The Posnerian View of Human Nature
By Bryan Caplan
Here’s a great Posnerian sentence:
I would be inclined to search as hard as possible for nonmoral costs before concluding that morality is a major motivator of behavior, especially with regard to crimes, like tax evasion, that do not have an identifiable victim.
In the case of many crimes, the benefits to most people of perpetrating them would be so slight (and often zero or even negative) that sanctions play only a small role in bringing about compliance; enforcement costs needn’t be high in order to deter when nonenforcement benefits are low. Some examples: the demand for crack cocaine among white people (including cocaine addicts) appears to be very small. Both altruism and fear deter most people from attempting crimes of violence, quite apart from expected punishment costs. The vast majority of men do not have a sexual interest in prepubescent children. Well-to-do people often have excellent substitutes for crime: any person of means can procure legal substitutes for illegal drugs (for example, Prozac for cocaine, Valium for heroin). Fear of injury deters most people from driving recklessly or while drunk.
I’ve previously argued, against McCloskey, that a society made up of totally selfish agents could still be a pleasant place to live. I think Posner moderately underestimates the role of morality in daily life, but he’s still a lot closer to the truth than McCloskey.
What do you say?