Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Invincible Ignorance

Thomas Sowell

Must every tragic mass shooting bring out the shrill ignorance of "gun control" advocates?

The key fallacy of so-called gun control laws is that such laws do not in fact control guns. They simply disarm law-abiding citizens, while people bent on violence find firearms readily available.

If gun control zealots had any respect for facts, they would have discovered this long ago, because there have been too many factual studies over the years to leave any serious doubt about gun control laws being not merely futile but counterproductive.

Places and times with the strongest gun control laws have often been places and times with high murder rates. Washington, D.C., is a classic example, but just one among many.

When it comes to the rate of gun ownership, that is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, but the murder rate is higher in urban areas. The rate of gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, but the murder rate is higher among blacks. For the country as a whole, hand gun ownership doubled in the late 20th century, while the murder rate went down.

The few counter-examples offered by gun control zealots do not stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps their strongest talking point is that Britain has stronger gun control laws than the United States and lower murder rates.

But, if you look back through history, you will find that Britain has had a lower murder rate than the United States for more than two centuries-- and, for most of that time, the British had no more stringent gun control laws than the United States. Indeed, neither country had stringent gun control for most of that time.

In the middle of the 20th century, you could buy a shotgun in London with no questions asked. New York, which at that time had had the stringent Sullivan Law restricting gun ownership since 1911, still had several times the gun murder rate of London, as well as several times the London murder rate with other weapons.

Neither guns nor gun control was not the reason for the difference in murder rates. People were the difference.

Yet many of the most zealous advocates of gun control laws, on both sides of the Atlantic, have also been advocates of leniency toward criminals.

In Britain, such people have been so successful that legal gun ownership has been reduced almost to the vanishing point, while even most convicted felons in Britain are not put behind bars. The crime rate, including the rate of crimes committed with guns, is far higher in Britain now than it was back in the days when there were few restrictions on Britons buying firearms.

In 1954, there were only a dozen armed robberies in London but, by the 1990s-- after decades of ever tightening gun ownership restrictions-- there were more than a hundred times as many armed robberies.

Gun control zealots' choice of Britain for comparison with the United States has been wholly tendentious, not only because it ignored the history of the two countries, but also because it ignored other countries with stronger gun control laws than the United States, such as Russia, Brazil and Mexico. All of these countries have higher murder rates than the United States.

You could compare other sets of countries and get similar results. Gun ownership has been three times as high in Switzerland as in Germany, but the Swiss have had lower murder rates. Other countries with high rates of gun ownership and low murder rates include Israel, New Zealand, and Finland.

Guns are not the problem. People are the problem-- including people who are determined to push gun control laws, either in ignorance of the facts or in defiance of the facts.

There is innocent ignorance and there is invincible, dogmatic and self-righteous ignorance. Every tragic mass shooting seems to bring out examples of both among gun control advocates.

Some years back, there was a professor whose advocacy of gun control led him to produce a "study" that became so discredited that he resigned from his university. This column predicted at the time that this discredited study would continue to be cited by gun control advocates. But I had no idea that this would happen the very next week in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.



Bloomberg admits he doesn't know what guns do

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who politicized the Sandy Hook tragedy within hours last Friday, just wrapped up a press conference announcing new plans to fight gun violence and to counter the National Rifle Association with his own Super PAC. Bloomberg was asked by a reporter to respond to Rep. Louie Gohmert's comments over the weekend that he wished the principal of the school, who died trying to take down shooter Adam Lanza, had a gun. Bloomberg responded by saying, "There are dumb statements and then there are stupid statements.....I don't know what the gun would have done."

With this logic, I'm sure Bloomberg feels the same way about his armed body guards; that the guns they carry to protect him "do nothing." If sane and trained people with guns are capable of "doing nothing," then why do police and security guards carry them? Why do thousands of people a year save their own lives or the lives of others protecting themselves with guns?



Why Capitalism?

Allan Meltzer is an eminent professor of economics at Carnegie-Mellon University. He is a world-renowned U.S. Federal Reserve scholar, a 1973 founder and chairman of the Shadow Open Market Committee, and an American Economic Association Distinguished Fellow. What else could he possibly add to those laurels?

Meltzer has written Why Capitalism?

Meltzer answers that question with personal and scholarly reflections on capitalism—the one economic system that achieves both prosperity and individual freedom. While Meltzer celebrates such bounty, anyone expecting a polemic will surely be disappointed.

Meltzer gives himself a wide enough berth to assess capitalism across many cultures, countries, and mixed economies. To satisfy his definition, functioning capitalism more or less requires individual ownership of the means of production, property rights protection, and the rule of law. As Meltzer sees it, these basic features can be found in economies with both large and small public sectors, in countries with massive amounts of regulation, and in places where the necessary institutional building blocks are just beginning to form. In no way does he expect his definition to be satisfied perfectly in practice.

Of the many stars in the constellation of capitalist thinkers, Meltzer mentions Friedman and Hayek. Otherwise, his central foundational figure is Immanuel Kant. The book begins with Kant’s fundamental assertion about human nature: “Out of timber as crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be carved.” And Meltzer echoes this truth throughout Why Capitalism?

The point is simple and powerful: Imperfect human beings build institutions that undergird economic systems. Capitalism will include flaws, imperfections, corrupt practices, and wasted resources. And so will any other economic system. Capitalism’s saving grace, however, is found in decentralization of decision-making, in competition for resources, and in dynamic markets. Markets are filled with customers who create competitive forces that reduce the cost of error and the scope of corruption. The power of capitalism lies in the system’s unique ability to punish resource owners who make bad decisions, to reward those who create value, and to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Capitalism disperses power while other systems concentrate power.

Because of these inherent traits, Meltzer views capitalism as the best of the imperfect systems fashioned from crooked timber. Unlike other systems, capitalist systems are adjusted and reformed by success and failure. Along these lines, we find Meltzer’s own famous quip: “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin: It doesn’t work.”

Meltzer offers a good treatment of the empirical work relating to economic growth across countries as it relates to variations in economic freedom. He also pays a lot of attention to regulation and the unfortunate incentives that accompany collective efforts to steer markets or to correct perceived excesses. In this he offers his first and second laws of regulation: First, lawyers and bureaucrats regulate. Markets circumvent regulation. Second, regulations are static. Markets are dynamic. (There is plenty here to contemplate.)

One finds a number of remarkable sections in Meltzer’s little book. Two of these gems are his summary history of the U.S. monetary history—which draws, of course, on his own two-volume history—as well as his criticism of the newly-formed institutions that arose in the wake of the Great Recession. Meltzer tears into the notion that the Fed is independent of government by citing instances where presidents pressured and got their desired response from Fed officials. He tells fascinating stories of how, with the exception of the Volcker years, the flawed logic of the Phillips Curve has strongly influenced Fed behavior.

Meltzer also looks critically at the perverse incentives found in Dodd-Frank, “too big to fail,” and the new and strangely unaccountable Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In doing all this, Meltzer demonstrates his masterful ability to perform institutional analysis while focusing on the future health of American capitalism. Along the way, Meltzer offers some well-reasoned policy recommendations that could improve the nation’s long-run prospects for wealth creation.

Why Capitalism? is an ideal selection for small-book discussion groups, students, scholars, business people, and all who have an interest in capitalism’s ability to adapt and survive as ideologues attempt in vain to fashion more perfect systems from crooked timber.



Unions Chant "Pork, Pork, Pork!"

 John Ransom

Unions suck.  Really they do. I have said this before, as an objective fact:  “They suck the money out of our wallets,” I wrote in July, “they suck productivity out of workers; and suck up all the leavings from the public trough. Increasingly, the public has had it with the private country clubs known as ‘public’ unions.”

The trouble with education, much public policy, government spending and the every-twenty-five-year bailout of auto companies in this country starts and ends with unions. I continued:

"They are out-of- touch museum relics, fitting for a day that used rotary presses to distribute the news, but wildly inappropriate for an age that‘s both wired and wireless. Unions have prevented, and continue to prevent, much-needed reforms in education, public finance and government. They cultivate a sense of entitlement wholly out of order for the times, which call for more self-reliance and entrepreneurship."

Union advocates like to reply to this thesis- with good reason- by sticking fingers in their ears, jumping up and down in place, saying “pork, pork, pork,” while vaguely threatening the voting public with vengeance if unions don’t get more “pork.”

The good reason they chose this line of attack is that they have no logical argument to make.  They are like the man told to us by Patrick Henry.

"Amid the general joy and shouts of triumph by the freezing, threadbare American army that accepted the surrender of the British army under Cornwallis at Yorktown, Henry tells us, was one John Hook, who could only think of the beef he lost, confiscated to provide food for the starving, yet victorious army.

“But hark!” says Henry. “What notes of discord are these that disturb the general joy and silence the acclimations of victory? They are the notes of John Hook, hoarsely bawling through the American camp ‘Beef! Beef! Beef !’” in protest of his loss."

So it goes with unions.  Cities may go bankrupt, police may be laid off, public safety endangered and public finance corrupted but the unions get paid first, no matter what.

As real-life mobster and union delegate Henry Hill explained it in the movie Goodfellas: “Business bad? F-- you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F-- you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning huh? F-- you, pay me."

That’s why it shouldn’t surprise us that while most of America hails Michigan for victory in passing a right-to-work law in the union-controlled state that borders Canada, the unions are complaining about their beef- and their benefits. They did much the same in Madison in 2011 as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker forced unions to compete in an open way for benefit contracts. And despite union grousing, the world did not come to an end in Wisconsin. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Magically, school districts on the verge of financial ruin suddenly were able to find millions of dollars in new money. How did that magic act happen?

“When the Appleton School District put its health-insurance contract up for bid for instance,” writes the City-Journal, “WEA Trust [the benefit provider run by the union] suddenly lowered its rates and promised to match any competitor’s price. Appleton will save $3 million during the current school year.” That open bidding process outside of the union monopoly was a result of Walker’s reforms.  And it reduced costs without degrading benefits.

So now, $3 million will go directly into the classroom, which is what teachers tell us they really care about. So now, $3 million will allow the district to retain employees, which what the union ought to care most about.

And that’s also what’s at stake in Michigan.  Right-to-work means an end to the union monopoly on employment. It means that more people can have jobs. It means that unions have to provide a competitive environment or their customers will leave.

But in the up-is-down, black-is-white and right-is-wrong world of unions, progressives and mental patients, a competitive environment must be avoided at all costs. That's way too much pressure.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” said Brenda Smith, local head of the AFL-CIO affiliated American Federation of Teachers and apparently an Orwell fan. “It is order rather than chaos. It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.” And for unions freedom of association means workers are given only one representative, one association, one, non-dissenting voice carefully following the party line

Spoken like a true Menshevik.    Freedom of association, in a free society, also includes the right to NOT associate, especially with known associates, like union thugs.  And the right not to associate is what’s at issue in Michigan.




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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist.  It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day.  It was only to the Right of  Stalin's Communism.  The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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