“Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work - whereas economics represents how it actually does work”1
It could also be argued that “Law” is our attempt to make the two coincide.
The law is an incentive system we create to encourage certain behaviors and discourage others. In particular, the law is an “unnatural” system, in that it is created specifically to counter some tendency in human behavior. We don’t have laws telling us to engage in sex - we don’t need them. Humans, left to their own devices, will tend to engage in sexual activity. We do, however, have many laws telling us under what circumstances to NOT have sex (In public, with a sibling, with a child, etc.) because some percentage of the population will otherwise engage in these behaviors.
Further, we don’t just create law for no reason. Because law is unnatural, it carries a cost to enforce. It either requires internal discipline/ effort when individuals choose to voluntarily comply OR it imposes a cost on society when some part of society uses external pressure to make recalcitrant individuals comply. The reasons behind our choice of what laws to create boil down to our moral philosophy (and a certain amount of pragmatism about enforcement mechanisms and costs).
By creating law, we are saying something about our society and it’s common values. We’re saying that at some point it time, we held a set of values that we deemed important enough to put some work into. As opposed to the “philosophies” that can be debated ad infinitum around a dinner table, we have said by the creation of a law that we hold something so precious as to be willing to pay a price for it - both in the time to fight for the public statement of that belief and the ongoing cost of engendering conformance to that belief by the rest of society.
We should be careful, therefore, as to what we make law - because of what it says about us.
1. “Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything”, Levitt, Steven D. and Dubner, Stephen J, 2005, HarperCollins, New York., p.13.