It is very compelling to me how much economics in a "cost/benefit" framework applies to the law and how we react to it. In a blog I recently read posted by Greg Goelzhauser, I couldn't help but think of the many risks we take in doing something illegal, or at least how many times we analyze the costs and benefits of doing such a thing.
The example that Goelzhauser gave, illustrated a man that was going to be late for an appointment at Columbia University because of the parking conditions. Although the man was a faculty member at the University, no one had been assigned a parking space. Given his options, he could park illegally which would put him very close to the campus, or for a certain price he could go to a parking lot a little further away.
I thought it was interesting how this professor analyzed whether the benefit of parking illegally, outweighed the cost the he might get a ticket. After conducting some research, he found that the more serious the crime, the greater chance one has of being convicted. Most of us don't think twice about jay-walking because we know that the likelihood of being ticketed is very slim and the benefit outweighs the risk that we might get caught. He also concluded that the criminals convicted of greater crimes would face a greater punishment.
Although this may seem like an obvious conclusion, I think there is some detail there that we don't consider. Why do we look for ways of getting around the law? Is it because the law doesn't always seem significant enough to abide by and we know that we can get away with some of the petty things? I'm not saying that I haven't tried to "get away" with some things that I thought were not important, but, I think it is a dangerous cycle we are entering as a society.
Our laws have become more and more complex because of people seem to be more concerned with individual justice, rather than In more serious cases that involve crimes such as burglary, theft, rape, or murder, the trend is that society is more concerned with "individual justice" rather than justice for our society as a whole. Because we are so terrified of convicting someone that is innocent, the burden of proof is set so high that we let to many murderers and rapists get away. Would it be better to wrongly convict a few more innocent people each year to be able to convict a lot more of the ones who are guilty? Is it more unjust that we convict an innocent person, or that we let lot's of the guilty ones go free while trying to discern, not forgetting that the ones that are guilty with continue to commit these horrid crimes?