Institutional hypocrisy enabled by wealth, part 2, gambling edition

My comment from July 18 regarding Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition:

[…] hypocrisy regarding victimless crimes is a luxury good. It can be indulged when a society has sufficient wealth that it can afford to be hypocritical, signaling that its members want to be perceived as virtuous even when many of them as individuals would prefer to indulge in alcohol, other drugs, or sex-for-money.

Today’s New York Times:

With pressure mounting on the federal government to find new revenues, Congress is considering legalizing, and taxing, an activity it banned just four years ago: Internet gambling.

Lesson: moralizing is a vice enabled by excess wealth. Now that our societal wealth is not quite so vast, maybe we’ll consider lowering the prison population; as the Economist wrote, America locks up too many people, some for acts that should not even be criminal.

Releasing some of them would be morally justified, as the Economist makes clear, and probably economically rational. This assumes such people are not Zero marginal product workers, as Tyler Cowen discusses at the link. Such an assumption might be too large to be sustained; I can’t evaluate the arguments about zero marginal product workers very well.

One response

  1. Pingback: Hilarity in Delaware: Christine O’Donnell and J.R.R. Tolkien, sitting in a tree… « The Story's Story

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