Today’s Quote of the Day…

…is from Page 10 of GMU economist Alex Tabarrok and Claremont McKenna College economist Eric Helland’s 2006 book Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial:

The [American] tort system has grown significantly in size and cost over the past decades.  But we should not assume that the expansion is necessarily to be decried.  We also spend more on health care and more on video games than we did in past years, but neither development is a problem if we receive value for the money.  Similarly, if the civil justice system works well, then the greater use of the system may be a net benefit.

This is an important point in discussions that is often lost: it’s both costs and benefits that matter.  Without looking at both it makes statements like “we have too much tort” or “we don’t manufacture enough” or even so much as “there is too much pollution.”  Without this (or some other form of quantification), statements like the above are meaningless and empty.

As an aside, I find the fastest way to see how much one has thought on a topic is to ask them “by what criteria do you use to judge this?”  If someone has spent time thinking about the issue, they’ll have some form of a response (“we have too little manufacturing.  If there were more, there’d be less unemployment and reduce unemployment costs,” for example).  From there, a greater conversation can occur.  If they don’t have an answer, hopefully the question will prompt them to consider the issue in more depth (alternatively, if they refuse to answer, then one can readily dismiss it as nothing more than incoherent ramblings).  I hasten to add that the response one gives to the question need not be correct, but rather the fact it exists on some theoretical or empirical grounds are what matters; from that point, the conversation begins.  This question is a screening tactic, not a fact-finding tactic (though it does lead to one).


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