Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Economics of Banning Pit Bulls

In Ontario there have been several attacks on pedestrians by pit bulls and similar dogs. In reaction to these attacks, the provincial gubmnt has proposed a ban on pit bulls .

My knee-jerk reaction to these stories has been: why must legislators be involved with pit-bull incidents? Why not leave it to the tort system to determine a standard of care for pit bull owners and rely on victims to sue the socks off negligent owners? The threat of a suit should provide a strong incentive for owners to keep their dogs muzzled. It should also provide a strong incentive for people to reconsider their choice of pets -- it is reasonable to expect, on average, that if there's a chance of being sued big-time if one's dog attacks you or your pet or child, fewer people will choose to own such dogs in the first place.

At the margin, I believe this stuff. At the same time, I understand the desire for more restrictions on pit-bull ownership than the incentives provided by the tort system.

  • Reliance on the incentives/disincentives provided by the tort system usually ignores the fact that people who have very little wealth are essentially judgement proof -- the threat of a lawsuit does not provide much of a disincentive for them.
  • Some people incorrectly estimate the probability that their pets might injure someone else. On average people who make such mistakes are also more likely to make other mistakes in their lives and hence are less likely to have much worth suing them over.

If the tort system is inadequate for handling cases involving judgement-proof tort-feasors, the threat of criminal sanctions might provide an additional incentive for pet owners to take an appropriate level of care.

But it could very well be that the costs of prosecuting such cases, relative to the benefits, are very high compared with the expected costs and benefits of an outright ban. So maybe the ban is an efficient solution.

If the ban were successful, the number of pit bulls would decline tremendously. Would they be placed on the endangered species list?

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