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Our concern in this Essay is to explain the epistemic origins of political conflict. Citizens who agree that the proper object of law is to secure society’s material well-being are still likely to disagree—intensely—about what policies will achieve that end as an empirical matter. Does the death penalty deter homicides, or instead inure people to lethal violence? Would stricter gun control make society safer, by reducing the incidence of crime and gun accidents, or less safe, by hampering the ability of individuals to defend themselves from predation? What threatens our welfare more—environmental pollution or the economic consequences of environmental protection laws? What exacts a bigger toll on public health and productivity—the distribution of street drugs or the massive incarceration of petty drug offenders?

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