Defending the freedom to steal

The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation think that Sarbanes-Oxley (along with civil rights laws, food and drug labeling, and environmental protection) makes the nation “less free.”

I would have guessed that if the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation got together to publish something called an “Index of Economic Freedom,” it would turn out that “economic freedom” and “right-wing policies” were more or less synonymous.

You wouldn’t have expected, for example, to have found protection for the right to join a labor union, or even protection against peonage or forcible commercial sexual exploitation, counted as part of “economic freedom.” A minimum wage is an affront to freedom, you see, but twelve-year-old sex slaves aren’t.

Nor is it really surprising that the index counts “the Americans with Disabilities Act, various civil rights regulations, environmental laws, health and product safety standards, and food and drug labeling requirements” as making the United States “less free.” After all, who among us doesn’t yearn for the right to buy mislabeled drugs and adulterated meat?

But I have to admit being surprised to find the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which makes it just a little harder for corporate managers to steal from their stockholders, listed as a reason the United States has (horrors!) dropped out of the WSJ/Heritage Top 10.

I wonder: Could we improve our score by repealing the mail and wire fraud statutes? Caveat emptor!

Update No. this doesn’t mean that Sarbanes-Oxley or the others are good policy. I’m agnostic on that. It just means that using “freedom” and “regulation” as if they were antonyms substitutes incantation for thought.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: