use it protecting ourselves. There might be some redundancy, since each of us would have to provide a high level of security to protect ourselves against unexpected crimes, and there might be some other losses that would result from the time we would lose constantly looking over our shoulders. And I suppose there could also be some losses as people decide it’s not worth producing something only to spend every waking minute trying to protect it. But think of the dramatic growth in the firearm business, or the security guard industry. What a great new world of self-reliance we could create. We would all be masters of our own domains. My only question is, how are we better off in this great new world? It seems that new ways of protecting things and people would indeed be developed, but how does that actually benefit anyone? To be benefited our situation must be improved. If we spend our money buying a stereo that’s harder to steal has our stereo really improved? It is not improving my ability to listen to music, it is only allowing me to keep my stereo. Similarly, if I have to spend more time protecting my intellectual property I’m not creating more, nor has anyone’s enjoyment of that property been augmented—I’ve simply protected my property. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t consider the costs and benefits of prosecuting crimes, but Mr. Roberts seems to be suggesting that we reallocate resources from productive behaviors to protective ones. Again, I’m forced to ask, does this protective behavior make us better off?
Perhaps I’m missing his point.


  1. I really like your post. It's interesting to think about how in this new protective world the allocation of resources for development of technologies would focus mostly on protective measures rather than improvements in other realms. Perhaps this would completely counter Robert's point but maybe by not having secure property rights new technologies are not discovered because the focus of the development of technologies is one that is purposed make "stereos" safer rather than better in other ways.

  2. I took the property rights in Roberts' essay to mean that actual property rights to an item belonged to whomever actually had the item.

  3. I think you're extending Roberts point to something it wasn't intended to apply to. He's saying that in this particular case doing nothing about these specific crimes might, in the long-run, generate higher social welfare than futile attempts to enforce a largely unenforceable law.

    To extend the logic of that specific argument about Napster and stereos to a more general statement about anarchy and not doing anything ever no matter which law is being broken is, I think, a stretch and a misrepresentation of his essay.