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Milton Friedman: Unnecessary laws create incentives for immoral behavior

Posted: January 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm   /   by

“When the only laws those laws which everybody regards as right and valid, they have great moral force. When you make laws that people separately do not regard as right and valid, they lose their moral force.”

—Milton Friedman

If Only Milton Friedman could have lived another 30 years! How many people have we seen in our modern era who can make complex ideas simple, who can take previously contentious ideas and make them uncontroversial, and who can do it with the charm and decency of Milton Friedman?


Professor Friedman explains how some laws do little more than make immoral behavior profitable.



Interestingly, I came across this on Facebook just a few moments ago. It was written from the perspective of a prepper about a post-state collapse of law and order, but it seemed very apropos to Friedman’s message:

As the moral and economic fabric of society frays and unravels, many people are afraid and unsure of what to do. There becomes times when choices must be made between what is lawful and one’s life. These are times when character matters more than ever.

In Latin there are two types of laws “Malum in se” and “Malum Prohibitum.” It is imperative to know the difference and live accordingly. “Malum in se” is an activity that is wrong in and of itself. Murder and rape are wrong whether there is a law against them or not. That is “Malum in se”. “Malum Prohibitum on the other hand is, something that is only wrong because there is a law against it. IE Speeding to get to the hospital with a wounded person in your car. It is illegal but often not enforced.

The importance of knowing this and understanding the difference cannot be understated in a survival situation.


Your family is hungry, you have no money and no food. Hunting season is two months away and you have no means of getting a hunting license anyway. You are walking along pistol in your holster and a female deer walks out in front of you.

The law says: wait for the season, buy a license, shoot only a buck and only use a riffle.

What do you do?

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook

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Milton Friedman: Unnecessary laws create incentives for immoral behavior