Monday, June 28, 2010

Slap Leather

The big news today is the SCOTUS case that overturned Chicago's handgun ban. Mulling this over, I have been forced to revisit my stance on the applicability of the Second Amendment as well as the rights and responsibilities of gun owners.

One thought experiment I like to run with myself is something like this: what if everyone in this room were armed right now? If I find myself at a gun show (which happens a lot less these days than it used to), I nod and scratch my undercarriage solemnly, since a question that dumb deserves no greater answer. But what if I'm in a church? Depends on the church, I suppose. I'd probably be a lot more comfortable in a well-armed church that's received threats than surrounded by hands filled with prayer shawls or rosaries or whatever. How about a bus? Again, depends on the bus. Prisoner transfers aside, your average bus rider doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but how would the ubiquity of firearms change the social miniscape? The standard micro analysis suggests that the relative costs of scuffles, disagreements, and other generally pugilistic behavior would increase greatly, leading to less consumption of unruliness, but when the shit hits the fan, you'd better make like a quack and duck.

You can repeat this experiment as you like. One iteration I keep coming back to is the classroom. Surely, the famous dreadful school shootings would not have been as terrible if someone had fired back. Then again, how much less would I be willing to fail a student who I knew was packing heat? I wonder what sort of adjustments professors would make with armed students filling a lecture hall. Depends on the professor, most likely. I reckon lots of 'em wouldn't hardly cotton to it at all. Could you imagine your average Gender Studies professor applauding students' decision to carry? Me either.

At any rate, maybe we could think of this gun thing as regulatory stimulus. Look people, open carry is a Schelling point in the violence prevention coordination game. Better even is the threat of concealed carry, since some folks can (maybe) free ride. We tried giving the auto industry a jump-start with Ca$h4Clunkers, so why not let regulatory relaxation goose the firearms industry? There's not even any deadweight loss here. Hell, it's probably a K-H improvement. It would generate a few jobs for Colt anyway. Maybe. Gun making is probably pretty capital-intensive. Or so's my guess. I've never visited a small arms factory. I should though. I bet it'd be fun. Hm.

Anyway, I'm going to ask around how people feel about the ruling. If I find anything interesting, I'll post it. Okay bye.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

State vs Government

John Wallis gave a talk yesterday on a paper he's working on with Doug North about the difference between the state and government. The basic argument is that we should look at the state as the organization that organizes other organizations. The government is an organization that is part of the state, and to the extent that the government is the state, we observe strong governments and less tendency for civil wars and suchlike. One of the upshots of this is that hidden organizations within a state can hinder development efforts. This is a hell of a challenge for people interested in eradicating poverty. If there isn't one organization that subsumes the power to use violence, then both identifying and appeasing all interested, powerful parties can be prohibitively expensive.

I'm not sure how to feel about all this. I like the idea of clearly defining the difference between the state and the government, but I'm leery of the sort of reaction that this might generate in the development community. It's a good justification for bringing warlords into the fold, as well as working on making governments more transparent, so it could either lend legitimate authority to tinpot dictators or work towards establishing sound governance. Eh, whatever. I actually suspect that IMF and World Bank won't much care anyway. Too much bureaucratic inertia to change policy anyway.