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Jun 11, 2009

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Travis Greene

Community norms like, say, segregation?

Michael W. Kruse

But also Prohibition ... or the way Roe v. Wade "settled" the abortion issue?

I think therein lies the lesson. Desegregation wasn't accomplished purely by changing the rules. (In fact, in many cases it was simply enforcing rules that were already on the books.) There was persistent parallel movement of people to change the hearts and minds of folks.

It's a messy challenge, isn't it?

Travis Greene

It is. Obviously some problems are more easily addressed through things like legislation than others. Some shouldn't be addressed through legislation at all.

But, "Down with arbitrary rules, up with community norms"? That's pretty simplistic.

Prohibition may be more of an example of how not to address a problem (alcoholism) through legislation rather than why you shouldn't address a problem through legislation. We stopped banning alcohol, but we do tax the crap out of it, as well as ban drunk driving, publicly fund alcohol treatment, and so forth.

How do we know when arguments to just "change hearts and minds" are truly a recognition the limits of legislation, and when they are merely an excuse for moral complacency?

Michael W. Kruse

If we knew that, we could start our own consulting firm. :-)

I do think it is important to note that Easterly was writing about cultural norms relating to trade, economics, and politics in particular. Moving into a nation and imposing democracy, or American style property rights, or U.S. trade practices contrary to cultural norms is at best risky, as I think George Bush learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Easterly has written that the emergence of widespread prosperity is what tends to generate other reforms. Policy and legislation needs to emerge, not be imposed, to sustainably effective.

I agree with your qualifications but I think we can look at our recent past and learn something about creating change through legislation.

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