Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Stuart Green defends arguing over semantics

Stuart Green doesn't like to call file-sharing stealing, offering the alternatives of "unauthorized use, trespass, conversion and misappropriation."

If that sounds like semantics unworthy of NewYorkTimes.com real estate, he disagrees:
This is not merely a question of nomenclature. The label we apply to criminal acts matters crucially in terms of how we conceive of and stigmatize them. What we choose to call a given type of crime ultimately determines how it’s formulated and classified and, perhaps most important, how it will be punished.
I'm not convinced but I'd like to see more arguments from lawyers defending their profession. I think  lawyers play too large a role in crafting laws. Economists (and other social scientists) specialize in modeling how people respond to incentives and designing systems to maximize social welfare (or whatever). They should control the broad outlines of policy-making. Lawyers, in contrast, specialize in turning these systems into laws and arguing over the inevitable details of interpretation. Those things is important to any legal system but it's unclear that expertise qualifies Green to figure out the optimal punishment for a given crime. Obviously I'm not convinced by his argument for as Shakespeare said, an "incentives by any other name affects the cost-benefit analysis just the same."

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