For the next ten weeks, I will write a series of posts about prohibitions: frontiers of liberty and markets.  This will be a topic discussion club, inspired by Bryan Caplan’s recent book club about persistence of poverty.  However, we won’t focus on one book.  I will provide links here and there to short, ungated readings about facets of our general topic.


Let’s keep in mind two overarching questions: Why are some behaviors, which don’t intrinsically involve force or fraud, nonetheless outlawed?  And should they be?


We will tackle, in turn, prohibitions in the following areas:

  • Lifestyles & liberties:

—marriage of more than two persons



  • Markets:


—kidneys for transplantation


  • Information:


—prediction markets


  • International migration


Before we get to specific prohibitions, we’ll touch on two foundations: (a) the general institutional framework for policy-making and (b) several standard rationales for prohibitions.


For our purposes, the institutional framework is constitutional democracy and capitalism.  I won’t get into prohibitions in the ancien régime, theocracies, totalitarian states, or anarchy.


My next post will be about constitutional democracy.  If you would like a background reading, I recommend Bryan Caplan, “Majorities against Utility.



John Alcorn is Principal Lecturer in Formal Organizations, Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment, Trinity College, Connecticut.  He received his Ph.D in History from Columbia University, with a dissertation about Social Strife in Sicily 1892-94: The Rise and Fall of Peasant Leagues on the Latifondo before the Great Emigration.  Scruples about principles of historical inquiry, and a stint teaching in Columbia’s ‘great books’ core curriculum led him to explore methodological individualism and the social sciences.  As in the Dry Bones song, a concatenation of authors—Jon Elster, Diego Gambetta, Thomas C. Schelling, Robert Sugden, David Friedman, and Michael Munger—eventually brought him to discover EconTalk and EconLog.  Along the way, research about the Sicilian mafia kindled a broader research interest in illegal behaviors and markets.  He teaches a seminar about prohibitions, and is writing a debate-format handbook on the topic.