Any society is organized in many ways by rules that constrain the lives of its citizens and by which each expects others to abide. We are constrained by traffic rules, tax laws, regulations on our economic activities, laws protecting property and punishing offenders as well as laws regulating education and health care. Our society is constituted and regulated by a constitution, laws, and government. Every citizen is obligated to comply with these laws and expects others to do the same. The laws that bind us are not, however, inevitable. We live under one set of laws now, but in the past we lived under different laws, and in the future we may be bound by others. In addition, other societies have different laws. For example, in the United States the laws permit advertisers to promote their clients' products on television with certain important restrictions, but those laws could be changed to forbid advertising on television as some countries have legislated, or they could be altered to allow people to advertise without any restrictions.
Since a society can be organized in different ways, we can ask two distinct questions about its organization. First, How well is it organized? To answer this question we will evaluate the quality of the laws and policies a society has and their impact on the well-being of the population, and we will compare them to possible alternatives. We may say that a society fares best when it permits private property and free trade, or we may disagree with this assessment. We can debate the relative merits of different sets of laws. Second, we can