Legislating Morality

by Russ Roberts on March 2, 2005

in Law

Just saw the movie K-Pax for the second time.  Kevin Spacey plays a guy who is either a lunatic or an alien from the planet K-Pax in the constellation, Lira.  We, the viewers, and the psychiatrist on his case, played by Jeff Bridges, aren’t quite sure which is the more plausible hypothesis.  It’s a wonderful movie.  It’s funny and haunting and the acting is out of this world.  At one point, Bridges (playing Dr. Mark Powell) asks Spacey (playing Prot) about his alleged home planet:

Dr. Powell: What about societal structure?  Government.
Prot: No.  There’s no need for one.
Dr. Powell: And you have no laws?
Prot: No laws.  No lawyers.
Dr. Powell: How do you know right from wrong?
Prot: Every being in the universe knows right from wrong, Mark.

This planet would be a better place if we allowed things that were immoral to be merely looked down on, rather than to be against the law.  The war on drugs presumes that if drugs are legal, people will take more of them because somehow, making them legal sanctions them.  Drugs, rudeness and hate speech and many other activities that some people view as immoral are best curbed by private sanctions not public ones.

I will let my co-host here discuss the distinction between law and legislation when the mood suits him.

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