Friday, July 20, 2012

More Guns, More Equilibria

There is an enormous literature on multiple equilibria in socially interactive dynamic situations on crime, tax-paying, transitional economy outcomes, and many other things. A prominent example of this was Robert Putnam's 1993 book on Democracy in Italy in which he invoked the concept of social capital to explain sharply differing political-economic-social outcomes in northern vs southern Italy.  An example I am a coauthor on that focuses on transition economy outcomes and provides a theoretical model (originally due to Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute), as well as empirical results can be found at my website, , partway down, "Mutltiple Unofficial Economy Equilibria and Income Distribution Dynamics in Systemic Transition," 2003, JPKE, 25, 425-447.

I bring this apparently  esoteric example up due to its relevance to the problem of guns in America and the recent tragedy in Aurora, CO.  This model of multiple equilibria applies to guns.  There are societies with few guns and strict regs on them.  Think Japan.  Most of their gun deaths are socially approved suicides derived from the Samurai code of honor and Seppuku.  But, in general, the rate of gun ownership and gun violence in Japan is extremely low.  Many other nations on this planet resemble Japan in this generally, although varying in details on many important aspects.  These societies are in the "good" equilibrium, where general social disapproval of guns combined with strict laws regulating them has led to few around, while organized crime and selected others can get them, but the rate of gun deaths is low by global standards, and certainly compared to the rate in the US.

OTOH, the US is clearly stuck in the "bad" equilibrium, derived from a long individualistic frontier history of widespread gun ownership, reinforced by the Second Amendment with its two parts, one emphasizing the right to own guns, recently raised above the other part by the US Supreme Court against long established precedents, with the other emphasizing the need for state level militias to be supported by a gun-owning citizenry in a society without a federal national defense (uh huh, compare 1787 national military [basically zero] to current DOD, duh).  The control variable is the number of guns out there per capita, and the long US history favoring guns has meant that the barn door was torn off long ago and guns are everywhere, with no chance to go to the low gun "good" equilibrium anytime in the near future. Local efforts to control guns are hopeless as they pour in from other parts of the country, such as Virginia supplying the gangs of New York, with newly revived relaxations against the pleas of law enforecement officials to the northeast, but, hey, here in Virginia, the NRA really has the legislature in its grip to kill kill kill.

However, this most recent shocking event makes clear that even if the US has no hope of ever getting to that "good" equilibrium, maybe we are going too far into the bad equilibrium zone, and that more and more guns do not lead to less crime at all.  What can we do? 

Well, there is one obvious move.  Reinstate the previously existing ban on assault weapons.  The evidence is clear that when that ban was in place, there were fewer deaths from such weapons.  The main weapon that James Holmes used in his invokation of the Joker was an assault rifle banned under the previous ban on assault weapons, left to expire.  This ban must be reinstated.

Th\is involves the NRA and its despicable leader, Wayne LaPierre.  This man worked up his supporters into a frenzy that Obama would "take away our guns."  Of course Obama, totally cowed by the awesome power of the NRA in this path dependent "bad" equilibrium (even though a majority of voters support stronger gun control) did nothing about this. Given the "failure" of Obama to come through with any obvious anti-gun efforts, LaPierre (always out to keep the suckers sending him the money), concocted a totally ridiculous theory.  The Fast and Furious program in Arizona, an earlier version of which ran in the Bush admin only to be pretty quickly put down by higher ups once they firgured out it was going on and how totally stupid it was, did a a rerun under the Obama admin: put in by the pleas of the ATF gang in Phoenix, only to be shut down by the higher-ups once it became clear what a total loser it was. 

That would have been that, except that this time NRA boss LaPierre declared this one to be a plot in favor of gun control.  Supposedly, Obama and AG Eric Holder were guilty according to this absurd conspiracy theory, leadiing to the NRA robots in Congress arguing that indeed Obama and Holder were really pushing LaPierre's conspiracy theory of doing Fast and Furious to bring about greater gun control.  This is the sort of utterly ludicrous nonsense that a nation can be led into when it is really going whole hog into the "bad" equilibrium on this matter (and we have never previously seen a nation go so completely bonkers on this issue ever in all of world history, really).

Another serious matter is the end of a long-held delusion by the NRA and its many supporters, the idea that more guns will lead to less violent gun-related crime.  I shall not go through this debate in all its details.  However, I shall note that the main studies by John R. Lott, Jr. on this, widely spread by the NRA, have been seriously discredited.  I shall simply suggest you go to the Wikipedia site for "John Lott" to see the details, but I completely concur with the critical assessments found there.  Basically, it gets down to that his results depended on the extremely special case of Florida, and that case is now an embarrassment for the advocates of totally free guns, now that it has become clear that Mr. Zimmerman is mentally disturbed.  Is there in any real difference between Zimmerman and Holmes?  No.

In particular, this tragedly in Aurora makes clear that all the yapping by NRA propagandists that individuals carrying guns can/will stop madmen from killing lots of people (something we heard from these people after Cho shot up VA Tech, only to have the VA legislature fall all over itself genuflecting to the most ridiculuous and osbscene requests from the NRA), does not cut it.  Holmes could not be stopped by all these junior Zimmermans and fantasists training so hard to protect "us" from whomever they thought were threatening us.  No way.  This guy had body armor, and that is how it will be in the future.  This particular fantasy of the NRA and its bootlickers is dead in the aisles of Theater 9 of Aurora, Colorado.  Sorry guys, grow up.

My final point is to any true believer in the super sanctitiy of gun rights.  Sorry, but this is not a universally recognized right.  The only other nation that has similar legal views to the US in the entire world is Honduras, whose gun dealers compete with ours for supplying the drug cartels in Mexico..  If any of you are proud of this, so be it. I am not. The US was arguably the major inspiration for individual human rights in the world, with the French Declaration on this following after ours, and the 1948 UN Declaration clearly modeled on ours as well.  But none of those, and nobody else's (except world-inspiring Honduras!), has followed us on this particular matter, where our ancestors' "need" to keep injuns, slaves, wetbacks, and other potentially troublesome people from our"frontier," in line.  Again, this last jibe on my part is simply a recognition of the power of path dependence and the historical record of the US that makes it so difficult to do anything about this, even such screaminlgly obvious things as banning assault weapons that no civiliian has any obvious or legitiimate use for is at least one obvious move that might improve things.


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