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It might sound like a stupid question, but I am not a legal expert. The positive laws prohibit certain acts and punish those who perform the acts. However, do the laws always prohibit and punish? And why there are no laws about rewarding people who perform certain acts that were deemed good.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    May 21 at 3:39

10 Answers 10

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There are plenty of laws that reward people

These include:

  1. Literal rewards - payment for information leading to an arrest/conviction.
  2. Welfare systems - the government is literally paying money in accordance with the law.
  3. Tax breaks - for example, for R&D.
  4. Government grants.
  5. Rebates - anything from health insurance premiums to child care subsidies.
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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    May 21 at 21:43
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In the UK, judges sitting on criminal cases can award cash sums to individuals for exceptionally public-spirited actions which have come to light during the trial. For many years the customary sum was £50, but it seems to be £200 these days. Such awards are rare enough to get in the newspapers.

One story:

Two have-a-go heroes have been rewarded with £200 each by a judge after they chased and caught a pair of robbers.

Judge Michael Dudley said Christopher Turner and Dean Bate had earned the reward for their “public spirited action.”

The two men caught Parminder Kuma, 18, and a 16-year-old youth who cannot be named for legal reasons, after they threatened to stab two schoolboys before escaping with a mobile telephone.

“They chased after the robbers, caught up with them and detained them,” Mr Nicholas Burn prosecuting told Wolverhampton Crown Court. “It was a very public spirited action because they acted promptly not knowing what they would be confronted with.”

Another story:

the pair, Adam Barker and Jonathan Stoker [teenagers], who were awarded £200 each for their part in the capture, went off on their bikes and chased Walsh [a rapist], said Mr Duff [the prosecuting lawyer].

They were joined by an allotment holder, Malcolm Bott and some friends. The group caught up with Walsh and surrounded him and Mr Bott, awarded £100, made a citizen's arrest until the police arrived

This is often called 'awarding [a sum] out of public funds'

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  • In the U.S. in some cases such actions can get you in trouble or fired. For instance, if you are a bank or retail store employee and make any attempts to detain a robber.
    – Andy
    May 19 at 15:47
  • @Andy UK NHS hospital staff are told 'if you see a patient about to fall, don't catch them'. May 19 at 20:17
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    This needs to be a more widely-practiced custom. It's not much, but recognition does help encourage "public-spirited actions".
    – bta
    May 19 at 23:35
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    @MichaelHarvey I was suspicious, but I've confirmed this advice about patient falls. (The "Understanding Patient Falls" section is an amusing read.)
    – wizzwizz4
    May 19 at 23:42
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    @MichaelHarvey No, the advice is: If a patient is already falling, don't try to grab them. From the linked folder on The Prevention and Management of Patient Falls: "A fall is not [...] Someone who is helped to the floor gradually in a controlled decent." Then, later on: "During [a fall]: Do not try to grab the falling person, this may injure you too. Moving and handling a falling person is considered to be extremely high risk for staff."
    – Esteis
    May 20 at 11:47
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Boy, the "yeah-but" gang just hates this question. I added a bit at the end about how to see for yourself.

The rule of law exists to replace any of these: { violence, extortion, corruption etc. } as ways to resolve conflicts.

In other words, the law is a system for resolving conflicts.

If you don't have a conflict, then you don't need law.

As a general rule. Of course there are many cases where the government or other parties help people, and there are laws connected with that. But even then, the laws are about conflict - the laws on who can get a Medal of Honor are to keep a president from giving them bric-a-brac to undeserving people. The laws concerning public charities are primarily about the tax deduction allowed for charitable donations and preventing people from abusing that.

And I'll grant there are innocent exceptions; if a government bans symbols of fascism, a law would be needed to exempt history museums, and everyone would agree there, sure.

Wherever there is a government giveaway or charitable program, and there are many - there are people trying to commit fraud against that program. That is where laws meet "doing good", except the law only touches it where conflict exists or might exist. (which is why you need to fill out forms and swear to stuff to get government assistance).

See also "Good Samaritan" laws which protect people who earnestly did the right thing by trying to save someone, only to be selfishly attacked by the person they saved. Another case where humans inject conflict into a good thing.



"I don't understand how (this one law I'm thinking of here) can be about resolving conflict. I don't see any conflict to this law."

Well, sometimes you need to put your thinking cap on and think about all the stakeholders and their likely views. Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle. Proponents to left, opponents to right. This is where most people choke spectacularly, because of either magical thinking which ignores externalities and perverse incentives, or political polarism that has trained them to 100% ignore their opponents, and thus are unable to relate to any view but their own.

Free college and daycare to single moms. Pros: obvious, reduces poverty, stokes economy, helps women avoid abortion. Cons: the fiscal hawks won't like the expense. Encourages childbirth (bad for planet). Discourages marriage (bad for morals).

For any law that is passed, you can do that. Really. Try it, earnestly, without manipulation.

Granted you'll have the rare exception: "Previous law banned private collection of rainwater, but did not consider effects on flood control dam. Proposed law: Exempt flood control dam from other law." Pros: many. Cons: None.

But they will be rare. If you are finding many laws without "cons", you're cheating lol.

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  • 14
    Interesting argument, but what's the basis for the claim that the law only exists for resolving conflicts? In the US, for example, the constitution requires congress to pass laws to allocate money for things the government wants to do. I can suppose your argument might be that when congress passes a law allocating money, they are resolving a conflict which would otherwise occur over whether the government should spend that money or not. But absent a law allowing the government to spend that money, the existing law would already resolve such a conflict, in the opposite direction.
    – kaya3
    May 19 at 11:20
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    In what way are tax laws about resolving conflict? May 19 at 15:05
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    I believe you are looking on ly at criminal law. Civil law is used for other reasons than resolution of conflicts.
    – Tiger Guy
    May 19 at 16:12
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    The rule of law exists solely to replace violence. IMO the rule of law does not replace violence, but it uses it in a way according to the society's agreements. We put people in jail, and may use physical violence against them if they try to avoid it. All of that is violence. But that violence happens while following the guidelines provided by the law.
    – SJuan76
    May 19 at 19:21
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    Well, then please explain which conflict you think is resolved by the passing of a new such government spending law. In your answer you wrote "The rule of law exists solely to replace any of these: { violence, extortion, corruption etc. } as ways to resolve conflicts.", and I can't see that the government passing a law to allow some new spending would be necessary to prevent violence, extortion, corruption or anything similar. What you've said is that it would prevent those things in a country which did not already have the rule of law, which does not explain it for the US, which does.
    – kaya3
    May 20 at 1:12
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Many incentives exist granting "free money" or awarding special protections for someone that takes special actions, which exist in a variety of contexts. For example, the U.S. congress wanted to incentivize marriage (as opposed to simply living together) so they created an income tax system that financially rewards couples that marry. In many states you can avoid liability for certain job-related incidents if you pay into an insurance fund or join a licensing authority (presuming they don't revoke your license). Often a licensure scheme will include both carrot and stick.

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The rights that you enjoy as a reward

As an answer to Do the laws always prohibit and punish?.

  • The right to property and laws against robbery allow people to enjoy their property without anyone being able to (unlawfully) take it.
  • The right of speech allows to say what you want without retribution (withing that right).
  • Laws against assault, battery, murder protect you from someone else injuring (or worse) you.

So, you can take the stance that a law that sends murders to prison "just prohibits". But most people would see as a way to guarantee the right to life of persons.

Of course, you could say that those are not rewards, as "it is just natural" for you to enjoy those rights. But, mind you, through human history many of those rights simply did not exist, so there is nothing "natural" about those rights.

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    While you raise a good point in the last paragraph about the origin of those rights, it still doesn't make sense to call them 'rewards,' because a reward is something given based on what the recipient has done; whereas the rights you mention are not based on something that people who enjoy those rights have done. Right?
    – LarsH
    May 19 at 12:59
  • Surely laws against violent acts punish others for committing those acts, and act as an incentive to not commit those acts. I think for such a law to be bestowing rewards, as per the original question, would look more like "here you go, $1,000,000 for you this year for not (being caught!) murdering anyone".
    – Phil
    May 19 at 19:37
  • Interestingly enough your first two examples tend to reward some people while punishing others as a consequence.
    – user253751
    May 20 at 13:54
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There are plenty of laws that reward people for desired behavior, and here is an example. The headline says it all:

The Government Will Pay You to Have Babies in These Countries

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There are plenty.

All forms of

  • tax breaks (marriage, children, commuting)
  • subsidies (planting certain crops, buying electric cars)
  • bounties (catching criminals)

are direct financial rewards for desireable behaviour. They are well-known and dispensed to a lot of people and organizations. Other rewards include awards and decorations (often shown by a physical medal), commonly with a distinctive split between

  • civilian life (US Presidential Medal of Freedom)
  • military (US Medal of Honor)
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Whistleblowing rewards

Others have mentioned incentives, but as for actual rewards, there are such things, for example in the US there are various Federal whistleblower rewards/compensation programs. Whistleblowing to the IRS cases of underpaid taxes over $2M the whistleblower may be rewarded 15-30% of anything collected. The SEC likewise has paid enormous sums.

Plenty of law offices, organizations, and agencies are eager to explain the financial benefits of whistleblowing:

https://www.sec.gov/whistleblower

https://www.whistleblowersinternational.com/what-is-whistleblowing/rewards/

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  • This is the most realistic example so far.
    – barbecue
    May 21 at 3:21
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Salaries, wages, and contract payments

Salaries and wages are literally rewards for work. Contracts include payments as rewards for completing deliverables.

Anytime a government pays an individual or a company, that is the result of laws allowing and directing it to appropriate money from the public coffers and pay it out in exchange for desirable behavior.

Some examples include:

  • Local ordinances authorizing city governments to set up and pay for police, fire, utilities, etc.
  • Federal budget bills that authorize spending by its agencies, for example NASA paying its internal salaries and contracting with external companies for rocket launches.
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  • This feels like a stretch. While this use of "reward" might be technically in line with the definition of the word, I think more people would feel such as their due for doing the work in the first place, and perhaps that to call it a reward is a little insulting, a reward being given for going over and above. Needing to put bread on the table is universal, and working for the means to achieve that is hardly over and above.
    – Phil
    May 19 at 19:52
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Someone has to pay for the reward

Any laws that materially reward people do not grant or route manna from heaven — no matter how high-flying the law makers or rewarders are. Someone always pays for it, be it the taxpayers in a democracy, or a monarch owning all the minerals in the land.

Thus, any such laws effectively say "take money from those and give it to these". It will usually not make "those" happy. This is the reason the said laws are not ubiquitous or immediately obvious (which I guess has caused the question), although they do exist as noted in the other answers.

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    Someone has to pay for laws that punish too, so I'm not sure this follows. May 19 at 8:32
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    @JackAidley Punishment of criminals is an ongoing necessity, an expense that hardly anyone disagrees with. Conversely, rewarding someone is always much more questionable.
    – Greendrake
    May 19 at 8:52
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    I'm not going to argue that no punishment is necessary, but there are certainly choices made about the type and cost of those punishments. Moreover, positive incentives could also work in some cases at lower cost. May 19 at 9:31
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    Unless some people decide to freely contribute to a fund to reward "do-gooders", then you literally have to steal from others to give to them. Oh and Greendrake, if you're not already a member, welcome to the party, the Libertarian party of course!
    – Glen Yates
    May 19 at 15:13
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    "Thus, any such laws effectively say "take money from those and give it to these". It will usually not make "those" happy. " - welfare does exactly this, and "those" who are unhappy are those who are too thick to see that by taking some of their money and giving it to "these" means that "these" are less likely (as a group - every group has its bad apples) to obtain the means to live by theft and such.
    – Phil
    May 19 at 19:58

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